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Competency Mapping
Human Resources » Performance Management

Chrm Message From: murali_k Total Posts: 44 Join Date: 30/10/2007
Rank: Executive Post Date: 20/12/2007 23:57:36 Points: 220 Location: United States

Dear Professionals,

I have noticed some ideas about competencies being shared here so I thought I might add my humble thoughts (based on over nine years of corporate experience and an advanced education in this area)...

You will find that most knowledgeable consultants on competency mapping will tell you the first few steps. However, the key to validating the competencies is to continue the process to its logical end - determining which competencies (technical and interpersonal skills) differentiate the best from the rest. Prior to taking that step you end up with VERY subjective data.

For example, at my former employer people were convinced by logic that the technical skills of the people in our Research and Development team were primarily responsible for increased performance/output. Much to their surprise one of the most important differentiators between top performers and all others was presentation skills! We would have missed that completely were it not for our commitment to see the process to its end and measure the skill levels in each person then evaluate the data to see what skills were possessed at a higher level by the top performers.

This same finding is replicated constantly with my clients. I finally started comparing what the original group of executives and subject matter experts said would be the strongest predictors of success and what the assessment gap analysis said at the end of the project. The best groups are only 70% accurate. Most 'experts' and executives are closer to 55% correct in their assumptions. Had we stopped after the usual process then these clients would have missed up to 45% of the equation!!!

The normal steps in an ideal world (you will rarely find that all of them can be taken with a given corporate client):

1. Identify the strategic direction of the company via in-depth discussions with the Board of Directors or Senior Executive Team. This works best by exploring the past (lessons learned, success stories), the present, and the future of not only the company but also the industry and market they are in.

2. Facilitate sessions with other leaders at all levels (cascade down through the organization) to identify the objectives that they and their reports 'own' from the strategic plan and the objectives of their bosses. HINT: If you simply allow this process to play itself out without direct intervention you will find that people are very bad at setting goals/objectives and NEVER take the time to determine how their objectives and activities will impact others in the company or their clients. Cross-functional communication is the key to getting accurate and effective objectives. Also, these need to be kept to a manageable minimum (around 7 per organization or function or team or individual) or people will lose track. There are lots of other things to keep in mind, but as you can see we are actually putting an effective performance management system in place. That is a prerequisite of mapping competencies!!! However, if your clients are not interested in cleaning up or creating a Perf Mgmt system then the other work you do to map the competencies will be incredibly inaccurate. Unfortunately these first two steps are often skipped due to client pressure to only focus on competencies.

3. Get a focus group together made up of the boss's boss, the boss, a few peers who frequently interact with the position being profiled, customers of the people in the position, the two top performers in the position, and two direct reports (if any) of the position. This meeting will take 3-4 hours per position or family of jobs being profiled.

a. Review the objectives for the people in this position. Make sure everyone understands the objectives accurately and agrees on what it looks like to exceed, meet, and miss those objectives.

b. For each individual objective identify the activities that someone in the position must complete to meet or exceed the objective.

c. For each individual activity (some activities are repeated for several objectives but only do this once for the entire group of common activities) list the technical knowledge/skills/experiences that would be a requirement for successfully accomplishing the activity. Also list the interpersonal skills that would make a difference when engaged in the activity. As there are over 22,000 separate words for interpersonal skills in English I suggest you use a pre-printed list of interpersonal skills that research has indicated should make a difference.

d. Generate definitions for each skill listed. Some companies want a general definition and some want a definition of what each skill looks like for different levels of employees or different levels of ability. It depends on how the competencies will be used.

e. Type up the list of technical and interpersonal skills that you generate and send it to all attendees and any other critical parties for revision then approval.

Now, this is where most consultants will stop. They have the list, right?

In reality, I work with many clients that have hired companies full of people with PhD's to come in and generate such a list and then the client company is left with a humongous list (or a short and inadequate list). The list will never be used by managers for selection or development. The list will never be used by HR outside of the training group. Those who will try to use it will focus on the wrong skills and will not create any Return On Effort (ROE) or Return On Investment (ROI) for their sweat or money. Why? Because the list focuses on people's opinions of what is important or what differentiates the best performers from all other performers. Because the company is not left with a means by which they can or should use the information. Because the suggestions or instructions for how to use the competencies require a great deal of effort and time that companies cannot/will not afford to their leaders or employees.

The answer to some of these concerns is validation, a rare step in the process. To make sure the actual skills that differentiate the best from the rest are discovered the original skill list must be rather large. To shrink it down to a manageable and more accurate list employees must be assessed against the longer list. Then by comparing actual performance rankings (not ratings!) to the skills that people have according to the assessment we get a clearer picture. The best of the best will have some skills at the highest level (most important predictors of success) and some at the middle level (moderate predictors of success), while all other performers have those skills at the lower levels. If only one of ten high performers has a skill high then that one is probably not a predictor. Use basic gap-analysis and data analytic skills to filter this data.

The answer to the other concerns is to build a simplified, replicable, research-based system for leveraging the resulting list of competencies to manage your human resources. This should include using the High-Performer Competency Model to source, assess, and select new employees for that position or job family; compare incumbents the the Model and provide them with opportunities to develop where gaps exists; and build succession plans based on existing and future company strategic needs and direction. Some of the intangible benefits that my clients talk about include less bias (halo and horns or nepotism) in hiring and promotions, employees who feel empowered because they know how to increase their visibility by increasing their competence, managers who truly understand what they need out of their direct reports and can fall back on a validated system to provide those reports with guidance, and improved targeted spending on training and development. (On that last point they often find that employees need critical experiences or self-directed learning resources and coaching instead of expensive training classes.)

I hope this proves to be useful and helpful information!

Would love to have you feedback on this


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