The Importance of Updating Competencies

A Necessity for Navigating Changing Business Environments

Articles » The Importance of Updating Competencies

Post originally published by Michael Zia Mian, Ph.D. on Feb 2, 2016

Last year our consulting firm worked on several projects to build better talent infrastructure for organizations (employee development systems, talent identification tools, etc.). This involved collecting information on how people performed their jobs and listening to senior executives describe their challenges and strategies for remaining competitive. It's evident from these conversations that the pace of organizational change has increased rapidly over the past few years, but the updating of employee competency requirements for some companies is a step behind. In some cases, employees are performing their jobs in ways that do not fully link to the organization's future. There are certainly other factors that contribute to this - insufficient investment in feedback, coaching, training and development, but a basic reason is that the competency frameworks that describe the behaviors and skills for job success are either poorly constructed or are no longer aligned with the company's changing direction.

The impact extends to the hiring process where newly selected employees may not have the right capabilities to move the organization in its intended direction. You could say that competency requirements act like a GPS for how employees perform their jobs and develop in their careers. Frequently updating them can significantly help employees and the organization arrive at their projected destination.

We get it… from a practical perspective, updating competencies isn't very sexy and consumes resources that could be used for possibly more high profile endeavors. Logic and research however, indicates that giving this aspect of talent management proper focus is critical. Loew and Garr (2011) found that updating competencies has a positive business impact. The study looked at high performing companies on several criteria - high levels of leader retention, employee engagement, talent bench strength, accelerated change, and improved business results and found that 62% - 70% of high-performing organizations revamp their competencies every 2 - 3 years. Research by Korn Ferry indicates that being proficient in the right competencies explains a significant portion of total job performance. This finding is most salient for less senior employees… the individual contributors that are in most cases responsible for "carrying" out the work.

As you think about updating the competency requirements in your organization, here's a short list of ideas and best practices:

  1. Ensure that competencies link to the vision, values, and strategies of the organization - get input from executive leaders and key employees, review vision, values, and strategy documents to really understand where the company is headed.
  2. Build competencies with the future in mind , not just focusing on the behaviors and skills your business needs today. Some competencies will therefore be aspirational.
  3. Ensure that you have a strategy for implementation . Some organizations spend lots of time in the development phase, but then do little with the final product. Consider the following:
  • Develop a communication/marketing plan for rolling out the new competencies that involves building awareness and getting buy-in from different levels of leadership and employees.
  • Strategically think about how you might initially use new competencies (e.g. on-boarding curriculum, assessing leader competence, leadership development programs). Impactful activities involving the new competencies will help people quickly internalize and become familiar with the new requirements.
  1. Given the rapid pace of change, your competency requirements should include elements that reflect the ability to operate in a global (if applicable) and complex business environment. In some shape or form, competencies related to "Learning Agility," "Innovation," "Managing Complexity and Ambiguity," "Leading Virtual Teams," and "Leveraging Networks" are common in today's competency frameworks.

Last updated: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
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