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Dear Workforce-How Do I Use Competency Maps for Workforce Planning

How do I draw up a competency map that aids our workforce planning?
March 16, 2010
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Related Topics: Basic Skills Training, Workforce Planning, Dear Workforce
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Dear Moving Without Maps:
Competency mapping can be simple and effective or complex and confusing. Having been an advisor to both small and large organizations, I can attest that few complex implementations last more than three years. Most firms that attempt to use them pervasively throughout recruitment, professional development, succession planning, performance management and workforce planning almost universally end up frustrated. Competency mapping can consume a significant pile of money and management time if not carefully approached. I would start with a narrow scope for the use of competencies. Competency maps or profiles are best used not as absolutes, but as guides to provide direction to managers. (They are often called "maps" because, if you have the top competencies, it's a direct path or map to success.)

1. The first step is to identify the competencies that differentiate top performers from average ones. Begin by doing some benchmarking with firms in your industry to identify common competencies or use the major subset of developed systems such as Lominger as a starting point.

2. Next, begin identifying the current overall competencies from that list that apply to your firm by looking for common factors (usually skills, knowledge and experience) exhibited by most top performers. Compare that set of competencies with a group of average performers to identify the "differentiator competencies." Some also look at "failed" employees to see which competencies they lacked.

This is where most truly mundane and ineffective approaches stop.

3. Unfortunately you can't stop there, because in a fast-changing world the competencies that directly led to individual and company success historically will most likely not remain valid. You will need to adjust the competency set identified to account for new technological developments, new methodologies and, most important, changing market trends. Some competencies that were important will become less important, while others will emerge as critical. The easiest way to identify the "no longer needed" competencies that need to be deleted and to identify the "future people competencies" is to work directly with senior managers in each of the fast-growing business units. These senior managers can usually tell you in a short period of time which future skill sets will be needed. If you have access to the strategic business plan, that can help you identify the company's growth needs as well.

4. Next, work with your executive team to assign a priority or weight to each of the identified "future people competencies." Expect them to emphasize competencies like innovation, speed, agility, quality, business acumen and customer service. The list produced will represent your core competencies. All mission-critical roles should be filled by people who possess them in various degrees of mastery.

5. The next step is to adapt the overall list to individual job families or functions. The goal here is to determine what level of mastery is needed with regard to each competency, and what functionally specific competencies need to augment the mix. When all is said and done, each job family or function should be covered by no more than eight competencies. It's also wise to compare your job-family competencies with those of your direct competitors for final modifications. If they have completed a competency project, you would most likely find them on their corporate jobs Web site, buried within the job descriptions for mission-critical jobs.

6. With a refined set of competencies unique to each job family or function, the next step is to refine the definitions of each competency so that they are clear and easy to measure mastery of. This is the hard part of making competencies work, and a step most organizations ignore. Competencies need to be defined in terms of behaviors that demonstrate mastery and execution. Consider defining four to five key behaviors that are measurable that characterize each competency. These definitions may be functionally or job-family specific. Definitions should be tested to make sure they are interpreted the same way by everyone who will be subject to them.

7. The last step is persuading managers to use these competencies. Persuading each individual manager to restrict their hiring, development activities, performance assessments and promotions to individuals who demonstrate mastery of these future competencies is hard work. You also need to work with development and compensation to make sure that there is a process for developing and rewarding individuals who have these competencies. If you are successful, the competency set of your employees will gradually shift from the current set toward those "future competencies" that are needed to make your company successful for the next few years. Finally, ask for a raise. You will have earned it.

SOURCE: Dr. John Sullivan, head and professor of the Human Resource Management College of Business at San Francisco State University, March 16, 2007. This response originally appeared in Dear Workforce on April 19, 2007.

LEARN MORE: Please read how to use a blend of performance-based training and content-based training to help build your workforce's competencies.
Workforce Management Online, March 2010 -- Register Now!
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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