Use an Expert Panel to Build a Basic Competency Model

Using Expert Panels, Focus Groups and Job Analysis Interviews. 

Many small and medium-size organizations want to develop competency models and integrate competencies into their talent management and HR systems. Unfortunately, many are constrained by limited budgets to use consultants or purchase competency dictionaries, software, interview guides, etc. In response to this problem, Workitect developed and began conducting a three-day workshop in 2004 to train internal HR professionals to build their own competency models. More than 1,200 people have attended these workshops and have built models using our methodology.

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 The McClelland/McBer Model-Building Methodology

Our methodology for building job competency models is based on the Job Competence Assessment (JCA) methodology developed by Dr. David McClelland, a pioneer in motivation and competency research and testing at Harvard, and by consultants at McBer and Company in the 1970’s.

The modeling process starts with superior performers in a targeted job being identified, and then studied to identify the personal characteristics, skills, and knowledge that they possess that enables them to be superior performers. The methods used to collect data for building the model, such as behavioral event interviews and expert panels, are designed to get beneath mere opinions about superior performance and superior performers. _____________________________________________________________________________

Thirty years ago, we conducted research on job competence assessment and created a generic competency dictionary that has been tested and has evolved into a practical, comprehensive, and affordable dictionary consisting of 35 foundational competencies (leadership, management, and professional). Many organizations are now using this dictionary to build models and applications.

Still, many organizations are finding it difficult to launch a competency-modeling project, often due to a lack of time, staff, or budget. To help these organizations, we have taken material from our Building Competency Models workshop and developed a program to enable a competency dictionary licensee to build basic competency models using focus groups, supplemented with optional job task analysis interviews.

The program consists of these instructional materials:

  1. Overview of Competencies and Competency Models (16 page PDF)
  • What is a Competency?
  • What is a Competency Model?
    • Example of a Competency Model
  • Why Develop Competency Models?

            Integrating Key HR Processes (10 page PDF)
            Competencies 101 (Powerpoint)
            The Case for a Competency-Based HR System (Powerpoint)

  1. Planning a Competency Modeling Project (8 page PDF)
  • Analyzing and Identifying Stakeholders
    • Stakeholder Analysis Table
  • Structure of the Plan
  • Communicating with Stakeholders and Employees

        Worksheet for Planning a Competency Modeling Project (13 page PDF)

  • Scope of the Project
  • Organizational Context
  • Selecting the Approach to Model Building
  • Building Support for the Project
  • Deciding on Data Sources
  • Staffing the Model Building Project
  • Envisioning the Data Analysis and Model Building
  • Reviewing and Revising the Model
  1. Collecting Data & Developing a Basic* Competency Model (14 page PDF)            Using Focus Groups and Job Analysis Interviews
  • General Data Collection Tasks
  • Primary Data Collection Methods
    • Job Analysis Interviews
    • Resource Panels, aka Focus Groups or Expert Panels
      • Instructional manual on facilitating a Resource Panel
      • Alternative Methods
        • Virtual Resource Panel & Job Competency Profile
        • Competency Model Survey

     Resource Materials (separate documents and forms)

  • Competency Requirements Questionnaire
  • Competency Requirements Questionnaire Tabulation worksheet
  • Job Analysis Interview for Jobholders Template
  • Job Analysis Interview for Managers of Jobholders Template
  • Competency Dictionary

*A full model includes the conducting, analyzing, and coding of structured behavioral event interviews.

  • Licensees are expected to attend a future public or onsite workshop to learn how to collect and analyze additional data, including structured behavioral event interviews, and to develop competency-based applications.
  • Guidebook users will be given access to all materials in Dropbox folders.
  • Word versions of some customizable documents and forms are available.
  • Phone or live online coaching from a Workitect consultant is available.

THIS PROGRAM IS AVAILABLE FOR LICENSEES OF WORKITECT’S COMPETENCY DICTIONARY.

Contact Workitect for additional information about this program.

Join LinkedIn’s Competency-Based Talent Management group. This group is for HR, OD, training, and talent management professionals who want to network, share experiences, or seek answers about job competency modeling and competency-based HR, talent management, and leadership development.

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Six Steps to Conducting a Behavioral Event Interview

sr-woman-interview

Regardless of how you view today’s economy, if your job involves acquiring talent for your organization, you know that interviewing, assessing, and selecting the best candidates for key jobs remains as challenging as ever.

Even more challenging is finding candidates who have been superior performers in their current job and who are likely to be superior performers in a new job. To do so, it is first necessary to have a clear picture of what constitutes “superior performance” and the competencies possessed by superior performers that enables them to be superior performers. Job competency models serve such a purpose. Developing job competencies models utilizes a special behavioral event interviewing (aka BEI) technique

The basic principle of the competency approach is that what people think or say about their motives and skills is not credible. Only what they actually do, in the most critical incidents they have faced, is to be believed. The purpose of the BEI method is to get behind what people say they do to find out what they really do. This is accomplished by asking people to describe how they actually behaved in specific incidents.

More about the Purpose of a BEI

The goal of the behavioral event interview is to identify the competencies needed to do various jobs. Its nearest relative is the searching clinical interview, in which the goal is to identify the individual’s chief characteristics that have lead to maladjustment. In the behavioral event interview the focus is what it takes to do a given job well. Since individuals may adjust to a job idiosyncratically, it is necessary to interview several incumbents and try to determine what characterizes good performers as contrasted with poor performers. In isolating the competencies needed, the interviewer should keep in mind what is measurable. When the interviewer has formulated the competencies that are needed, he or she will test these judgments by finding measures of them and determine if those who perform the job well score higher on these measures than those who perform poorly. When these hypotheses about the competencies needed for a job are cross-validated in this way, the measures can be used to select better qualified people or to train people better for the job.

The Basic Technique

One of the best methods of getting the information to assess the competencies needed for a job is to elicit very detailed behavioral descriptions of how a person goes about doing his or her work. Sometimes this may be done by asking a number of job incumbents to write out critical incidents, following a technique first popularized by Flanagan (1954). However, these incidents may not be detailed enough to figure out just what the person was thinking and doing. Therefore, it is usually better to interview a few incumbents in depth. This permits a more thorough exploration of each episode reported until all the relevant behaviors have been elicited. To distinguish this technique from Flanagan’s well-known critical incident approach, it should be referred to as the behavioral event interview technique. The interviewer should realize at all times that the purpose of the interview is to get raw behavioral data which can be used to conceptualize the competencies that are required for doing the job well.

Above all, the interviewer must avoid being caught up in the interviewee’s concepts of
what it takes to do his or her job. Every person has some ideas about what he or she is like and how he or she does things. In some cases these ideas may be accurate but often they are not, and the interviewer must avoid asking questions that simply elicit the interviewee’s concepts. The interviewer must keep pushing for the behaviors — the thoughts and actions — that the interviewee demonstrated on a given occasion.

Use of a tape recorder is recommended to save every detail of the interview for future uses, such as developing case materials and other learning aids. Its most immediate use is to help you reconstruct your interview notes when you do your summary writeup. However, there is no substitute for good note-taking, especially if you have a mechanical failure. Don’t expect to use the recorder like a crutch and your notes will be all you will need to write up the interview, saving you the time you would ordinarily have to spend listening to the interview all over again.

How to Conduct the Interview

Step 1. Explanation

Everyone will want to know why he or she is being interviewed. Your explanation might go something like this:

“I’ve been asked to try to figure out what competencies it takes to do your job. The best
approach seems to be to ask a person who is doing a job how he or she does it. You are the obvious expert in what it take to be (whatever the person does). We’re just going to talk for awhile about some examples of how you do your job”.

Optional, depending on the interviewee’s curiosity and/or your mandate:

“This is part of a program which should lead to better selection and training for the job. If we can identify the competencies needed for a job, we can select people who have those competencies needed for the job or train job incumbents to develop the necessary competencies to a fuller extent”.

At this point you should get the permission of the interviewee for you to tape-record the interview. You can explain it this way:

“With your permission, I would like to record parts of this interview to help me with my notes.
Everything you say will be kept confidential and will not be shared with anyone else in
(interviewee’s organization). But if there is anything you want to say off the record or don’t want me to record, just let me know and I’ll turn off the tape”.

Step 2. Duties and Responsibilities

It is a good idea to break the ice by getting the interviewee talking about what he or she does in a general way, that is, about what his or her duties and responsibilities are.

“Let’s begin by taking about what your responsibilities are in your job. I really know nothing about what it takes to be a good (policeman, naval officer, manager, etc.). What do you do? Where do you work? Whom do you work with? What are your hours? Whom do you report to? Who reports to you?”

The objective here is to get the interviewee talking in as free and relaxed a way as possible about his or her job. Sometimes interviewees have difficulty getting started, but most of them find it easy to talk about their work and they like telling others what they do. It is wise not to push the behavioral event approach on them too soon; lead into it gradually.

Often in the course of describing their work, interviewees will say things that puzzle you or that you want clarified. For example, a police captain may say, “Well, I supervise the lieutenants”. Here he is simply quoting a job description to you and your problem is to find out what he means. So you say “Could you explain a little more what you mean by ‘supervise’? Do they write reports for you to read? Do they come in to talk with you first thing in the morning, or when they leave? Do you observe them working with the patrolmen? What is the chance you would get to know they were doing something wrong or to give them some direction? It helps most if you can describe an actual case where you supervised someone”.

Step 3. First Behavioral Event

Hopefully this questioning about duties will lead to a critical event which you can ask the interviewee to describe in detail so that you can get a better idea of how the job is done and what characteristics it takes to do it well. You may say something like:

“To get a better idea of what supervision consists of, can you think of an instance where
you were able to help someone do his or her job better, or keep him or her from making a mistake? I need an example of just how you operate”.

It is hard to generalize about just how you will hit on the first incident since it should come up naturally in the course of discussing various responsibilities. But once you have got the interviewee talking about a particular event, you should push hard for behavioral detail.

“Now let me get the setting straight. Let’s begin at the beginning. Where were you? What time of day was it? What had you been doing when this came up? What was in your mind?”

You may want to ask what kind of day it was (raining?) or how the interviewee was feeling, to recreate the whole scenario. Here you become an investigative reporter, pushing to get clear in your mind just what happened. Asking for time, place and mood often helps the interviewee recall the episode, since all the person has left in his or her mind usually is some memory of how it all turned out which he or she told you first anyway. You should have in mind the following questions as the interviewee begins to tell the story:
– What led up to the event?
– What was the person thinking? (of the individual he or she was interacting with, of the       situation,etc.)
– What did the person do, and why?
– What was the person feeling, wishing?
– How did it all turn out?

You are interested in the interviewee’s:
– Perceptions of the people and the situation
– Thoughts
– Acts
– Feelings
– Conclusions for future reference

Try to get the interviewee to begin at the beginning and take you through the story as it unfolded. Otherwise you may get confused about what happened and who did what. This may be difficult because the interviewee will usually start by remembering the outcome of an event. Just say, “That’s exactly what I had in mind. Now let’s start at the beginning so that I can understand what happened”. As the interviewee tells you all this, you are learning things about him or her, and you should ask questions that will verify or double-check inferences you are beginning to draw about his or her competencies. In all questioning, however, be sure that you are giving the interviewee plenty of reinforcement for what he or she is telling you. You are not the FBI. You should laugh with the interviewee, tell stories of your own if necessary to keep the flow of talk informal and pleasant, constantly reinforce him or her for the help he or she is giving you in clarifying what goes on
in this job.

Your objective is to get the interviewee to tell you little vignettes, scenarios of things that happened to him or her. Some people need a lot of encouragement and stimulation to really get into the process of telling a story.

Step 4. Further Behavioral Events

You may find it easy in talking about an event in the area of supervision to move on to an example of when things didn’t go well:

“That helps me understand much better what supervision involves. Now, can you think of an instance in which you feel you didn’t carry out supervision as well as you might have? That will help me also, because it will identify the characteristic one ought to show in such situations”.

If the interviewee can’t think of one, you can make a few suggestions (“Did you ever have to fire somebody?” “Did you ever have problems with any of your subordinates?”) and if the interviewee still blocks (an unusual occurrence!) you can go to some other area (“Well, can you think of a time when things didn’t go well on the job?”). Again, when the interviewee comes up with and event, ask first for time, place and setting, and then go into detail.

In all, it is best to try to get detailed descriptions of three events where the interviewee was effective and three events where the interviewee was ineffective. but there is nothing magical about these numbers. The crucial question is whether you are learning what it takes to do this job well.

Occasionally you will run into someone who blocks when you ask him or her for an example of something that went particularly well or poorly. The interviewee just can’t seem to think of anything important. In that case, don’t keep pressing him or her; your main goal of getting the interviewee to talk about how he or she performs on the job may only be interfered with as he or she gets more frustrated or annoyed about not being able to do what you want. Then you should use other approaches to get the interviewee to talk, such as asking the person to take you through what he or she did yesterday or probing in detail, or just how he or she goes about supervising someone through an example.

Remember, the goal is to get the interviewee to talk about the way he or she does the job.
Any method of doing that is legitimate.

Step 5. Characteristics

It is often useful at the end of the interview to ask the interviewee what characteristics he or she thinks a person ought to have to do his or her job well. This serves the double purpose of establishing good relations by asking the interviewee’s opinion and also of giving you some further insight into what he or she thinks is important. For example, if none of the good incumbents thinks to mention interpersonal skills, you may want to infer that incumbents in this job can get along without caring much about interpersonal relationships.

Step 6. Summary and Writing

After the interview is over it is a good plan to sit down quietly for an hour and summarize what you have learned. This may include a brief characterization of the person you have just interviewed. It also helps you define things about which you are still unclear. In other words, it is a time to make your budding hypotheses explicit so that you can check them in later interviews. If you have the time, this is the best point to write up the entire interview, while your memory is still fresh.

Reference: Spencer, L. M. & Spencer, S. M. (1993). Competence At Work. New York: Wiley, 114-134

FUTURE BLOGS

THREE PITFALLS TO AVOID IN INTERVIEWING
FIVE COMPETENCIES TO HAVE IN MIND
COMPARISONS OF JOB ANALYSIS TECHNIQUES
COMMON INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES
FOUR COMMON INTERVIEWING STYLES
FEATURES OF THE BEI TECHNIQUE
ADVANTAGES OF THE BEI TECHNIQUE

Note: This information can also be found in the Research & Support section of the Workitect website.

The BEI technique has been adapted and taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models workshop and Interviewing for Competencies workshop as the Structured Event Interview.

The methodology is also applied in Workitect’s set of 35 Competency Interview Guides.

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Interviewing and Assessing “Strategic Thinking” Competence

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What is a Strategic Thinking Competency?

Definition: Analyzing an organization’s competitive position and developing a clear and compelling vision of what the organization needs for success in the future.

 Behaviors:

  1. Understands the organizations strengths and weaknesses as compared to competitors
  2. Understands the industry, market and product/service trends affecting the organization’s competitiveness
  3. Develops distinctive strategies to achieve and sustain competitive advantage; translates strategies into clear goals and objectives
  4. Communicates a clear vision that energizes others to accomplish what the organization needs for success in the long term; consistently restates and reinforces that vision and direction
  5. Focuses on ways to build the organization’s capabilities for the future

Using a Competency Interview Guide

Download the complete interview guide for Strategic Thinking.

Use a Competency Interview Guide to assist in the behavioral interviewing process. It provides specific questions and probes for the behaviors of the competency. In addition, positive and negative behavioral indicators are listed that will help evaluate the candidate’s responses. While the process described below is designed for multiple interviewers seeing each candidate, it can be completed with only one interviewer.

Prior to the interview:

  • Review the candidate’s resume.
  • Review the assigned the competency(s) and the behaviors that comprise each competency.
  • Select the specific questions you feel comfortable asking each candidate. Note: Not all the questions need to be used – select at least two questions.

During the interview:

  • Greet the candidate and spend a few minutes building rapport; talk about areas the candidate is interested in.
  • Transition into the formal interview.
  • Ask the selected questions and use follow-up probes to get complete examples of the:
    • Situation that the candidate encountered;
    • Actions that the candidate took;
    • Results or outcome of the actions taken.
  • Give the candidate time to think about past examples/experiences when answering the questions.
  • Ideally get at least 2-3 examples for each question.
  • Use this guide to take notes and evaluate the candidate.

Following the interview:

  • Check off appropriate behavioral indicators and summarize key observations and notes. Rate the candidate on each assigned competencies in the space provided at the bottom of each page.
  • Note any observations for competencies not assigned and be prepared to discuss.
  • After completing, interviewers should meet to discuss and reach consensus on the final ratings for each candidate and complete the Candidate Interview Summary.
  • Make the hiring decision.

Examples of Behavioral Questions and Probes

1a. Think about the organization you work for now. What are some strengths and  weaknesses of the organization as compared to its competitors?
1b. What industry and market trends are affecting the organization’s competitiveness?

2. Think about a product or service provided by your organization. What are some specific competitive strengths and weaknesses of that product or service within the marketplace?

3. Give me an example of a time when a product or service you were offering was not as competitive as it should be. How did you know this and what did you do about it?
What was the situation? What action(s) did you take? What was the result?

4. Give me an example of when a product or service you were offering was one of the best in the marketplace. How did you know this and did you do anything to keep it the best?

  • What was the situation? What action(s) did you take? What was the result?

Download the complete interview guide for Strategic Thinking.

Learn more about Competency Interview Guides for 35 competencies.

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How to include Technical Competencies in Competency Models

 

Technical iStock_000017398954MediumYou do not need a technical competencies dictionary in order to include technical competencies in your job competency models.

Identifying the Competencies                                                                                        In Workitect’s model-building methodology, technical competencies are determined through interviews, expert panels, and other methods as described in our “Developing Technical Competencies” blog, and as taught in our Building Competency Models and Creating Technical Competencies workshops. The purchase of a separate technical competency dictionary is not required.

One Method: The Technical Job Requirements Interview
One of the interview methods is the “technical job requirements interview”. This is a one-hour interview that can be used to identify the technical skills and knowledge needed in a single job or in a set of jobs with the same or similar responsibilities (e.g., Sales Representative, Customer Service Representative, Plant Manager, Financial Analyst). The interview can be conducted either with jobholders or managers of jobholders. The interview includes questions about (a) the technical qualifications and experience expected when someone is hired into the job, (b) the most important job responsibilities, and the technical skills and knowledge required to perform each main responsibility.

This interview can be used with superior performing jobholders or managers of jobholders. In either case the interviewees should be persons who have held the role for a minimum of 6 months and preferably at least a year. This interview takes about one hour to conduct. At least two of these interviews should be conducted for each job for which technical skill/knowledge requirements need to be established.

Describing the Competency in a Model
When it is determined that superior performers in a position require a high level of technical expertise in a specific field, the technical competency (or competencies) can be included in the competency model in these possible ways:

  • The identified competency can be listed under the Technical Expertise competency in our dictionary and described by job level and level of proficiency.
  • Include it as a separate competency without levels, with details of the competency described in a Major Responsibilities section. Example: Web Host Manager model.
  • List it in a separate section in the model. Example: page 14 in this Project Manager model.
  • Describe in levels and by major responsibilities totally customized to the organization and industry. Example

Example of Technical Competencies with Levels and Behavioral Descriptions

Microsoft Excel Skill: The ability to use Microsoft Excel to develop plans and analyses, and to prepare reports displaying the results of analyses in tabular and graphical format.

Levels General Descriptions of Levels Behavioral Descriptions of Levels
Basic Proficiency • Has completed a basic training course, if one is available.

• Has begun to apply skill/knowledge.

• Has completed Excel I course.

• Has prepared at least one analysis using Excel, with supervision.

Intermediate Proficiency • Has developed some breadth or depth of knowledge and skills, but has not mastered all areas needed for full proficiency.

• Has significant experience and practice applying knowledge and skills across many relevant areas.

• Has completed at least one Excel course beyond Excel I.

• Has prepared at least 6 analyses and reports using a variety of functionality.

 

Full Proficiency • Fluently applies the skills and knowledge in all applicable tasks performed in his/her organization.

• Has extensive experience and practice applying this skill area across all relevant areas.

• Has provided technical leadership of the full range of applicable tasks performed in his/her organization.

• Has completed at least 4 courses in Excel.

• Fluently uses look-up tables, queries, formulas for financial applications, pictures and drawings, pivot tables and what-if analyses;

• Has led the preparation of complex analyses and reports.

Expert • Has developed training materials and had extensive experience teaching this skill/knowledge area to others.

• Has cutting-edge knowledge of state-of-the-art application of this skill/knowledge area outside of the organization.

• Has developed new tools or technology for this area.

• Has developed and delivered advanced courses in Excl

• Develops applications for Excel, using Visual Basic

• Is recognized and sought out as an Excel expert within the company.

Learn more about Workitect’s consulting services, workshops, and products, including competency dictionary, interview guides, and development guides.

Join the LinkedIn Competency-Based Talent Management group.

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Do your executives and managers need a Global Perspective?

Twitter1252X626_WorldTo maintain global competitiveness, changing circumstances are demanding global strategic visions and new organizational structures that are conceptualized, articulated and implemented by managers.

What is a “global perspective”?

It is the ability to recognize and address issues that are outside of our national perspective. Issues are viewed without any pre-set biases or limitations. It requires being objective, and utilizing a broad framework in making judgments in domestic and international activities. It is an ability to see the “big picture”.

A person demonstrating this competency:

  1. Has global experience: considers problems and opportunities from a global perspective
  2. Understands group strategy, the role of the local business: “walks the talk”
  3. Is culturally aware and demonstrates ability to conduct business in local terms
  4. Understands and takes into account global and local impacts on day-to-day activities
  5. Aligns global strategy and tactics with local considerations
  6. Keeps abreast of global influences on the local business
  7. Role models for staff on global initiatives
  8. Aligns and manages local interests with global considerations
  9. Is proactive – prepares locally to support global activities
  10. Is empathetic and sensitive to global issues, but may lack international experience

General Considerations in Developing this Competency

In order to develop this competency, one must first set aside any and all negative, preconceived notions, biases, and ideas. This will allow the individual to fully understand and appreciate the inherent differences that exist within all cultures. Once this is done, the individual should begin to acquire information and knowledge about other cultures, in an effort to conceptualize the mores, norms, values and business practices of those given cultures.

Practicing this Competency

Acquire as much knowledge as possible through various media sources, such as the internet, periodicals, and television. Immerse yourself in different cultures by traveling, or joining groups and/or organizations with a variety of cultures. When given the chance, listen to other people’s experiences and viewpoints as they pertain to a specific cultural group, then experience this same group and see in your experience what was similar or dissimilar.

Obtaining Feedback

Ask persons from different cultures how knowledgeable you seem in regards to different geo-social, geo-economic, and geo-political issues. This will be your best gauge to assess your progress.

Learning from Experts

Identify people within your organization who are from other cultures. Discuss both business and social topics with them. See things from their perspective. Look for differences in the way they would handle and interpret different situations. Ask experts in international business to help you understand the interaction between world events, global business and your business. Spend time with natives of foreign countries, discussing the differences and similarities of your respective backgrounds.

Coaching Suggestions for Managers

If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop this competency, you can:

  • Assign the person to work on projects with others from diverse backgrounds, countries and cultures. Build in international travel, where possible. Provide pre and post project briefings and debriefings regarding cultural opportunities and pitfalls.
  • Help the person develop a proactive plan for developing a global perspective.
  • Give the person feedback on his/her behaviors and performances where there was an opportunity for the demonstration of a global perspective.

 Sample Development Goals

By July 1, I will attend a meeting of the local World Trade Organization or international chamber of commerce – to learn and network.

By end of the third quarter, I will complete a Spanish (or other foreign language) class.

By the end of this month, I will subscribe to and read The Economist on a regular basis.

Each week, I will read about and/or learn about a different culture. This may include going to lunch with someone from a country/culture different from mine.

Resources for Developing this Competency
Resources for developing this competency, including books, workshops, courses, and e-learning programs, are listed in Workitect’s COMPETENCY DEVELOPMENT GUIDE, which includes similar information for the additional thirty-four competencies that are contained in Workitect’s COMPETENCY DICTIONARY.

Questions for conducting a structured behavioral event interview in order to assess and select for this competency are included in a set of thirty-five COMPETENCY INTERVIEW GUIDES.

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Google’s approach to competency-based talent management

imagesOver the years, there has been much ink spilled over the recruiting practices at Google. The company is now very well known for having successfully implemented a talent management strategy that permeates all levels of the organization — from top executives to entry-level employees – and attracts the very best talent on the market.

Even in its early stages, the company understood the importance of engagement and motivation as performance drivers and competitive advantages. But building engagement and retaining top talent is no easy feat. Many organizations continue to believe that compensation and benefits are key to achieving these goals; yet, there is a new generation on the marketplace and while affording a certain lifestyle is certainly important to them, it is far from being the main criteria for selecting an employer, much less exhibiting superior performance in their job.

A Forbes article explains how, decades ago, Google decided to give every employee 10-15% free time to work on pet projects. Not financial incentives, but the opportunity to show their skills and work on projects of interest of them. This ties in nicely with McClelland’s need theory, which claims that humans possess three main needs, or motives – Achievement, Affiliation and Power – each of which dictate specific behaviors in the workplace.

Capitalizing on the achievement motive as a primary driver, employees used this free time to come up with new business ideas and projects, thereby supporting the organization’s growth, innovative competitiveness and overall success.

This talent-focused culture for which Google is now known is, of course, funded today by a budget that very few companies have the privilege to manipulate. Yet, Google’s success (with respect to talent management) isn’t entirely the result of large HR investments.

Let’s take a closer look.

A culture of competency

Google has long understood that it needs skilled, driven and innovative bar-raisers to outperform its competition and to that end, has managed to change the way its employees work in order to build a culture that attracts and retains the very best.

Forbes’ mini case study reveals that to support this new culture, Google goes through a process of identifying critical positions in the organization – those very job roles where performance can differentiate them from their competitors – and emphasizing the search for top performers in these roles. Not for every job function in the organization, but for positions that make a difference in Google’s environment.

But finding top performers, even if only for a handful of roles, is easier said than done. After all, there is really no way of knowing if a person is “right” for the job unless they get a fair chance at proving it. At the very best, an employee may have demonstrated certain skills in a given role, under a specific scope of constraints and responsibilities, but a true top performer is developed with the idea that motivation is key to raising the bar.

For Google, this meant allowing employees to work, one day a week, on projects of interest to them, a strategy that not only motivated employees to prove their skills and demonstrate the extent of their contributions to Google’s success, but also allowed the company to remain on the cutting edge of the competition as a result.

Of course, we are not implying that this “pet project” solution can work for any organization, particularly if your company is struggling with an inadequate workforce-to-workload ratio. What we are saying however is that you need to identify the key roles in your organization, along with the competencies (skills, behaviors, knowledge, interests, motives, etc.) required to perform in these jobs, and then provide your employees the latitude and flexibility they need to outperform.

For optimal results, think clarity and transparency

Defining competencies is key to executing your company’s strategy and reaching your long-range goals. But the essential first step consists in establishing clear directions, and ensuring that your strategic directions are communicated to your workforce. Transparency is the only way to gain the support of your employees, and build a coherent team that works toward achieving the same objectives.

Top performers who seek to put their skills to use for your company’s success can only show you what they can accomplish if you allow them to understand your goals and participate in the process of getting there. Getting your bar-raisers to the table is a critical part of creating a truly high-performing and motivating culture because without transparency, even your best employee will resolve to only doing what is required of them. That is exactly what Google managed to avoid by granting employees the chance to actively participate in idea generation and process creation activities.

The result of this effort is an integrated workforce and human resource systems that promote and reward talent and outperformance, not to mention enhanced accountability and innovation. And while the bottom-line benefits include increased productivity and higher profits, the true value of a competency-based approach to talent management is a lot more powerful.

Implementing a transparent, competency-based approach will renew your company, uncovering startling energy and synergies that can give you the responsive, competitive edge you need. But you first need to know which competencies are needed to take you to this next level. And that’s what competency modeling aims to accomplish.

The following white paper presents all the benefits of this system, along with the steps to move forward.

We also invite you to browse our blog for many more articles on applying a competency-based talent management system to various HR applications within your organization.

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Creating Competency Based Talent Management Processes

Air CanadaCompetency modeling has received its fair share of criticism over the years, particularly with respect to the level of complexity involved in the process of adapting these models to the many HR-related needs of large organizations. There’s no denying that developing customized competency models that can be applied across many HR applications and a growing multitude of job roles is an arduous challenge; one that requires time, resources and commitment.

Yet, as many organizations continue to focus on education and experience when assessing candidates for a job role, more and more studies show that acquired skills and past experience no longer support organizations’ need to adapt to a modern, rapidly changing, global environment. As groundbreaking technologies make their way into our professional lives at a pace faster than most companies can adapt to, can the simple fact of having learned a certain skill – often years, if not decades, prior – guarantee a company’s future success?

Online resources and public workshops, such as our 3-day Building Competency Models workshop, are effective at educating and training individuals and small teams on the benefits and process of developing job competency models and HR applications. But large organizations tend to deal with very complex and unique issues, and each situation is difficult to address with generic documentation or in a public workshop.

A truly customized program caters to the special needs of an organization, with one-on-one or small group consulting, highly technical competencies, and solutions to address unique organizational issues.

Furthermore, a customized consulting approach can better evaluate and improve on past or existing model building approaches. By focusing on the strategy and implementation of specific applications, companies gain a superior edge in achieving synergy across teams, and ensure consistency in applying model-building methodology.

Case in Point: In late 2012, this large Canadian-based company looked for a consultative competency-modeling workshop that could be built upon its own internal data, and tailored to different segments of its HR department, for a variety of applications. It was also seeking guidance on current best practices for organizations with similar challenges.

Their performance management program already included competencies, but the company was hoping to use Workitect’s dictionary and resources to further refine its models by job role (individual contributor, manager, director level) and branches (sales, marketing, law, finance, human resources, etc.), in addition to separating competencies between generic levels and specialty jobs.

Their competency model had been developed for performance management applications, with 5 core and 17 branch competencies, through a 360-review process for leaders. The response from this process had however been slightly negative and as such, the HR team had been given the mandate to remove ‘behaviors’ from performance management. This eventually resulted in competencies being officially removed from all performance management assessments the following year.

A few years later, the company decided to re-introduce ‘behaviors,’ but this time by incorporating Leadership Competencies and Corporate Values into its performance management program. Competencies were developed in house, and some branches even launched their own competency-based initiatives. A specific group hired consultants to develop branch competencies by level and use assessments, while another moved to implement a series of workshops focused on the development of leadership skills, based on the Learning Organization theory (The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge).

However, these leadership competencies were not correlated to the many HR applications, and the company was then looking for experienced consultants to help integrate its HR processes to all aspects of workforce management: recruiting, performance management, professional development, succession planning, etc.

When the company came to us at Workitect, the team was already equipped with a project plan and timeline. The company requested that the workshop be customized to ensure that its HR professionals gained a thorough understanding of various competency modeling approaches, but also that, from a recruiting perspective, they learned how to extract critical competencies required for positions from the intake session with hiring manager, as well as how to select the right behavioral competency questions for interviews.

In order of priority, the company wanted to focus on:

  1. Succession planning
  2. Leadership development
  3. Assessment and selection decisions
  4. 360° feedback instruments
  5. Training design and development
  6. On boarding
  7. Performance management, review and appraisal

The company also requested consulting on using competency models to the benefit of optimizing client consultations and interventions, e.g., rightsizing, learning programs, job descriptions, leadership development, employee/candidate assessment, etc.  The company needed to provide its key players with a ‘toolkit’ that could be used for designing processes and solutions for its clients.

Process Using the basis of our 3-day competency-modeling workshop, we modified the content to focus more on the implementation and integration of various competency-modeling approaches to different applications within the organization.

Twelve participants attended the workshop; 1/3 of which were HR advisors, 1/3 covered key areas such as recruitment and talent acquisition, and 1/3 focused on development and succession planning. This group covered the entry and employee lifecycle within a company.

Using select generic competencies from the Workitect dictionary, the team focused on defining key competencies that were suited to their needs and reality, including:

  • Providing motivational support
  • Fostering teamwork/empowering others
  • Managing change
  • Interpersonal effectiveness (influence)
  • Analytical/forward/Strategic thinking
  • Fostering innovation
  • Customer/Results orientation
  • Decisiveness and self-confidence
  • Adaptability
  • Flexibility
  • Personal accountability
  • Personal credibility

Implementation The implementation process was handled internally, with Workitect’s consulting advice and plan. The company began the process with live sessions to senior management teams, followed by “people manager” training, both with very positive feedback from attendees.

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Workitect is a leading provider of competency-based talent development systems, tools and programs. We use “job competency assessment” to identify the characteristics of superior performers in key jobs in an organization. These characteristics, or competencies, become “blueprints” for outstanding job performance. Competencies include personal characteristics, motives, knowledge, and behavioral skills. Job competency models are the foundation of an integrated talent management system that includes selection, performance management, succession planning, and leadership development.

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Five Types of Competency Characteristics to Predict Future Success

There are many ways to define competencies but in sum, they can be referred to as the very characteristics causally related to criterion-referenced effective and/or superior performance in a job or situation.

Let’s note that a characteristic is not a competency, unless it predicts something meaningful in the real world, such as behavior or performance, hence the ‘causally related’ segment of our definition.

Psychologist William James said the first rule for scientists should be that “A difference which makes no difference is no difference.” A characteristic that makes no difference in performance is not a competency, and should therefore not be used to evaluate people. A competency must be a fairly deep and enduring part of a person’s personality, sufficiently so that it can be used to predict behavior in a wide variety of situations and job tasks.

The causal relationship of competencies in job performance management can be illustrated as such:5 Types of Competency Characteristics to Predict Future Success
But a competency must also be criterion-referenced, which means that it actually predicts who does something well or poorly, as measured by a specific criterion or standard.

Depending on the performance criterion they serve to predict, competencies can be categorized as ‘threshold’, which refers to the basic essential skills that a person must possess to produce at least the minimal output required by a job role, or ‘differentiating’, which distinguish superior from average performers.

Here are 5 types of competency characteristics to understand, identify and measure in your workforce, in order to better assess your employees’ current and potential output.

1. Motive

Last month, we wrote about the importance for employers and managers to be able to determine motive in their staff, as they more accurately predict job performance thank acquired skills and education. The things a person consistently thinks about or desires are drivers of behavior and, ultimately, performance. They determine and explain a person’s actions in the workplace or in a given situation. For instance, achievement-motivated people consistently set challenging goals for themselves, take personal responsibility for accomplishing them, and use feedback to improve on a continuous basis. And while performance management supports the alignment of an individual’s professional development to overall corporate results, it must also factor in the motives behind this person’s actions to understand past behavior and provide the right incentives to superior future performance.

2. Traits

Traits are those consistent physical and behavioral responses to situations or information. For example, reaction time and good eyesight are physical trait competencies of combat pilots. In a 2013 research paper, Routledge reminds us that the extent to which traits actually translate into actual behavior depends, at least in part, on how structured or regulated the situation is. But to predict performance in a workplace environment, traits should be viewed as intrinsic behaviors that people will exhibit without close supervision. Bear in mind however that traits are closely correlated to motives. An individual may choose to activate the necessary traits for a job role at any specific moment, depending on their underlying motive. Since every position comes with behavioral expectations from management, an employee with the motive or aspiration to access higher roles within the organization could choose to develop or exhibit the very traits required to perform in this role, even if they are not aligned with their personal preferences.

3. Self-Concept

Self-concept refers to our personal attitudes, values and self-image. It is the belief of how effective we can be in a particular situation. Psychology tells us that there are four categories of self-concept: the perceived self, the ideal self, one’s self esteem, and a set of social identities. Each of these elements plays a crucial role in understanding how self-concept relates to energizing, directing, and sustaining organizational behavior. After all, a person’s values are respondent or reactive motives that predict what he or she will do in a situation. For example, someone who values being in management, but does not intrinsically like or spontaneously think about influencing others at the motive level, may attain a managerial position, but then fail. If self-concept is partly developed from feedback from others (the very feedback that is then used to shape a person’s actions and behaviors), effective managers know how to accurately identify their employees’ concepts of self in order to:

  • Align these perceptions to the needs of the organization by assigning employees to the appropriate job tasks
  • Provide the right feedback to help employees achieve their ‘ideal selves’ – the driver or motive to performance

This form of motivation, which is achieved through consistent feedback, rewards and incentives, serve to increase the probability of the expected behavior in the future.

4. Knowledge

Knowledge consists in the information a person has in specific content areas. While the definition may appear to be quite simple and straight forward, knowledge is a complex competency. Scores on knowledge tests often fail to predict work performance because they fail to measure knowledge and skills in the ways that are actually used on the job. Many knowledge tests measure remote memory, when what is really important is the ability to find information. Memory of specific facts is less important than knowing which facts exist that are relevant to a specific problem, and where to find them when needed. Knowledge at best predicts what someone can do, not what he or she will do. So once again, knowledge alone cannot accurately predict an employee’s output or performance but rather, it must be interpreted as part of a whole, along with motive, traits, self-concept and skills, to name a few. It refers to the basic requirements to attain a given job role, but cannot be the sole criterion to recruiting.

5. Skill

Skill is the ability to perform a certain physical or mental task. For example, a dentist’s physical skill to fill a tooth without damaging the nerve, or a computer programmer’s ability to organize 50,000 lines of code in logical sequential order. Mental or cognitive skill competencies include analytic thinking (processing knowledge and data, determining cause and effect, organizing data and plans) and conceptual thinking (recognizing patterns in complex data). We’ve already discussed the difference between skills and competencies; skills refer to a person’s ability to learn in order to accomplish a task. They are acquired through education and hard work, and can be regarded as somewhat tangible. Competencies extend a bit further to include the behaviors, motives and knowledge required to utilize those skills to produce the desired results. They can therefore be defined as a group of measurable traits that allow an organization to assess an individual’s probability of superior performance, with respect to the skills he/she already possesses. Like knowledge, skills are often perceived as the ultimate requirements to attain a given job role, but they do not guarantee future results.

Hitting the bull’s eye: A customized competency model to performance

multiple-level-art_wht_bkgBuilding a competency model requires more than listing the traits or motives desired within a certain job role. An “off-the-shelf” model is likely to fail to recognize the unique aspects of your company’s unique strategy, culture and values. These generic tools are critical to the competency modeling process, as a starting point in your development process, but competency modeling should also look inward, at where your specific organization is, what it intends to accomplish, your competitive landscape, and the obstacles that may stand in your way over time.

We invite you to join us at any of our upcoming workshops to learn to develop a tailored competency dictionary, build a competency model in six steps, without external consultants, and adequately integrate off-the-shelf lists, such as PDI, Lominger, DDI, etc.

You will also learn how to successfully implement a sustainable competency system, which can be applied to almost every one of your HR processes, including succession planning, performance management, professional development, assessment, selection, retention, and many more.

Learn more here, or click here to register!

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The power of customization in competency modeling

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Over the years, competency modeling has been the subject of its share of criticism, particularly with respect to their level of complexity. Many have indeed argued that in addition to the fact that developing customized models that can be applied across the multitude of job roles within an organization is an arduous challenge, competency modeling is a language that most managers don’t speak. Rather, a great deal of HR professionals and line managers prefer to talk about skills and experience when assessing and selecting internal or external candidates for open positions

But can acquired skills and past experience really support an organization’s need to remain in constant movement, to evolve, to adapt to a rapidly changing environment?

As groundbreaking technologies make their way into our professional lives at a pace faster than most companies can adapt to, can the simple fact of having learned a certain skill guarantee a company’s future success?

A skill is a skill is… not a competency

There is an important difference between skills and competencies, although both terms are unfortunately often used interchangeably.

A skill is an ability an individual learns in order to accomplish a task. In an organizational context, this may be, for example, programming, translating, writing, etc. Skills are acquired through education and hard work, and can be regarded as somewhat tangible.

A competency extends a bit further on this definition to include the behaviors, motives and knowledge required to utilize that skill to produce the desired results. In the context of workforce planning and talent management, competencies can therefore be defined as a group of measurable traits that allow an organization to assess an individual’s probability of superior performance, in addition to the skills he/she already possesses.

In other words, competencies do include the underlying skills needed to produce a given outcome, but they also involve a lot more than the ‘technical’ abilities an individual has acquired over the years, to include what employees possess in the way of personal characteristics that enable them to produce superior results.

The bottom line: Why competencies matter

Typically, when companies realize they need an employee to fill a new or newly opened position, they begin the search for a candidate who ‘knows what they’re doing’, i.e., who can perform the task based on their educational and/or professional record. In doing so, the organization is evaluating the value of this candidate based on previously demonstrated skills, overlooking the person’s future contribution. Yet, in our current environment, successful companies must be a step ahead of the current trends to win the game.

We’ve recently discussed how it is ludicrous for an employer to assume that all employees aspire to be boss one day. Many are very content with fewer responsibilities in their careers, placing more emphasis on achieving success elsewhere in their life. As a result, a company in the staffing process may now be placed in a situation where it must choose between a candidate with 15 years’ experience in the field with no career advancement motive, and a candidate with 5 years’ experience with a great inclination for acquiring new skills.

This desire to learn is not a skill, but part of a competency cluster that is crucial to companies. In general, competencies at the motive or trait level (e.g., initiative) are more difficult to develop than competencies that resemble skills (e.g., persuasiveness, communications). It is those harder-to-develop competencies that should be the criteria for selection, rather than ‘skills’ that can be learned.

Customization: Looking inward to play your strengths

Building a competency model for future success requires more than listing the traits or motives desired within a certain job role. In fact, a 2011 article mentions that if competency models have fallen short of their goals, it is because too many organizations decide to create just one model or buy an “off-the-shelf” model for the entire organization, thereby failing to recognize the unique aspects of their own strategy, culture and values.

The article then goes a step further, comparing this method to taking another company’s logo, tweaking it a bit, and calling it your own. Competency models defined in this way will provide clear direction on how to be successful in another company and will result in poor linkage to results and poor alignment with strategy.”

We cannot deny that generic tools are critical to the competency modeling process, as they serve as a guideline, a starting point in your development process. After all, by utilizing the tools at your disposal, you save considerable time and money. But the competency modeling process involves more than listing ‘desirables’ on paper. It entails looking inward, at where your organization is, what it intends to accomplish, your competitive landscape, and the obstacles that may stand in your way over time.

There are as many ways to learn to build a truly valuable and viable customized competency model for your organization as there are applications to modeling:  succession planning, performance management, recruiting, training and development, etc.

You may want to take advantage of onsite workshops, which tailor for you generic competency models to the needs of your organization, or attend public workshops, where small groups gather to learn the techniques required to develop and implement their own models, with the support of an array of already-available tools.

What’s more, Workitect also offers webinars and white papers to further guide you in the process, so that you may derive the best value from the tools we have developed over our decades of experience.

We invite you to contact one of our consultants to discuss the best solutions for your situation.

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Behavioral talent management: Not everyone wants to be boss

motivatorsTalent management, in its purest sense, refers to a high-level HR strategy that sees to the optimal utilization of human capital to maximize an organization’s chances of success. But when it comes to managing a workforce, the human variable of the equation isn’t always easy to define and as such, predicting an outcome can be extremely arduous for managers who overlook important human behavior concepts, including motivation and aspiration.

Success probably carries as many definitions as there are people walking the earth. To some, it’s a general disposition in life while for others, it is mostly centered around a specific aspect, such as career, finances or love. This diversity in the very definition of success is part of what makes developing and implementing a talent management approach so difficult for executives attempting to optimize workforce performance.

After all, your ‘incentives’ to performance must be broad enough to allow for a cost-effective, streamlined process, but they also need to be sufficiently customized to the varying needs of your employees.

Performance: A question of satisfying needs?

Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how each level affects an individual’s behavior in life. But the continuation to this story, developed by David C. McClelland, is a little more obscure, despite the fact that his Need theory is often considered a major contributor to understanding human behavior in an organizational setting.

McClelland’s theory claims that humans possess three main needs, or motives – Achievement, Affiliation and Power – each of which dictate specific behaviors in the workplace.

Motives Characteristics
Achievement
  • Need to be challenged
  • Need for a sense of accomplishment
  • Need for regular feedback
Affiliation
  • Need to belong and be appreciated
  • Need for collaboration/interaction
  • Aversion to uncertainty
Authority/Power
  • Need for control/influence
  • Motivated by competition
  • Propensity for status/recognition

Unlike Maslow’s theory under which it is understood that a person will not intentionally seek out to fulfill a need for as long as other more pressing, or basic, needs haven’t been fulfilled, the McClelland theory states that most people possess a combination of the above motives, to varying degrees based on culture and life experiences.

Based on this knowledge, the Need theory can help you optimize your talent management processes in a manner that is consistent with both your employees’ social ‘motives’ and your organizational need to maximize their performance.

Identifying your employees’ real motivation to performance

In a recent article, we discussed the importance of tapping into your workforce’s potential and interests to develop their competencies and create a culture of bar-raisers. According to this system, it is only “once employees understand the gap between their own skills and the competencies required by the position they aspire to attain” that training for optimal results begins to occur in the workplace, driven by employees’ need to succeed.

But success, as we previously mentioned, is a subjective matter, and it is ludicrous for an employer to assume that all employees aspire to be boss one day. Many are very content with fewer responsibilities in their careers, placing more emphasis on achieving success elsewhere in their life. What’s more, it is critical to have a diverse workforce to ensure performance at all levels of the organization.

McClelland’s theory assists us in accurately identifying your employees’ dominant need so that you may set appropriate goals (and expectations!), as well as provide the right feedback and incentives to get the best results out of every employee.

For instance, realizing that an employee possesses the potential to develop certain competencies required to access superior roles within your organization does not mean that your talent management system will succeed in unleashing it. Rather, McClelland’s study reveals that if the dominant motive of an employee under consideration for a managerial role is affiliation, presenting the benefits sought after by authority-driven individuals is unlikely to yield the intended results.

This can easily be compared to the effects of a customized value proposition on your business development strategies, relative to a generic proposal that doesn’t highlight the benefits sought after by the potential client. The potential of a new collaboration may be great, but failing to understand the motives of the person on the other side of the deal is unlikely to translate into the results you seek.

What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander

By integrating and analyzing the most dominant need in your employees, you place yourself in a situation where you can adjust your own behavior and talent management approaches to drive superior results.

For instance, the theory proposes that to succeed in top management positions, a person should have a strong need for power and a low need for affiliation. And while authority-driven individuals are more likely to excel in these senior roles, it is achievement-motivated individuals who are better known for “making things happen and getting results”. But to encourage this behavior, employers need to provide constant feedback, with a fair share of praise. As such, when dealing with these employees, managers need to offer objective and regular performance reviews in order to set the pace for improvement and ultimately, superior results.

When combined with a customized competency-based approach to talent management, these insights into the characteristics of each person’s dominant motive to performance are critical to an organization’s success.

The case of ‘deliberate practice’, or the grooming of top performers

Once you have identified those employees who have 1) the competencies required by a given job role and 2) the motive to succeed in that role, it is important to assess the value of your professional development programs.

Scientific research shows that the quality and quantity of your coaching are as equally important, and that top performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice, NOT innate talent.

K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist and scientific researcher at Florida State University, wrote a paper entitled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, in which he states:

“We argue that the differences between expert (top) performers and normal adults (employees) reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

In other words, top performers – here referred to as ‘expert performers’ – are individuals who are developed to excel and deliver results. And this is where identifying the very motives that will drive an individual to train to become an expert performers becomes highly critical to the process.

To learn more about talent management, we invite you to browse other valuable articles and downloadable PDFs here, or join us at our next seminar, set to take place in May in Washington. 

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