How Competencies Can Drive Success!

When describing competencies to employees, we talk about competencies being how they work.  Job description responsibilities and goals they may be working to accomplish are what they do; competencies are how they do it.  Competencies are not special skills or knowledge, which just qualify a person to do a particular job.  Competencies are the qualities that distinguish outstanding from average performers in any job.  Their presence can be determined by the behaviors excellent performers engage in:

  • More often,
  • More consistently
  • And with better results than average performers.

Competency profiles, therefore, are usually specific to a particular job because the qualities that define excellent IT managers, for example, differ from those that define excellent branch library managers.

Core competencies – which apply to all employees in an organization – are the characteristics that an organization has identified as central to its success, particular cultural values, and market niche.  Core competencies reflect how an organization wants and expects employees to perform regardless of their position.  They describe “how” people perform regardless of function.  Identifying your organization’s core competencies means intentionally creating its core values—the unique way in which your organization’s culture promotes excellence.

What Do You Want to be Known For?

Efficiency?  Innovation?  Service?  Results?  Integrity?  The list of possible core competencies is endless.  What gets measured gets reinforced, so competency-based performance management will shape performance and perception.  It involves choosing the specific qualities of excellence you want to promote for your organization and all your employees.

Using a very interactive and employee input-intensive process, we have worked with several clients to develop core competencies for their organizations, up to and including a sort of internal branding that has reinvigorated one organization’s workforce.

The Process

We use a blended approach to help clients identify a concise, unique set of competencies for their organization.  We provide employee groups with manageable lists of starter ideas, while also asking them to think creatively (a great competency, by the way!) and invent, blend or modify their own versions of competencies that they believe apply to the organization, its culture, and its work.

We encourage our clients to involve every employee, to the extent possible.  Whether using an online survey tool, conducting focus groups or large group meetings, it is important to allow every voice a chance to be heard.  After all, you are working to identify competencies all employees can support and to which they will be held accountable.  Starting large and narrowing, modifying, blending and molding (often with several meetings and/or reviews by employees) allows our client groups to arrive at a fully supported list of 5-7 core competencies.

With several recent engagements in mind, we facilitated large-group meetings of up to 100 staff, first giving a brief introduction and some education of what competences are and how they can be used.  These particular clients wanted their resulting competencies to not only be included in job descriptions for all positions, but to also be included in their pay-for-performance performance evaluation tools.  Therefore, employees would be expected to, and rewarded for, exemplifying these behaviors in their daily work lives.

Employees at these large meetings then met in groups of 8-10 to consider lists of 50-75 example competencies, such as creative thinking, catalyst for learning, resilience, trustworthiness, and service-orientation.  We also asked these groups to come up with 3-5 of their own examples, ideas for behaviors they felt were particularly relevant for their organization at this time.  This is not, nor should it be, a quick process.  Groups might be given an hour or more to work with the starter lists and their own ideas to refine to a list of 7-10 core competencies.

Then, the real enlightenment begins, as we bring the groups back together for reporting out.  Without fail, there are common themes.  This is the beauty of this process – employees get to see how much real support there is for things like collaboration, risk-taking, integrity, and developing others..

Although it may seem like a time-intensive process, the results are well worth the investment.  Either at the same meeting or at a second meeting, we would then begin to work to distill the feedback from all of the groups into one list.  We then work with the groups to identify the deal-breakers.  What can they not live without?  Where can blending or combining occur?  Are you willing, as an organization, to support a larger list than the original intention of 5-7?  What would that mean?

In our next issue, we will describe how we have worked with clients to move forward with these original ideas and develop them into the competency-based performance management systems that build outstanding cultures and develop employee excellence.

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