Competency Rehab

Competency Rehab

     Anything worth doing can accidently turn into overdoing. 

     It’s human nature.  We find something new that will help our talent management cause and head down the path of applying.  And applying become improving, and improving becomes expanding, and expanding gets out of control.  We’ve all been there over the years, especially with competency models.


     The introduction to competency models seemed so harmless.  At a conference, we heard about the need to develop a more precise way of talking talent and building a common language across the organization.   We were told it’s not hard to do and all the cool HR leaders are doing it.


     So we took the first steps of applying, bringing in the consultants and calling the meetings to find those words which best describe our most important competencies.  Quickly we discovered that we weren’t satisfied relying on someone else’s description of leadership or functional excellence.  It needed improving to fit here.  We needed our own version, unique to us and honoring all that makes us special. 


     It’s didn’t take long to discover listing all the competencies that made us special filled many flip charts and involved many people, each wanting to add value with their special words so we would get it just right.  Each new competency made us think of another one and soon we had a list of over one hundred things that made us special.  We thought our work was complete, and could walk about from the creation process, but it was only beginning. 


We Needed More


     We needed more.  The 115 corporate competencies didn’t reflect how different and special each division and function was, so more models were needed.  Then we felt the urge to take each competency model and write new ones for each level of the organization, as the front line employee model was special from the manager model, and the manager model needed revision for the executive model.  It kept expanding, and improving and applying until the day arrived when our friends sat us down and told us we were out of control.  The competency writing had to stop.


     So here we are in Competency Rehab, a place to confront the reality of what we have done and begin the step recovery process by contracting, narrowing and accepting.




     By admitting competency complexity has taken over, you are well on your way to regaining sanity. 
   Take the next step by returning to your senior leader sponsors, point out the need to streamline the work.  Re-affirm the business need and primary mission by identifying the top two or three leadership issues based on current organization challenges and strategies.  Then use those issues to prioritize a small number of competencies that matter now.  If the competency label is so tainted that it will be a barrier to move ahead, feel free to rebrand those critical few items something like ‘success factors’ or ‘strategy pillars’. 




     Re-engineer the competency project from an academic exercise in creative writing by incorporating serious tracking and measuring.  From your short list of competencies, identify a critical talent population and levels where these competences will be most needed.  With an honest gap analysis, affirm that significant development actions will take place to help employees improve.  Establish a realistic timeline of when improvement needs to be seen. Narrow the initial effort to competencies and talent pools where you have the best chance of success in measuring and implementation.  You are looking for an early win here to create momentum and a turn-around perception for the project.  Once early success is appearing, you can expand to other areas where success is likely, but be careful not to slide back into excessive expansion! 




     All in all, your chance of a full recovery is most likely dependent on your acceptance of a number of truths.  The purpose of your effort is not technical competency excellence but making the talent and business better.  Accept that “approximately correct” that leads to timely and positive action wins over “finally precise” that takes longer and drains all energy and resources.  Save the majority of your resources for implementation not definition..  Accept that this work doesn’t apply to everyone, everywhere.  In theory, a competency effort could touch every one and every HR system.  In practice, concentrated application makes a difference.  Accept that the best way to build in critical competencies in a short period of time may be to hire for it and not open-ended training and development efforts.    Finally, accept that going through rehab isn’t a lot of fun but it’s necessary if we are to save competency modeling as a talent management tool.  It’s worth it.


© Kevin D. Wilde