Building Your Organizational House on Competencies

Yikes!  I recently read an article maligning the inclusion of competencies in a performance management system.  The author (Jeffrey Cattel) raises the issue of “broken performance management systems plagued by lists of competencies.”  He describes the ideal performance management program as one that includes goals to meet business and professional development objectives – with less dependence on competencies and performance management scores.

I must respectfully disagree with this position.  Competencies are integral to a performance management system.  A properly designed competency model represents the performance roadmap to success.

Let’s use a construction metaphor.

  • You are building a house.  Your house is set on a strong foundation of cured concrete with rebar.  You are building an organization.  Your organization is also built on a foundation – one that is expressed in clear statements of mission, vision, and values.
  • Next, you begin to frame the house – to create the skeleton that will serve as the structure.  Inside this frame, load-bearing walls are formed to link the structure to the foundation.  In an organization, think of the load-bearing walls as the competencies (behaviors) that are linked to the mission, vision, and values.  Exhibiting those behaviors moves the organization toward achieving the results it desires.
  • Installing the systems in your home keeps the lights on, the air cooled or heated, the plumbing functioning, etc.  Installing a performance management system in your organization keeps clarity on the desired results and how they will be achieved.

Constructing one piece of the house without the others is like a three-legged stool having only two legs.  You may be able to balance for the short-term – but it is certainly not going to hold up for the long haul.

Competencies are the DNA of the organization. 

As in a human’s DNA, an organization’s genetic instructions are found in its competency model.  When you think of your organization, what reputation do you want?  One that is innovative?  One that is collaborative?  An organization that is known for its systems thinking?  These reputations are outcomes of the competencies that are exhibited.

If your reputation is something different from what you desire, look at the behaviors you reward … and modify your DNA to incorporate your desired outcome.  In other words, morph (or create, in some cases) your competency model to portray the ideal organization of your future.

With competencies – less is more.

I will agree with Mr. Cattel that some organizations have too many competencies included in their model.  As a matter of fact, I have been guilty of this in the past.  I have turned the corner and now propose a better way, however.

Just as not every wall is load bearing – neither is every competency a differentiator.  Now, it is nice to have written communication and customer service skills and a focus on being action oriented.  Many competencies are very important to your customer satisfaction.  But ask yourself – which competencies propel your organization toward the future?  Which competencies will set you apart as a world-class organization with world-class results?

Take for example,

  • An individual contributor – does success in exhibiting conflict management behaviors become a differentiator?
  • At the managerial level – how about building a team? We will certainly all agree that success in team building propels an organization forward.
  • And at the executive level – strategic agility is a must.

Conflict management, building a team, and strategic agility are just a small set of the differentiators an organization may choose.  “Less is more” is an exercise in prioritizing … eliminating the fluff and turning a laser eye toward the important few.

A competency model is just one piece of a quality – and effective – performance management system.

A quality – and effective – performance management program is a combination of parts – with (multiple!) conversations focused on competencies, business-related goals and objectives, employee development, and measurements that communicate accountability.

The quality – and effective – performance management program becomes part of the organizational pulse and is imbedded in the daily routine.  The ongoing discussions are what get the work done and the results achieved.  They are not special events to be met with dread and angst.  They are not separate from the business. They ARE the business.

Your charge …

The time involved with crafting an organization’s mission, vision and values is just the beginning.  You now have just a flat concrete slab.

  • Build your organizational “house” with competencies that, when practiced, will “bear the load” and produce the outcomes you desire.
  • Infuse your organization with a performance management system that will ensure all team members within are operating at peak efficiency … and therefore, peak effectiveness.
  • Cover your organization with purpose and engagement.

The results will be dramatic.

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