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Competency Model

Webcast: Use sales competencies to clone your top producers

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Want to learn to how use sales competencies to clone your top producers? Then join Cheryl Lasse and sales performance expert Mike Kunkle for a free Sales & Marketing Management webinar on April 17, 2019 from 2pm-3pm US ET.

Can’t make it? Register anyway and you’ll get a link to the recording after the event. Click here to register.

Here’s an overview:

 At a time in the sales profession when only 50-60% of reps make quota and over 20% of opportunities end in No Decision, there is massive room for performance improvement and growth in most sales forces.

What could it mean to your company if you could clone your top producers, fix those problems, and close these performance gaps?

Mike and Cheryl will share how you can use sales competencies to replicate the performance of your A Players and move your B and C Players up a notch.

  • Explore top-producer analysis techniques

  • Discuss the steps to develop an actionable sales competency model in weeks

  • Discover a competency development framework that produces personalized learning plans to close competency gaps

  • Foster a learning culture and create an environment that supports performance improvement

April 17, 2019 from 2pm-3pm US ET. Click here to register.

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3 Steps to simplify an existing Competency Model / Capability Framework

If you have a competency model or capability framework, and you’re ready to make it actionable, use these 3 steps to see if it needs to be simplified.  

  1. Is it easy to consume?  Do you have to read then re-read each statement to know what it means?  Or is it easy to read in the language of the people using it?  Too often, competency models are too academic.  It looks impressive, but the model itself cannot easily be consumed by the end user.  It should read as they speak. 

  2. Is it too much?  The most successful capability models have between 15 – 30 tasks, a reasonable number to assess against.  A competency model should describe what “great” looks like focused on what is most critical to success – not be a complete list of everything they do. 

  3. Are they really tasks?  Once you remove those not critical to success, see if you have some tasks that are really behavioral examples of other tasks.  If you can’t come up with behavioral examples (what it looks like to do that task at various levels of proficiency), then it’s a behavioral example of something else. (E.g., you don’t attend meetings well, rather actively participating in meetings might be an example of “Collaborate within and across functional teams”).  That is, tasks should list WHAT you do, and the examples describe HOW you do it.

Follow these simplification steps and you’ll maximum use and adoption of your competency model.

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What’s the difference between a Competency Model and Competency-Based Learning for a job role and job family?

If you create a model for a job family, or several similar roles, including entry level individual contributor (IC) to director, they might share tasks but require different levels of proficiency.   

  • As an example, if you built a sales model, an Account Executive might have to develop winning proposals at a level 3 – do it well and independently. 

  • A Pre-Sales person may have to be a level 2, as they are in a supporting role and participate in the process but don’t need to do it independently.

  • A Sales Manager needs to be able to coach and mentor those building it, so they need to be a level 4.

  • And the Sales VP needs to be able to innovate the proposal process or define the proposal strategy, so they need to be at a level 5.

Some tasks may be unique, for example, only those who manage others will have people mgmt tasks.  And because a competency model shouldn’t contain everything someone should do, but rather focus on “what is critical to success in that role”, the people management tasks may displace some IC tasks for managers/directors.

Whether a role has its own model or is part of a shared model varies by organization.  If you have multiple levels that do the same thing but with different scope (e.g., one role manages a site, one a region, one a country), it is likely a job family, or even one role (with behavioral examples written to accommodate variations in scope). 

When it comes to competency-based learning, you will likely recommend learning that will get someone to their target level (meaning the learning objectives help them perform the behaviors in that level).  Using the previous example, you’d recommend an activity that would get a Pre-Sales person to a level 2 or even a level 3.  But for the Sales VP, you’d recommend a different activity to get them to a level 5.

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How do you deal with “one-off” competency models?

Someone told me that they are about to begin competency modeling, but have a number of “one-off” roles – those with only one person in the role – and wanted to know how to handle them?

Well, people in those roles need competency models too.  There are 2 approaches we recommend.

If this role is fairly common, (e.g., an Accounts Receivable Specialist) it is easiest to use a standard competency model.  A good standard competency model will cover the tasks well, provide you with applicable behavioral examples, and a target level of proficiency.  While you may require a different level in your organization, or even slightly altered behaviors, it’s easy to make those small modifications.  We provide the model (tasks/skills, behavioral examples, target level) to customers in a template, and the individual and their manager spend about 1-2 hours reviewing and tailoring the model.  Their completed model then gets uploaded into the competency assessment system.  The cool part about this process is that if you have a bunch of one-off roles, all the reviewing and tailoring can be done concurrently without you.  So if you have 2 one-off roles or 20 one-off roles, it takes the same number of calendar days.

If this role is not common, then you need to determine if it’s worth building a model from scratch, using the process described in the ATD webinar and materials (here, participants include only that individual and their manager), OR you may find that there are tasks they do that are in other models, and you can piece together a new model from other models.  This is a similar approach that you’d do if it were a new role and there are no high performers.  That is, you determine what a role SHOULD be doing, and see if you have those tasks (with behaviors) in your competency inventory.  Then, similar to the standard model process, the individual and their manager would pick the target level of proficiency.

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How do you tie learning to competencies for different job roles?

Question from Competency-Based Learning webinar:  How do you tie learning to competencies within every level of your organization (e.g. Asst. PM, PM, Sr. PM, Program Mgr, Director, etc.)

Answer: Follow the procedure in the Competency-Based Learning webinar and materials for each job role. 

Remember that you are mapping the learning objective of an activity to the target level of proficiency for a task in the job role’s competency model.  If I need to do level 3 behaviors, give me an activity that enables me to be able to do them.  If I need to do level 4 behaviors, give me an activity that will get me there.

For shared tasks, the mapped content may be the same, or they may be different.  If a Project Manager needs to be a level 3 in some task, and a Program Manager needs to be a level 4 in that task, you may wish to only recommend learning that will get each to their target proficiency.  Or, it may be that one activity can get someone as high as a level 4, and therefore you can recommend that same competency-based learning to people in both roles. 

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How can we keep the number of tasks to assess in our competency assessment manageable?

Once you’ve built your model, you may discover there are simply too many tasks for a reasonable assessment.  E.g. if you’ve identified more than 40 tasks, the assessment will simply take too long, and you’ll lose the intrinsic motivation you’re trying to create.  There is no hard or fast rule, 20 – 25 tasks is the max.

Think about it logically.  If it takes about 1 - 1.5 minutes to review behavioral examples and select a value (in a meaningful and thoughtful way), and you have 50 competencies, that’s 50-75 minutes.  Can you say “survey fatigue”?  On the other hand, if you select the 20-25 most critical, it should take ~30 minutes… a much more realistic request.  Plus, who can focus on that many skills and potential gaps?! 

During the model development process, we recommend the high performers identify which tasks are most critical to success to narrow the list.  But there’s also the aspect of strategic workforce planning – identifying skills the organization believes will differentiate it in the future… for example, some technology that will drive competitive advantage.  You want to be sure to call out that technology separately, so you can easily identify organizational experts.  Or you know that many people with a particular expertise are retiring, and you need to know which experts remain, so you can leverage them to create new experts (“nexperts”).  So a hybrid approach is best.

Then you iterate.  Launch the competency assessment, but remember, it’s always in beta.  Your competency models are not fixed in stone.  You put it out there, you get feedback, you get data, and you continue to iterate it to capture changes in strategy, in tools, in technology, and in the environment in which you operate, so you can always focus on the critical tasks and skills for that point in time.  It may be that your assessment includes 20 now, and next year, you remove 8 and add 10 new ones.

For more on creating a competency model quickly, see the free ATD webinar.

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How to differentiate between a job description and a competency model

There seems to be accelerated activity around redefining job descriptions and aligning job families, which is great.  The reason for this accelerated activity is that jobs have changed.  A job defined in the HR system 10 years ago probably doesn’t describe the job very well today.  So this seems to be a good opportunity to differentiate between job descriptions and role-based competency models.

  • A typical job description lists responsibilities, educational and experience requirements, as well as a list of the knowledge they should have, and which important interpersonal and technical skills they need. In other words, it is more of a responsibility narrative and a skills list.

  • A competency model focuses on what tasks/skills are critical to success in the role, what it looks like to be great at those tasks/skills, and what people should be able to DO with the knowledge acquired. In other words, it helps someone become self-aware and be able to DO their job.

  • A job description helps you screen resumes. A competency model helps you hire the right person.

  • A job description provides new employees with a general guideline on the things they will do. A competency model shows them how to be GREAT at the things they will do, and where they are now.

  • A job description helps create salary ranges and compare roles across organizations. A competency model describes what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of YOUR corporate strategy.

You can pretty easily create a job description from a competency model, but it’s quite difficult to create a competency model from most job descriptions because they lack the granularity required. 

While your organization needs both, if you don’t have a role-based competency model, how can you motivate them to be great at the things you need them to do and upskill them when they can’t do it?

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How can I use competency models/capability frameworks?

There are so many places you can use competency models within the organization and throughout the employee lifecycle.

For example:

  • Job descriptions
  • Recruiting/interviewing - ensure you’re recruiting the right skills
  • Onboarding (for setting expectations & communicating culture) - help each person on day one in a role know exactly what is expected of them, how they compare, and what they should begin focusing on; the behaviors in the model can communicate corporate culture, especially for those new to the company or business unit, highlighting what’s important
  • In-role development – closing skill gaps and developing toward both proficiency and mastery
  • Career planning - helping people prepare for the job they want next
  • Opportunities for development and growth is both one of the top 3 reasons people take a job, and it’s the also in the top 3 reasons why people leave… when they don’t exist.
  • Mentoring (creating task-based mentors) - build bench strength more quickly
  • Coaching - ensure that managers can coach without guesswork
  • Learning opportunity development – identify what you need that you don’t have
  • Strategic workforce planning – Compare the skills people have today with what you need tomorrow, and upskill or hire to close the gaps
  • Real needs assessment - develop the optimal L&D action plan

Here's an article that digs into more detail.

Want even more? Click here for all the detail in a white paper.

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How do we help product managers/owners identify competency models for their users?

A product manager should understand 2 things:  the need that their product is trying to fulfill, and the requirements it must include.  From those 2, ask the product manager what need achievement looks like at various proficiency levels, and what requirements each level can take advantage of.

Here’s a simple example.  Yesterday I spoke to a friend whose company just switched them from Lotus Notes to Outlook.  Needless to say, it was a pretty big change.  If I were the Outlook rollout manager for this company, I would say that the need the product must fulfill is the ability to easily communicate and share availability.  The requirements have to do with being able to use it for emails, calendars, tasks, and managing groups.

Prior to the rollout, the Outlook rollout manager should have identified a list of things they want someone to be ABLE TO DO at various levels of proficiency.

(1) Limited – Send emails, accept calendar invites

(2) Basic – Create calendar invites, check availability, create and file emails, manage tasks

(3) Skilled – Create and use email lists to ensure consistent recipients, schedule recurring tasks and meetings, use shared folders, automatically extract junk email

(4) Advanced – Auto format email and tasks so they stand out, customize layout to optimize productivity, create email rules to highlight visibility, assign tasks to others

(5) Expert – Modify templates, make it easy to create consistent folder structures (projects, customers), automate email organization, automate replies, maximize productivity

Now, a product manager can (1) share this model with users, so users become aware of capabilities, and drive themselves to higher level of proficiency (“I want to be able to do that!”), and (2) they can identify what activities or tools they can create to help users move from level to level.

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How can competency models be used to drive innovation?

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So the CEO says that the next 2 years are all about innovation.  Great!  How can you get the organization to change?  You add a skill to every role’s competency model that demonstrates what innovation looks like to them.  That is, you need to identify, specifically, what someone should do to be innovative in their role – whether they are in product development, engineering, marketing, or finance.  You might also update other skills in their competency model with behaviors that demonstrative innovation as one moves from good to great.

Translating strategy to every person in every level of the business so it can be executed is hard when it’s abstract.  But imagine how much more tangible it could be. 

  • Develop disruptive technologies that meet unmet/unknown market needs (product development)
  • Develop financial models that support disruptive product ideas while minimizing risk (finance)
  • Identify new product applications/market opportunities for our existing solutions (marketing)

Remember that for each person, a competency model describes what it looks like to be great in their role.  For the organization, a competency model describes what each person in their role needs to do to execute their part of corporate strategy.  Therefore, to get the employee to embrace innovation as corporate strategy, show them specifically what it looks like to them.  Let them assess themselves against it, and develop toward it.  Give managers the ability to easily assess and coach their team members against it.  And the organization will change.

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How do you communicate the link between a competency model and employee development (competency-based learning)?

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To communicate the link between a competency model and development, you need to first communicate what a competency model is and does. 

A competency model defines what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of corporate strategy.  It also defines what it looks like to be great in that role. 

It seems almost too natural and too obvious that once you know what people need to be able to do, if they can’t do what they need to be able to do (a skill gap), you need to have a way of teaching them.  This is employee development… and when directly mapped to the competency model, it’s competency-based learning.

For example, if one task in a competency model is “Engage the appropriate company and customer resources (systems, people, processes) to get things done better and faster”, then you want to have an activity, for example a skill practice for workflow learning, where they learn to build a project action plan that engages the required internal and external resources.

If you can talk someone through this connection at a high level, and provide them with an example, then you should be to communicate the link (and the need) between a competency model, a skill gap, and competency-based learning.

For more on how to develop competency-based learning, watch this webinar:  http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/1791

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How can I pursue an employee-driven development approach and track completion? Is it important to track self-directed learning?

Tracking is always an interesting question.  In the LMS, we track completions.  But what does that really tell you?  Not much.  Do you think business leaders care much about completions?  Plus, you’re mostly tracking formal learning, which leaves out 90% of how people really learn (workflow/informal learning & collaborative).

What you really want to track is the combination of: what did a person choose to pursue for professional development, did they follow through with it, and most importantly, did their skills and results change as a result?  That’s the language of business leaders.

You want to create a continuous improvement loop where you (and they) can examine these things and make regular adjustments. 

Assess your skills (how can I get to great?) →  

Review your Personalized Learning Plan →

Create a short-term Development Plan (what can I do this month or this quarter?) →

Execute the plan →

Re-assess (and repeat)

Today, if you have a lot of one-size-fits-all learning where people are assigned to participate, they may not have a lot of motivation.  With self-directed learning, people select development activities on a Personalized Learning Plan tied to skill gaps because it’s relevant to both their job and their needs.  Therefore, it has the best chance for accelerating learning transfer, assuming the activity is good. 

So track what people select (from the Personalized Learning Plan), track activity completion, and track change in skill (and results) over time.  That is the kind of tracking that will make you VALUABLE to business leaders.

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How many competency models can be completed within a 3 week period?

In the webinar on How To Create A Competency Model In Weeks, we talk about the fact that you can build a competency model in 3 weeks.  Someone asked, "How many positions can be completed within a 3 week period?  Only one?"

While the whole process takes 3 weeks, it is not linear.  If you look at the summary of events, you’ll see that there are days when you’re waiting for feedback that you could be doing other things.  It depends on how long it takes you to do each step, and your preference for work/life balance.  When we need to (and are willing to live with no work/life balance), we’ve done 8 models in 3 weeks.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone just starting with this process to do any more than 1.  Then as you get experience and you know what it will take, you can take on 3 in 3 weeks.

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How often should competency models be reviewed and updated?

In a recent webinar, I was asked, “How often should competency models be reviewed and updated?”

Have a rhythm for periodically re-examining the model for changes.  Maybe 2x/year, or after a merger or acquisition, or product launch.  Much like the process for customizing behaviors in your model, we recommend sending out the model in a Word document (track changes on) to 4 - 6 high performers, and a manager of people in that role.  Give them a few days to review and edit.  Consolidate edits and conduct a 1-2 hour virtual workshop to discuss and finalize updates.  Then make the updates within the competency assessment tool immediately.

 

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Can competency models drive organizational agility? YES!

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Organizational agility is one of the hottest topics today.  I’m talking about moving people regularly from team to team, moving people where the work is (as demand changes), and moving people among projects or business units.  Competency models make organizational agility possible. 

In fact, one of my customers is doing something really innovative in the area of organizational agility – they are taking their employees and having them assess their skills “early in their careers” against the competencies for multiple departmental areas so that they can help guide them into the next roles where they can best be successful, or assign them temporarily where they can easily and quickly support increased demand.  Another customer is taking a similar approach from a workforce planning perspective, and identifying how many people could be easily moved from one role to another where they are most needed, and what gaps would have to be closed to do so.

If organizational agility is taking center stage in your company, explore how competency models can support that effort.

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What’s the difference between a low performer and a good performer who is simply not in the right role?

How do you interpret the difference between a low performer and someone who is simply not in the right spot for them.  How many of you have seen a good person in the wrong role?

Imagine if that person, or the organization, could use competency models to identify what skills people have and where they do best fit?  So instead of losing potentially really good people, you simply move them to where their skills and the competencies required best align. 

This is the power of competency models and a competency assessment (because you have to have the honest skills data).  If you know what people have to do to be great in their roles, and you know what skills people have, then you can perform that alignment seamlessly as those openings become available.  Think about how many good people could be saved, the amount of turnover savings you could achieve, and how much more engagement would grow naturally when people are in the right role.

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How do you use competency models to motivate employees that may not be motivated by the organization’s mission?

A competency model defines what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of corporate strategy.

But it also defines what it looks like to be great in that role.  If you look at the research, for example, Dan Pink’s research in DRIVE, it is a human characteristic to be motivated to mastery.  It’s why we work on our golf game or learn musical instruments for fun.  It’s why open source software and Wikipedia exist.

How you use competency models to motivate employees that may not be motivated by the organization’s mission is that you make the competency model accessible, and assessable.  Once someone sees what they “should” be able to do (in the competency model), and they assess themselves against it and become aware of any gaps, they want to fix it.  It is a totally different dynamic when you want to fix something, versus when someone else wants you to do it.  Intrinsic motivation is the most effective and creates the best environment for learning transfer to occur. 

If you motivate someone to be great in their job, and the competency model defines what they need to be able to do in order to perform their part of corporate strategy, then by default, using competency models will drive the organization’s mission, even if they are not motivated by the mission itself.

 

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What process and tools are most effective at keeping competency-based learning sustainable?

For competency-based learning to be sustainable, the competency model must be agile.  Competency models describe what someone in a particular role should be able to do to perform their part of corporate strategy.  If your strategy is changing regularly (and I believe that for your organization to continue to survive, it will), then your competency model has to change/adapt as well.

Have a rhythm for periodically re-examining the model for changes.  Maybe 2x/year, or after a transformation, merger or acquisition, or product launch.  We recommend sending out the tasks and behavioral examples and targets in a Word document (track changes on) to 4 - 6 high performers, and a manager of people in that role.  Give them a few days to review and edit.  Consolidate edits and conduct a 1-2 hour virtual workshop to discuss and finalize updates.  Then make the updates within the competency assessment tool immediately.

Once you know that your competency model is current, look at the mapped learning opportunities for a particular task or competency that was updated and identify if changes are required.  The behavioral examples for a task map to the learning objectives of an activity.  If the former changes, there’s a good change that the latter will also need to change.  The good news is that if you have a tool where this mapping lives, and all the data is in one place, you can probably do this in one quick report.  Run it, selecting only the tasks that were updated, and compare the behaviors in the target proficiency level for each task with the learning objectives of those activities.  Any mismatch in learning objectives will tell you exactly what changes need to be made. 

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What is the right number of competencies for roles?

This is one of the questions I’m asked most often.  The answer is there is no “right” number.  What I can say is that it depends on the nature of the role.  First, it is important to describe that a competency model is designed to identify what is most critical to success in a role.  If your model describes the technical and soft skills required to do that job, you want to be sure you cover it.  But as you can imagine, there are probably a hundred soft skills that could be appropriate.  So it’s important to pick the most important ones.

You also need to keep in mind the typical personality type of the person in that role.  Sales people typically have a shorter attention span than technical people.  So you’d want to have closer to 20 competencies in the Sales model and you could have 35 for a technical role. 

When we create a custom competency model, we right-size the number by ensuring that we capture the key things that a person in the role does to be successful.  And we generally use the soft skills to differentiate levels of proficiency.  For example, instead of having 3 skills on analyzing and reporting out data, tailoring communication, and influencing, we have one skill on analyzing and reporting out data, where level 4 might be the ability to tailor communication to the needs of the individual and level 5 might be making a recommendation and influencing others to it.  For more on how to do this, see the ATD webinar (http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/2235).

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How do I create competency models that address needs of different business units with shared development goals?

Think of this process as a many to many relationship.  On the one side, you have an inventory of skills, and on the other side you have an inventory of learning opportunities across the 70-20-10 spectrum.  One skill may be required by multiple roles across different business units.  One learning opportunity may close the gap of many skills across many different roles.  It is the competency model process that identifies which skills best define a job role.  And it is the competency-based learning mapping process which defines which of the learning opportunities are best suited to close a specific skill gap for a job role.

 

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