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Competency Models: #1 Way to Maximize Usage

I’ve seen and built many models; sometimes they create a lot of value and benefit, and sometimes they sit on the shelf relatively under-utilized.

There are many reasons for lower utilization, for example:

  • Lack of infrastructure to enable ease-of-use.

  • Not a strong performance management or development culture.

  • People-manager population not adequately skilled.

  • Model content does not accurately capture differentiating capabilities (e.g., too generic).

The number one way to maximize usage: make it abundantly clear how the capabilities in the model are related to business value and outcomes.

Models are often built and framed for career development purposes; for the benefit of individuals as they aspire to grow their careers. Although this is a very important purpose, I have found that models get more traction when this objective is secondary to the purpose of enabling business value creation.

Three kinds of competency models

Enterprise. These are models where the content/capabilities are almost entirely leadership in nature (e.g., Strategic Vision, Operational Excellence) with some technical capabilities embedded (e.g., Business Acumen).

Functional. These profiles outline capabilities necessary for functional excellence and typically are a balance of leadership and functional/technical capabilities.

Role. These models are role-specific and often encompass a complex combination of leadership, management, functional, technical, and professional capabilities.

Role-based models more easily align themselves to business value, while enterprise profiles tend to include capabilities that are more indirectly related to business value.

Getting more traction: Increasing competency model adoption by alignment to business impact

When building models, I take an organization design approach that is highly customized and rigorously anchored to business value. Here are suggestions based on my experiences and lessons learned:

  • Make it clear how the capabilities are necessary to drive business value.

  • Reverse-engineer the capabilities needed to deliver specific outcomes.

  • Integrate strategy concepts (e.g., differentiation) within the elements of the model.

  • Align the model to strategic priorities, value propositions, and core workflows that execute strategy and deliver the value prop (e.g., providing an integrated solution rather than products).

  • Include content that outlines the “significance to success” – making it explicit how each capability is essential to successfully achieving high-value business objectives.

Framing models that speak to business value for maximum uptake

As model builders and implementers, the way we talk about and frame them can help influence adoption by leaders and managers, who are in the best position to maximize their impact and value.

Speaking to the CEO of a Software Company: We build software, and going forward the SW will need to be more complex, enabling customers to solve more complex and integrated business challenges. We need SW that serves more sophisticated customer requirements, that is competitive and better than market alternatives. This requires architects and developers at all levels to work with UI, Systems, Product Management, Marketing, and other disciplines. If we don’t pull this off, it won’t be because we don’t have the engineering skills, it will be because the entire team did not coordinate efforts and because they worked within their own constructs and perspectives. It will be a slow and hard-to-see process that results in small losses that will compound over time. The ability of R&D leaders to lead this strategic shift and make sure everyone understands the implications for how they must work, and the ability of the entire R&D team to actually work that way (i.e., highly collaboratively) is essential to executing our strategy and bringing benefit and value to our markets.

Speaking to a Chemicals Company Division Head: This relatively new division is enjoying growth both organically and through acquisition, the concept is proven and now the challenge is to scale the division efficiently and effectively in a complex global market. Anchored to a premium product strategy, the plan for growth requires a more sophisticated understanding of our markets (e.g., life science, personal care) so we can use our superior understanding of chemistry to better enable customer success. We now have seven success profiles for the key sub-function job families within Commercial and Services. Because we know what the top performers do and the capabilities they leverage for superior results, we will accelerate our growth as we race to gain and maintain market share during this critical window of time.


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