Competencies are the language of talent management. They provide guidance to managers and direct reports alike on the behaviors that are expected. They also are a way to assess those behaviors, whether for the purpose of hiring, development, or performance appraisal.
Yet, for all that can potentially be right about competencies, so much can also potentially be wrong. In many organizations we talk to, competencies are too numerous, ill-defined, or too complex. The result is the competencies are infrequently used and ultimately cast aside.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, “Are competencies dead?”
We are currently in the midst of a new research initiative on this question (and we’d like your help on it – see details below). Our initial research reveals, no, competencies are not dead – in many organizations they are alive and well, working as intended. In the organizations that are not using them effectively, though, the competencies seem to be collapsing under their own weight, dying a very slow death. These organizations have “zombie competencies” – or “zompetencies,” if you like.
So, how do leaders keep their organizations from creating zompetencies? Here are a few suggestions:
- Design for criticality: Focus on what is essential to success – not every competency necessary for doing a job.
- Design for impact: Focus on competencies that align to the organization’s business strategy and greatest areas of need. If your organization is making a major transformation from one focused on execution to one focused on innovation, competencies should be a part of the bedrock of the change effort.
- Design for simplicity: Constantly ask yourself if the competencies are necessary or can be expressed more simply. Further, in an effort to reduce competencies, do not combine two competencies into one. “Visionary leadership and tactical execution” is not one competency.
- Design for acceptance: Avoid the trap of developing competencies in a vacuum. Competencies need to be broadly socialized and amended as they are developed, to ensure both broad understanding and agreement on their content.
Ultimately, managers and direct reports need to understand the competencies, what they mean, and how to use them – and integrate them into how they talk about talent on a regular basis.
How does your organization keep competencies alive and well? Or how has it gotten rid of zompetencies in the past? We are currently looking for examples of effective approaches to competency models and how they support talent management. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any examples from your or other organizations you can share.
Special thanks to Joe Folkman and Candace Atamanik for their contribution to some of the concepts in this blog.