By Edward J. Williams, MAEd, MHRM, MBA

In a previous article, Business Strategy: Talent Management, I identified several components involved in employing a talent management strategy. This time, I would like to expand on one of those components: competencies.

There are a few nuggets to keep in mind as you consider the use of competencies:

  • Competencies can be defined as behaviors that encompass the knowledge, skills and attributes required for successful performance.
  • Competency modeling is the activity of determining the specific competencies that are characteristic of high performance and success in a given job.
  • A key factor is the correlation between competencies and business outcomes (e.g., growth and profitability).
  • Remember that competency models are always future-oriented. The question to answer is: What competencies will be critical for success tomorrow, given potential future challenges, expectations and deliverables that will be required for the role?

The true value in the use of competencies is the opportunity to develop competency models that can be used to identify, train, coach and mentor the right employees for the right jobs. Let’s start with using an example competency:  execution. If you were able to identify execution as an attribute of high-performing individuals in the Lead Project Manager role, would you leverage that knowledge to select and/or train the right person for the job? Now you just need to define execution (e.g., drives results, manages time effectively, etc.) and determine training and experiential opportunities (e.g., leadership training, special projects) to help employees prepare for the job.

Suppose you identified five additional competencies that, when all combined in this role, correlate to higher profitability? Congratulations! You’ve just created a competency model. Would you now use this competency model to identify potential candidates for this role, to develop and assign training and assignments for employees who may be eligible for this role in the future, or for the assessment, development and career planning of the incumbent? If so, you will have just taken a giant step forward in your talent management strategy.

Please be mindful that, despite this relatively simplistic description, developing competency models for your organization is actually a complex process requiring commitment and patience. Many firms find it helpful to engage the services of consultants for this phase of their talent management strategy. When you embark on this journey, some initial steps you’ll want to ensure are covered include:

  • Define the criteria for superior performance in each role
  • Determine the competencies that produce superior performance
  • Validate the results
  • Ensure competency models are aligned to the organization’s mission, vision, values and business strategy
  • Apply the competency models to HR activities

Increasing the numbers of high performing employees, particularly in key roles, through competency modeling, creates the value all businesses strive for. I know you’re excited about the possibility of starting this journey, so here are some initial steps you can take:

1. Start with your senior and key roles.

  • Don’t tackle your entire slate of jobs at one time
  • Develop a plan for when/how you will include other jobs/role

2. Develop your competency models.

  • Seek out experienced help to guide your effort

3. Decide on and provide the resources to help employees meet the knowledge, skills and attributes defined by the competencies.

  • Provide appropriate skills, leadership and communications training
  • Experiential training is key; place employees on projects or in assignments where they can practice/demonstrate the skills/behaviors that relate to the competencies
  • Coach and mentor at every step to get the most value from the training/experience

How much would your business change if you could make high performance the norm rather than the exception?


Editor’s note: Do you need assistance with any aspect of talent management? Forward Momentum can help! Contact us for more information.