Monday, March 10, 2008

Communication is the Key to Competency Success

Training, staffing, HR, and line managers often speak different languages. For example, when a manager asks his/her HR representative for permission to seek a new direct report the manager is given a job description following approval. Staffing is told about the opening and screens for 'planning skills' based on the request from the manager. Once the top candidates have been identified and screened the manager selects one based on fit with the rest of the team. Soon the manager realizes that what staffing screened for was different than what the manager understood 'planning' to mean. The HR generalist who had produced the job description disagreed with the manager on the meaning of 'planning skills' and then found that what HR meant per the job description and what the staffing person interpreted were also different. To bring the new employee up to speed as quickly as possible it was decided that the new person should be sent to a training class. Looking through the available classes, two were found that referenced 'planning' in the learning objectives. The manager sent the new employee to the first available class. Upon returning from the class the new employee attempted to show the manager the newly-learned skills only to find that what was being taught was still not what the manager needed the employee to do.

What a painful, yet common, story from a real organization that has a competency model. The real problem is that only the titles of the competencies are in common use instead of the descriptions. The real power of competency-based models lies in the common language that results from the clear and unambiguous definitions of the competencies. This language should be applied to all HR systems so that job descriptions and success profiles lead to consistent interview questions, employees are consistently represented on workforce planning maps, performance appraisal feedback means the same thing to both manager and direct report, and classes teach the competencies as they are commonly understood.

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