Competency frameworks that work!

Competencies are a set of positive behaviours that we display as individuals – it is a combination of our knowledge, experience, skills, attributes, and attitudes, as reflected in the way we conduct ourselves. It is an important aspect of organisational building and culture, as the identified set of competencies define the knowledge, traits, or behaviours that organisations expect to see in their employees.

Every organisation understands what competencies they need and most have documented these in their HR manuals. Many organisations have a set of core competencies that they want each employee to display and another set of some additional competencies, which may be more role or position based. Typically, the core competencies range anywhere from between 8 to 10, while there are another 4 or 5 which are listed as position/role based competencies.

Some of these may be technical competencies, while others are behavioural competencies. Technical competencies are one’s knowledge of a specific subject and its application to the job at hand and these are typically those that are acquired as part of one’s education or can be very effectively imparted by training in a one-to-many setting.

Behavioural competencies, on the other hand, are more difficult to acquire and imbibe. In such cases, more than training, it is coaching or mentoring which works. Typically, the intervention in trainings is limited to couple of days, which certainly takes the employee to a new high towards building the behavioural competency, but it is extremely difficult for the employee to sustain that high, after the initial few days. Positive behaviour change is about relaying the neural path in a way that the response to any stimuli, takes the newly laid neural path and manifests in a positive behaviour, as a preferred response at most times – first consciously and then, even unconsciously. Such behaviour change needs handholding and regular reminders and intervention over a sustained period, which is exactly the reason that coaching works better.

In one of the studies, involving a large sample of international organisations, it was not surprising to note that behavioural competencies outweigh technical competencies by 2:1 – almost 70% of the total listed competencies were behavioural competencies! It is important for L&D departments of various organisations to keep this in mind while designing competency development frameworks, as it will be important to answer whether, training or coaching/mentoring would work better for each competency.

Competency frameworks in most organisations (except the large ones) have only gone the first step, which is to identify and list the competencies required, and some may have moved to the next step of explaining in a couple of sentences what a specific competency means. However, not much material is available within organisations, to provide guidelines on how to develop a specific competency. This is pretty much left to the individual concerned and it is not surprising to see the same few competencies coming up as development areas for certain individuals in appraisal after appraisal.

Employees hardly get any specific feedback on what set of actions should they take to build a competency. In particular, development of behaviour competencies need sustained effort, hence it makes sense for employees looking at growth opportunities to start developing the desired competencies for the next role, well ahead of time.

It is not only desirable but necessary for organisations to construct and implement a competency framework which should include, at least the following:

  • Defining each Competency
  • Skill scale for each competency – what does ‘skilled’ vs ‘unskilled’ mean, in the context of each competency? Explain how ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ manifest at work for each competency
  • List competencies required for each position
  • Be transparent, let the employees know the competencies expected for not only their current role but also, their possible next role
  • Learning framework for each Competency for L&D department (to ensure higher ROI on training dollars, rather than going for one size fits all, assess what works better – training or coaching?)
  • Most importantly, prepare a DIY Handbook for employees for each competency (projects/assignments to help develop each competency, suggested readings – books, articles, and videos or short courses to develop each competency in bite-size helpings)

The above is a short yet powerful list, for building a competency framework which will eventually help create a learning organisation. In such organisations, one would expect employees to take ownership of their competency development to further their careers, rather than their Managers or the HR function. Employees should be the one chasing their managers to put them on assignments, projects, continuing education, coaching programs which will help develop the competencies required for the next promotion.

It will be great to hear your views and to understand if your organisation has a competency framework that works! Else, it will be a pleasure to help your organisation develop such a framework.

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