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Where Should We Begin When Developing HR Competencies?

What are the steps to developing a competency framework for human resources? <i>&#8212;Building a Foundation for Recruiting, HR consultant, financial services, Lagos, Nigeria</i>

January 4, 2012

Dear Building:

Developing an HR competency framework—often called a competency model—should be done thoughtfully, but the process needn't be complicated. In fact, helping leaders build a basic competency framework as a foundation for selecting talent, developing leaders and reinforcing a successful culture ought to be in the tool kit of every HR professional.

For example, when you ask a hiring manager which characteristics future candidates should possess, you are talking about competencies. Let's start with a basic definition: Competencies include the skills, knowledge and attributes essential for success.

• Skills may vary from being able to program operating equipment to cutting steel with a lathe to injecting medications through a syringe or checking blood pressure.

• Knowledge is not as easily observed but the relevant know-how is. An expert on marketing would be expected to possess broad knowledge on markets, measurement and marketing strategies. A science teacher would likely need to know great detail about how varied species reproduce and maintain their genetic viability. In human resources, you'll need in-depth knowledge of some or all of the specialty areas such as benefits, compensation and training or employee relations.

• Attributes typically refer to the behavioral characteristics needed in a position. Those attributes might be decisiveness, customer focus, attention to detail, tenacity or creativity.

Competencies can apply for an individual job, for a function (such as human resources or marketing) or an entire organization. You've probably heard people talk about culture change and how difficult it is to create. That's because a set of behavioral competencies have come to characterize an entire culture. Think of cultures that are team-oriented or authoritarian, risk-averse or indecisive. When a predominance of the members of the culture have adopted similar characteristics, the culture can be firmly set.

Within HR, focus on competencies that will spell success for the department, particularly as it must meet the needs of your organization. When developing a competency model for HR, be sure to consider the competencies that will meet emerging needs, as well as the competencies that have led to your success thus far. For example, your HR department may be known for its quick response to manager requests and an ability to meet needs using proven processes. Going forward, you may be facing the need to reduce costs and so may want to include creativity, which can result in low-cost solutions, in your new HR competency model.

Often, a department competency model will be updated when a leader sees the need for change. If this is your situation, be sure to ask your strongest performers and key stakeholders for their input on the competency model for the future, and then communicate to all employees why the competencies were selected, why they are important to your future, and how they will be used to select and develop employees in the department.

SOURCE: Patsy Svare, managing director, Chatfield Group, Northbrook, Illinois

LEARN MORE: Along similar lines, here are some tips and questions if you are preparing to hire an HR director.

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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.