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.
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