HR Consultant Tara Daynes
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Spud-U-Like – why competency frameworks are the potato of HR

19th Sep 2012
HR Consultant Tara Daynes
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I always think about Competency Frameworks as being like a potato. Not because they are muddy, starchy and sprout a bit when left in a dark cupboard, but because they provide a good solid basis and you can do loads of different things with them. Yet also like spuds, they are often either under-utilised, or overdone. So here are a few pointers on how to make the most of them!

 

Competencies are the skills, qualities, behaviours, attributes etc. that are needed to be effective in a job. The job description may state the expected ‘what’ of a job, but competencies define the ‘how’ expectations and requirements.  E.g., teamworking, communications, decision-making, leadership, organisational ability or whatever. Defining and clarifying them is the first step, and usually some form of framework is the best way to do that.

 

But competency frameworks (CFs) should be manageable and user-friendly - not such a complicated recipe that even the most adventurous chef would stay well clear! I once saw a CF that was 33 pages long. Even I started flatlining by page 4, so I would imaging pages 10 onwards were a mystery to everyone except the person who wrote it.

 

So don’t over-egg it – keep it simple but effective. I’d say that 6 competencies is plenty for most jobs, bearing in mind that you can list different examples (both positive and negative) of what each one looks like in practice, and you can adapt these for different levels or types of job role. For example, everyone needs communication skills – but does that mean face to face, written documents, making presentations, contributing at meetings etc.? If it’s written communication skills, does that mean doing complex reports, letters, or just the odd email? The comms skills you’d expect from a line manager would probably be very different to those you’d need from an office junior. So be specific about what ‘good’ looks like!

 

There are plenty of ways in which you can use CFs once you have them sorted. A non-exhaustive list…

* Vacancy information packs for job applicants

*Competency-based interview questions

*To complement job descriptions, person specifications and/or personal objectives

*For training needs analysis

*For performance management processes and assessment

*For succession planning

*To objectively justify decisions such as selection, training, promotions

*To clarify expectations of required performance standards

 

You get the idea! But, like potatoes, you can be a bit creative and they pretty much go with most things, as far as people management practices are concerned.

 

People won’t use them though, if they don’t buy into it in the first place. So make sure that when you’re designing your CF, you involve people as much as possible – maybe through focus groups or similar. Get their input – after all, not only will they be more receptive to taking the new stuff on board, they also probably have more of a handle on what is needed to do their job well!

 

There are plenty of CFs around that are ripe for plagiarising, but use these for inspiration and to cherry-pick the bits that are relevant to your organisation. Don’t just pinch one in its entirety, or you’ll find that it doesn’t quite fit right – and no-one likes getting something half-baked… Be sure that your CF is tailored to your organisation, has been properly communicated and forms part of your people management strategies, and it won’t just be a hot potato!

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