The Right Way to Plan a Competency Modeling Project

Project Planning is Step 2 of Workitect’s process for building a job
competency models.

The key steps in planning a project to develop competency models and competency-base applications are:

  • Conducting a stakeholder analysis, identifying the people in the organization who have the most at stake in the development and implementation of competency models, and determining how and when they should be involved.
  • Preparing a draft project plan
  • Holding initial project planning meeting with project team to:
    • Review and revise draft project plan
    • Develop detailed plan with timeline and assigned responsibilities
    • Identify and agree on participants needed for each data collection activity
  • Creating and implementing a communication plan for people directly involved in the project and for all employees.

WORKSHEET FOR PLANNING A COMPETENCY MODELING PROJECT
This is a helpful checklist of key questions and issues related to the key steps that need to be addressed when launching a model-building project. It includes these sections.

  1. Scope of the Project
  2. Organizational Context
  3. Selecting the Approach to Model Building
  4. Building Support for the Project
  5. Deciding on Data Sources
  6. Staffing the Model Building Project
  7. Envisioning the Data Analysis and Model Building
  8. Reviewing and Revising the Model

In working through this worksheet, you may find that some questions are difficult to answer without a better understanding of areas such as the methodology for data gathering, data analysis and model building, and developing HR applications based on competency models. This information is covered in steps 3-6 of the six-step process that is used in our consulting practice and taught in our Building Competency Models workshop. It can also be found in the Resources & Support section of the Workitect website. Additional self-instruction material is included in Workitect’s quick start Building a Basic Model program that is available to licensees of the Workitect Competency Dictionary

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Possible ways to address several of these questions and issues are described below:

STAKEHOLDER ANALYSIS
After conceptualizing an approach to the project, a good first step in planning to think systematically about the stakeholders who will be affected by the competency-modeling project that you are considering. Possible stakeholders include:

  • Job incumbents in the jobs for which competency models will be built
  • Managers of job incumbents
  • Upper management (two or more levels above the job holders)
  • HR leaders who work with job incumbents or their managers
  • Internal or external consultants who work with job incumbents or their managers
  • The senior leader of HR
  • Internal customers of job incumbents
  • Informal leaders who can influence any of the above groups

In thinking about stakeholders, try to answer these questions:

  • Apart from this project, what are the most important needs, agendas and concerns of this individual or group?
  • How can you learn more about the most important needs, agendas or concerns of this individual or group?
  • How can this project address a need, agenda, or concern of this individual or group?
  • What will be the likely response of this individual or group to the project you are contemplating: support, resistance, or neutrality?
  • For each stakeholder, what can you do to build support or reduce resistance?

STRUCTURE OF THE PROJECT PLAN
After conceptualizing an approach to the project, the next step is to develop a project plan, which should include a set of tasks and a timeline. The format of the finished plan might have the following structure.

The project tasks are broken down into five groups. Project Launch activities might include:

  • a meeting with the project sponsor(s)
  • a meeting of project team to review and refine the project plan
  • training or preparing project team members to conduct interviews, resource panels and focus groups and to perform individual data analysis tasks

Data Gathering activities include:

  • Gathering and reviewing company documents relevant to the project, (e.g., existing job descriptions, organization charts, mission and values statements, performance appraisal forms, the organization’s strategic plan)
  • Identifying participants for each of the main data gathering activities (e.g., interviews, resource panel, focus groups)
  • Developing protocols for each data gathering activity (e.g., interview guide, questions to pose to resource panel and focus groups
  • Conducting each data gathering activity

Data Analysis and Model Building activities include:

  • Transcribing interviewers’ notes or tapes and notes on flip charts from resource panels and focus group
  • Individually analyzing interview notes or transcripts from each data gathering
  • Meeting to review and compare the results of individual
  • Preparing a draft competency model
  • Reviewing and revising the draft competency model based on feedback from the sponsor and other stakeholders

Application Development activities include:

  • Designing the application
  • Developing the tools and materials to support the application
  • Preparing a training or educational session on use of the application
  • Implementing the application

Communications activities include:

  • Preparing a draft email message to be sent by the organization’s senior leader explaining the purpose and benefits of the project to job incumbents and managers of job incumbents in jobs for which competency models will be built
  • Meetings with managers of job incumbents to explain the project
  • Preparing communications inviting participation from individuals selected for data gathering activities
  • Regular meetings with the project sponsor(s) to provide updates on project activities
  • Preparing periodic email communications to key stakeholders regarding progress with the project
  • Developing a presentation of the competency model(s) and application
  • Delivering the presentation to key stakeholder groups, such as upper management, managers of the job incumbents, and the job incumbents

COMMUNICATING WITH STAKEHOLDERS AND EMPLOYEES
When launching and implementing a competency-modeling project, the leaders of the project have to clearly and comprehensively communicate with two audiences:

1.  All employees, and
2. The managers and employees who will be directly involved in the project

       ALL EMPLOYEES
When any new project is undertaken within an organization, particularly one initiated by the human resources department, people have a natural tendency to get suspicious, concerned, or just curious. Employees who understand the project, it’s scope, each person’s involvement in it, and it’s potential benefits will help turn suspicion into support, and will go a long way toward making the project successful.

If your organization has access to an internal or external employee communications expert, use that expertise to help you plan and implement an effective communications effort.

Here a few points that can be covered in communicating the project. Ideally, the initial announcement should come from the senior sponsor and include:

  • The business need for creating this model at this time.
  • The name of the senior sponsor for the project.
  • Names of people on the project team.
  • How will the model be used, the application, and when will it be implemented.
  • Who is involved in creating the model- particularly jobholders and managers of job-holders.
  • Who to contact with questions

      PEOPLE DIRECTLY INVOLVED
In addition to receiving the same communications provided to all employees, the people involved in various aspects of the project should receive clear and complete information about their specific role.

      When informing people who will be on a resource panel or will be interviewed:

  • The communications can be from senior sponsor or a senior person on project team.
  • Reiterate purpose for the project.
  • Explain why they were selected.
  • Explain how they are to participate, either on the panel or in an interview.
  • Attach key questions they will be asked (for them to consider before their session).
  • Stress that their individual comments will be held confidential; only a summary of all comments will be published.
  • Inform them of the person they can contact with questions. 

     When distributing the model or application:

  • Communications should be from senior sponsor.
  • Summarize the history of the project to this point.
  • List the people who participated in creating the model/application.
  • Explain the implementation plan and timeline.
  • Inform them of the person they can contact with questions.

In summary, do not underestimate the importance of this step. A competency-based human resource system, implemented properly, should have a very positive impact on employees’ job satisfaction. It makes it more likely that people will be assessed fairly and accurately, and be afforded opportunities based on objective criteria (a picture of what superior performers really do that makes them superior performers). Poor communications of a model-building project leads to a diminishing of this positive effect and can actually lead to a negative result.

Practical Questions for HR Professionals Who are Building Competency Models

When planning the development of a competency model or models, there are practical
considerations that affect the design of the project, the format and content of the competency model, and the success of the project’s implementation. The following seven questions may be useful to Human Resouces professionals responsible for planning and implementation:
1. What HR application should be included in the initial model building project?
2. What will the key users of the model need from it?
3. How should key stakeholders be involved?
4. How extensive should the data collection be?
5. How should research be balanced with intuitive approaches?
6. What format of behavioral descriptors will best suit the application?
7. How can additional, future competency models be accommodated? 
Contact us at 800-870-9490 or ec@workitect.com if you have questions or want additional information.
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Are You Including the Right Competencies In Your HRIS?

A Competency is an underlying personal characteristic of an individual expressed through behaviors that lead to superior performance.  Example: Empowering Others – conveying confidence in employees’ ability to be successful, especially at challenging new tasks; delegating significant responsibility and authority; allowing employees freedom to decide how they will accomplish their goals and resolve issues.

A Competency Model describes the responsibilities and performance measures, and the 8-20 competencies needed for effective or superior performance, in a specific job or role in a specific organization. Examples:
Marketing Representative
Project Manager
Account Representative
Executive Staff
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INCLUDING COMPETENCIES IN A HRIS

When a company considers or purchases human resource information system software, the software usually comes with a pre-loaded list of competencies that are integrated into the HR applications in the system. The competencies that are selected for inclusion in the system usually come from several different sources:

  1. Off-the-shelf competency models or pseudo models, such as job descriptions (mistaken for competency models), for job categories. For example, there are many different existing profiles or models of a generic manager job or sales representative job.
  2. Competency dictionaries or libraries compiled by an HRIS company’s staff from existing lists of competencies, usually based on the experience of a consulting firm, writer, or academic institution.
  3. Surveys and brainstorming sessions within a company, tabulating opinions about competencies required within the organization for effective or superior performance.

The problem with using these sources is that the competencies and models are:

  •  Not created with a proven research-based methodology
  •  Not tailored to the organization 

As a result, the applications may include competencies that will not lead to effective or superior performance. In fact, selecting and developing the wrong competencies may lead to failed performance.

The rationale for developing competency models customized to the organization is further explained in “Doing Competencies Well: 20 Best Practices in Competency Modeling”.* The 17th best practice is:

         Using Competencies to Develop A Practical “Theory” of
         Effective Job Performance Tailored to the Organization
Competency models explain the nature of effective performance in an organization.      They describe what really matters in terms of job performance and how to be successful. In this way, they are not only much more than lists of KSAOs (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Other Characteristics) or job descriptions that result from job analysis, but instead are more of a theory in the following ways (Whetten, 1989):

  • They explain why the KSAOs matter in terms of creating effective job performance, connecting with organizational goals, and so on.
  • They usually include a description of the process (how effective performance occurs) as well as the content (what is effective performance).
  • They are internally consistent in that performance on one competency should not conflict with performance on another competency. They should reinforce each other in clear ways.
  • They predict and explain successful performance in a wide range (hopefully all) of job domains.
  • They may inform judgments with respect to likely outcomes (e.g., who will get hired, promoted, or rewarded).
  • They are provocative and promote thought and discussion about effective job performance. As such, they should yield more insight than a list of KSAOs.

HOW TO DEVELOP A “TAILORED” MODEL

  • Identify the Superior Performers
    In specific job or role, based on:
    Performance measurements/results
    Ratings by supervisors, subordinates, peers, and/or customers
  • Collect Data
    Behavioral Event Interviews
    Resource/Expert Panels
    Expert system data base
  • Create Model
    Identify Job Tasks & Job Competency Requirements, “Competency Model”

The complete six-step process that is used in our model-building work and taught in our Building Competency Models workshop is shown below.

THE RIGHT COMPETENCIES TO INCLUDE IN A HRIS

Include competencies that have been identified, through an objective model building methodology, to be possessed by the effective and superior performers in your unique organization. Review the competencies that are already included in the HRIS software. If they don’t match up with the ones that are included in your competency models, ask that they be included. The competencies may be contained in a competency dictionary that you used to build the models.

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Use a Competency Model Survey to Build a Competency Model

 

PURPOSE
The Competency Model Survey can be used alone or with other sources of data, to build a competency model when an organization chooses not to invest the resources to develop a customized competency model by using interviews and focus groups, as taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models certification workshop.

PROCESS
The survey is completed on-line by several capable jobholders or managers of jobholders, persons who are highly knowledgeable about the job being assessed. Based on the responses to the survey, our report generator produces a report that includes: (a) a recommended set of the 10-12 Workitect competencies to comprise the competency model for the job and (b) a set of the job requirements that were rated most important for the job.

STRUCTURE
The survey begins with a few initial questions to identify the job, the organization, and the responder’s experience with job. Next are two questions asking responders to comment on the job’s main responsibilities and the most challenging tasks or situations typically encountered in the job. The main body of the survey consists of rating questions about the importance of various general job responsibilities and requirements.

Here are the steps for building a competency model when the survey is used alone:

  1. The project leader of the competency modeling process contracts with Workitect to use the survey to build a competency model for one job.
  2. The project leader identifies at least 2 solid performers in this job and at least 2 managers of persons holding this job and sends these persons the web link for completing the survey and asks them to complete the survey within one week.
  3. When one week has passed and the survey has been completed by at least 2 jobholders and 2 managers of jobholders, Workitect analyzes the data, prepares a report, and sends it to the project leader.
  4. The report includes a set of competencies that are most important for effectiveness in the target job, based on the responses of the survey participants. Each competency has a summary score indicating its importance to the job, and the competencies are listed in descending order of their summary scores, along with a recommendation about which competencies to include in the competency model.
  5. To get buy-in for the competency model, the project leader can invite all or some of the survey respondents to a meeting to review the report and make the final decision about which competencies to include in the competency model.

When the competency modeling project includes other sources of data besides the survey, the competency modeling team reviews the report of the survey results, along with the results from other data sources and determines which competencies to include in the competency model.

ANOTHER OPTION: JOB COMPETENCY PROFILE
This is an abridged competency model using a virtual resource panel and surveys to use when it is impractical to convene a standard resource panel of job incumbents, managers of job incumbents and other subject matter experts in one geographic location and at one time.

Contact Workitect for more information. 800-870-9490 or ec@workitect.com

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The Best of Best Practices for Competency Modeling

Competency modeling has been taking place for more than four decades. In our consulting practice, our consultants have encountered companies using a number of different approaches to building models. Some approaches have been very effective, reliable, and valid and some ineffective, unreliable, and not valid. Unfortunately, these practices have produced negative results and low expectations for competency-based approaches to human resources and talent management. People contemplating the building of models or improving existing models should first educate themselves about what have been found to be effective practices.

Listed below are recommendations for three of the best references for successful competency modeling. The first two are referenced by SHRM in the development of the SHRM Competency Model. The third is a book that describes the original research for competency modeling. Each reflects Workitect’s methodology for building job competency models. It is taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models certification workshop.

Doing Competencies Well: Best Practices in Competency Modeling. (2011) Campion et al. Personnel Psychology, 64

This article presents a set of best practices for competency modeling based on the experiences and lessons learned from the major perspectives on this topic (including applied, academic, and professional). Competency models are defined, and their key advantages are explained. Then, the many uses of competency models are described. The bulk of the article is a set of 20 best practices divided into 3 areas: analyzing competency information, organizing and presenting competency information, and using competency information. The best practices are described and explained, practice advice is provided, and then the best practices are illustrated with numerous practical examples. Finally, how competency modeling differs from and complements job analysis is explained throughout. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2010.01207.x/full

The Practice of Competency Modeling
(2000) Shippmann et al. Personnel Psychology. 53

The purpose of this article is to define and explain a trend that has caused a great deal of confusion among HR researchers, practitioners, and consumers of HR-related services: competency modeling. The Job Analysis and Competency Modeling Task Force, a work group jointly sponsored by the Professional Practice Committee and the Scientific Affairs Committee of the Society For Industrial and Organizational Psychology, concluded a 2-year investigation into the antecedents of competency modeling and an examination of the current range of practice. Competency modeling is compared and contrasted to job analysis using a conceptual framework (reflected in a 10-dimension Level of Rigor Scale) that practitioners and researchers may use to guide future work efforts, and which could be used as a basis for developing standards for practice. The strengths and weaknesses of both competency modeling and job analysis are identified and, where appropriate, recommendations are made for leveraging strengths in one camp to shore-up weaknesses in the other. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2000.tb00220.x/full

Competence At Work: Models for Superior Performance
(1993) Spencer & Spencer, Pub. John Wiley & Sons

Competence at Work provides a brief history of the competency movement in industrial/organizational psychology and goes on to define “competency”. It provides analysis of 650 jobs, based on 20 years of research using the McClelland/McBer job competence assessment (JCA) methodology, an accurate and unbiased approach to predicting job performance and success. The book includes generic job models for entrepreneurs, technical professionals, salespeople, service workers and corporate managers. It defines JCA and describes in detail how to conduct JCA studies. It provides practical how-to instructions on how to adapt the methodology to the needs of an organization. Readers learn how to conduct the Behavioral Event Interview, a crucial technique involving detailed questions that enable an interviewer to accurately evaluate an individual’s performance potential in job-related situations. Describes how to analyze the accumulated data to develop competency models. Suggests future directions and uses for competency research. http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-047154809X.html

In future blogs, we will examine some of the twenty best practices listed in the first article (Doing Competencies Well) and describe ways to implement that practice, with examples from organizations that have done it well. 

What practices, if any, are missing from the list of 20 best practices?

Which ones are the most important?

Edward Cripe is the President of Workitect, the leader in the development of job competency models and competency-based talent management and HR applications. Contact Ed at ec@workitect.com

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