7 Steps to Ensuring Your Competency Based Programs Really Are Competent!

Recently there have been a number of organizations who have implemented competency based hr programs with varying degrees of success. While there is no “silver bullet” that works for every organization, there are seven steps you can take to increase the probability of a competent outcome.

1. Set a goal of ending up with ten or fewer core competencies
To develop an enduring and functional program you need to focus on identifying a small core set of competencies that differentiate your star managers from everyone else. Ideally if you have multiple lines of business and/or operate globally, this core should apply across the board. More than ten or so competencies will result in a process too unwieldy to work effectively. Keep in mind the core will normally be supplemented by two or three technical or knowledge specific competencies for particular job family applications.
2. Make sure that you have top management buy in
An effective competency based management development program will end up touching every aspect of your organization. Unless you have visible clear support from your CEO and key management, no matter how sound the program is and the level of ‘ground swell’ you think you can create, it will be doomed to joining other program binders on the shelf. The best way to go is to have the CEO champion the program.
3. Enlist top management in defining the representative behaviors for each competency
Once you have come up with the core set of competencies you will need to build a defining set of behavioral statements to support each competency. The easiest way to do this is through your top managers. Ask them to provide two or three specific behavioral examples for each competency that are exemplary of their best performers. Integrate and cull these down so that you end up with about 5 behavioral examples that reflect the range of top performance for each competency across your lines of business and regions of operation.
4. Validate the competencies across all micro-cultures in your organization
Even though you (hopefully) have relied on management to help you build and review both the competencies and related behaviors, you will want to ask specific managers from each of your business units and across your geographic regions to review the final material for applicability in their area. This helps to avoid superficial acceptance of a ‘corporate’ built program that they don’t intend on using because it does not work in their setting.
5. Build or rebuild ALL HR programs around the same competencies
A critical step to having a competent program is integrating the core competencies into all of your HR processes. Ultimately this means that your recruiting, selection, assessment, performance management, training, promotion, development and succession planning and reward systems all should be based on the same core competencies. Too many organizations use one set of competencies for selection, another for promotion, yet another or even none for succession planning, etc. This ends up being confusing for your employees and frequently results in very mixed messages as to what is valued at the organization.
6. Pilot test roll out
As you build each of the HR programs it pays to start with a limited try out in the field to make sure that all of the instructions, forms, programming routines (if you are implementing an electronic intra- or internet based process) work from the end-user’s perspective as you intended. This is particularly important where one process is interdependent on another. For example in succession planning you would need to have performance instruments done first before you could identify bench strength based on the core competencies across your key management. Or, if you have a training program linked to evaluations on each competency, you will want to make sure that scoring profiles link up with the correct modules.
7. Revisit as organization mission and vision changes
Done properly the defining behaviors should be able to function without modification for at least a few years. The core competencies should similarly be effective for at least as long if not longer. You should consider revising a behavior and/or competency when either it is hard to understand, frequently misapplied, misevaluated, or no longer relevant due to a change in your organization’s business focus. The job specific technical or knowledge competencies that complement the core competencies may change with greater frequency based on the level of sophistication or technological dependency of the specific job. For example think of the rapid changes in knowledge competencies for individuals involved in computer related jobs over the past few years.

These seven steps will help you develop a competency based program that works because it captures the essence of your organization. The process is certainly involved but should result in an integrated and focused foundation for all of your HR programs. If you are just beginning or considering starting, I would highly recommend you talk with several individuals who have a competency based program in place at their respective organizations. Find out what works and what does not in each of their systems. “Lessons learned” can save you and your organization a tremendous amount of time, effort and money!

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