It's Not Just About the Competencies

The value of competencies is well researched. Many multinational and industry-leading organizations have come to realize the benefits of competencies over the last decade, helped in part by copious supporting research. Several years ago, we learned that 79 percent of best-in-class companies defined core competencies at the start of the hiring process (Aberdeen, 2011). Another piece of research demonstrated that 89 percent of best-in-class organizations had core competencies defined for all roles (Aberdeen, 2010).

"HAVING competencies is one thing; effectively USING them is an entirely different consideration"

Even armed with this knowledge, however, it’s easy to find examples of organizations failing to unlock the full potential of competencies. This is because HAVING competencies is one thing; effectively USING competencies is an entirely different consideration.

Defining competencies is important, but greater consideration must be given to launching and deploying them—in order to unlock their full potential. Any effective design and implementation begins by examining the needs and perspectives of the key stakeholders, from executives to employees. Competencies are not the sole purview of HR, nor should they be seen as such. They must be owned and used by the business; they should be codes of business and interpersonal conduct, and guide decisions to achieve business goals, delight customers, and engage associates. Skipping this examination and jumping haplessly to implementation will certainly lead to failure.

Even prior to the competency model design process, talent management professionals must encourage stakeholder conversations about intended uses and outcomes of the competency modeling efforts.Discussions should involve uncovering the unique business challenges in order to avoid guessing about required skill sets. Taking this business-focus tack, stakeholders can be more certain that their competency profiles will actually enable them to achieve their business objectives. Also, by demonstrating the connections between business challenges and HR programs, the talent team enhances their reputation as effective business partners.

So why should you care about competencies? Well, let me tell you…

First, consider that the perceived value will vary depending on one’s role within the organization. The competency design and launch processes add differential value to four key stakeholders: senior leaders, managers, employees, and the talent management team. Also critical: Talent system designers should communicate the launch in a targeted way to each group and spell out how that group is uniquely connected to the organization’s business and cultural priorities.

Value for Senior Leaders

Competencies define the behaviors that support the organization’s business and cultural strategies. They give voice to the unique value offered by the organization and enable communication—via behavioral modeling—of this value to all employees and customers. For senior leaders, it is especially important that the competency model be responsive and quickly deployable when strategic tactics change. This allows for enhanced organizational agility and an increased utility of the competency model.

Value for Managers

Competencies focus managers on the distinct, critically important behaviors needed when acquiring talent, developing employees in current roles, and preparing them for future assignments. They become the shared framework that guides managerial functions, including coaching, acceleration pool creation, career planning, performance, and succession management.

Supported by this framework, managers can lead with confidence; they know that their behaviors and decisions are perfectly aligned with senior leaders’ strategies. For competencies to offer this direction for managers, they must be defined at the appropriate level of responsibility. When designed and launched effectively, they play a role in enhancing organizational productivity, engagement, and retention.

Value for Employees

Competencies ensure employees are connected to the business strategy by articulating how they should achieve results and obtain success in their roles. As a result, employees gain a clear understanding of the implications of strategy on the behaviors they need to exhibit. Competencies also help employees understand which skills will be of most value to develop to meet career aspirations.

Value for the (Entire) Talent Management Team

Competencies drive lean talent management by focusing all the talent management functions on the distinguishing behaviors and skills within talent acquisition, development, performance management, and succession management systems. A common framework reduces design and implementation costs, and alleviates confusion caused by conflicting messages about priorities.

The bottom line is, use your competencies. Reap the benefits of their potential by ensuring you design, launch, and deploy them in a manner that takes into account your stakeholders’ needs. By doing so, you will ensure your talent strategies align to your business and cultural priorities.

Mac Tefft is a senior consultant for DDI's Talent Diagnostic Solutions.

Learn more about how DDI's competencies can help predict candidate performance.

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