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Dear Workforce Which Is Better Our Own In-House Competency Model or One Based on Best Practices

We have a leadership-development program and are trying to decide on ways to measure competencies. We can’t decide whether to use a well-researched leadership-competency model or apply our own validated one. Is there really a difference in results?
August 25, 2004
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Dear Grooming:

You've identified what matters most to organizations regarding people-related programs: results. A good leadership-development program improves the skills, knowledge and behaviors of leaders so that they achieve the business results expected of them and the organization.
Leadership development is done to:
  • Communicate the key competencies, skills, abilities and behaviors that are expected of leaders in an organization.
  • Assess current skill levels of individual leaders and aggregate skill levels of leader groups.
  • Identify skills gaps, either for individuals or for the entire group.
  • Prepare a development plan and identify the experiences that are needed to help the individual or group close the gap.
You are on target in wondering about the validity of competency models. It's important to pay attention to the validity of a competency model if it is to be used as the basis for feedback or for making decisions about promotions, career opportunities, succession, etc. (for both legal and effectiveness reasons). In the end, a valid leadership-competency model is, by definition, a current model because it reflects what is expected of leaders now and in the immediate future.
A well-designed and validated leadership-competency model should reflect the competencies that are most strategically significant to your business. These are the key competencies--not an exhaustive list--a leader must demonstrate on the job. Each competency has behaviorally defined levels of performance (e.g., needs improvement, achieves expectations, exceeds expectations) or behaviorally defined levels of growth (e.g., developing, skilled, expert). This defines the behaviors that are realistically expected of high-performers.
For maximum effectiveness, a leadership-competency model should be specific to your organization's needs and used for a range of decisions, including recruiting and selection, development of individuals, design of leadership course work and assessment tools, and succession planning. Tailor the competency model to support the company's specific mission, vision, strategy and goals. Be sure to periodically review and update it, especially in light of any major business changes that affect the mission, strategy, etc.
Remember, too, that a "well-researched leadership-competency model" may not target the specific behaviors or skills you need to make smarter organizational decisions on development and promotions. Instead, it's likely to derive from best practices. GE wouldn't adopt a leadership-competency model used by Microsoft, and vice versa.
In the end, a validated competency model using best practices always would be better than making a gut decision. Still, it lacks validation inside that particular organization, and therefore is unlikely to provide the strategically sound foundation of a tailored model.
SOURCE: Catherine Mergen, associate principal, Mellon's Human Resources & Investor Solutions, Chicago, Oct. 25, 2003.
LEARN MORE:How to Capitalize on Competencies.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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