Monday, 9 July 2012

Still Incompetent About Competencies

Given the proliferation of consultants selling globally research behavioural competency models it must be confusing to pick one that actually fits your organization’s culture and business strategy.  These behavioural competency models provide you with a long list of categories further broken down into supposed behavioural statements.  Given that you know they are research based and sold by an internationally reputable firm you are comfortable bringing this generic and cleansed dictionary into your organization.

Reality is you are giving people a clear roadmap of behaviours for them to follow that has not been tested by your employees, validated by your organization and built off of your corporate culture (values) and strategic business plan.  You now expect employees to demonstrate actions, which in the past they have not demonstrated, even though the actions they are currently doing are leading to the desired results. Suddenly you are comparing your people against the new model of expected behaviours, that you paid outrageous amounts for, and suddenly good people have new deficiencies.

Issues with competencies models and performance management and selection: 

  1. There is an assumption when using the externally researched list that the role being defined is being defined based on the consultant’s perception of what are the appropriate behaviours for the participle role.
  2. Alternatively the profile is developed by the consultant picking and choosing what gets the best results from the leading performers and blends them into their pre-existing statements, creating one profile.  Resulting in everyone having one area they are good at and a number they are in need of development. Plus since they are in the consultant’s language and not the company ‘slang’ employees are not certain what they mean.
  3. The assumption is for the long list attributed to a particular job the incumbent has to be proficient at all behaviours. In reality they have to be proficient in the actual behaviours that fit the culture that are catalysts to executing the job objectives.  Those might not even be on the ‘generic dictionary’.
  4. The profile is developed in the absence of the actual job setting as it is based on the current or future desired job description. We do this knowing that at least 20% of the important things people do on the job are not defined in the job description.
  5. Then in the interview or performance review there is a measurement of the individual against all of the competencies. Resulting in everyone not measuring up because not everyone can be all things in all situations. Causing anxiety associated with performance reviews. 

Don’t let me lead you to believe that the articulation of the behavioural companies is a fruitless exercise.  When done correctly it is the most important roadmap to defining success. What differentiates a highly successful employee from a less successful one is the ability of the successful employee to demonstrate the desired behaviours, which fit the culture and the business strategy of the organization when executing their work.
Getting the behavioural competencies right for the organization means ensuring the statements are:

  1. Actually statements of behaviours and not vague statements or outcome statements i.e. words as ‘demonstrated’, ‘makes the effort’, ‘tired’ are not statements of behaviour and are red flags your model is not well articulated.
  2. Developed by listening to your successful people and how they do their job based on not only what they do but the outcomes they achieve against the business results.
  3. Validated through a content review process by your employees that identify which of the many statements actually lead to superior performance. Internal content validation is probably the weakest link in the development of many of the competencies models. 

In the process of engaging your employees, not just a select team of department heads and internal human resources people, but those who do the job successfully you will develop profiles that are in the language of your organization, linked to your culture and associated with your defined business plan.  This gives the pride of authorship to the employees not HR or the consultant.  The result is you achieve higher productivity, greater engagement and sustainable business results.

See the following related articles, which I have written


  1. So many rich gems here, David. You may be interested in the growth of online "free courses" is not actually about - ultimately - money & marketing, but an opportunity to build real competencies needed in higher education.

    I curated some articles about that here, per your competency theme interests:

    1. Having read the original article I am skeptical that one can develop a behavioural competency through on-line interaction. People will need people to get meaningful feedback on how they act. Interacting on-line is not (yet) the same as interacting in person. It also goes to what one is calling a competency. If competency is skill and knowledge yes the internet could be a medium for teaching that but if competency is a behaviour then I would rather leave human interactions with other humans.

  2. David:

    Great insights on this issue! Thanks.

  3. Hi David,

    Very well put and written. I would make the comment that the pre-published competency libraries on offer from the big firms can be useful as a starting framework, particularly if the leaders of the organization is interested in cultural change. But otherwise I do agree with you that trying to slap a generic competency model onto any organization without proper alignment will guarantee its failure and a huge loss of investment and productivity.

  4. Adrienne

    I don't believe that culture change can come about by introducing a set of behavioural competencies. Culture is rooted in the values of the company and changing the values is an evolutionary process. I would also suspect that imposing someone else's ideas of what are the right behaviours without anchoring them to the culture is one of the flaws of using off-the-shelf models. Thank you for the comment.

  5. Hi David. As you know, from joint work we have done together, to develop well stated behavioural competncies from a set of generic competency statements by taking the time to get it right and relevant is very rewarding. The big challenge then comes in helping the end users to fully understand and appreciate the work that has been done. This is something that will take time and patience to achieve.

  6. Thank you David for your great insight. I too have been working with competencies for some time. I have found that in order for them to really add value and get operationalized within the business we need to strike a balance between "too much science" and what is "practical". I have found that working off a business accountability framework and identifying clear measures sets the right tone for building a model that will resonate and tie into strategic execution. Picking from a generic set of competencies and then customizing the language to bring the right context is most effective. Sandra


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.