ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY, and nor was any organisation. But some organisations are built on stronger foundations than others, and consequently have survived the test of time. Many of the oldest companies in the world, such as gun manufacturer Beretta, founded in 1526 and temple builder Kongo Gumi, founded as long ago as 578, have survived because of core values that have run through their organisation – from their greenest employees to their CEO.
The building blocks of any strong organisation are the values of the company and the core competencies that everyone in the organisation shares. But these values and competencies are not set in stone. Rather, they adapt to the ever changing business and cultural environment, as well as the company’s position in the organisation lifespan – birth, growth, decline and death. Turning around the decline, and staving off death is the goal of all directors, including those from HR, and the major tool in HR’s defensive arsenal is hiring and developing the right people. And all it takes is 5 steps.
Table 1: 29 CORE COMPETENCIES
Communicating Openly and Effectively
Planning & Organising
Step 1: Define Your Core Competencies
The competencies of an accountant differ greatly from that of a salesperson. Likewise, an individual contributor has different responsibilities and required skill-sets from a director of the same firm. What, however, connects them is the core set of competencies, that are present in each and every member. For example, IBM has nine core competencies, that everyone in the company shares. They are:
– Embrace challenge
– Partner for clients’ success
– Collaborate globally
– Act with a systematic perspective
– Build mutual trust
– Influence through experience
– Continuously transform
– Communicate for Impact
– Help IBMers succeed
These nine competencies might sound very specific to IBM, however, they fit easily into a commonly used competency framework of 29 core competencies. These 29 core competencies are used by the best recruitment and training firms in China and globally (see table 1), and are matched against desired behaviours. For Step 1, all you need to do is choose between six to twelve core competencies. If that sounds easier said than done, then contact a consultant. However, if you wish to DIY, then here’s some advice:
a. First, list your company’s ‘organisational’ core competencies. Organisational core competencies differ from ‘personal’ core competencies in that they are competencies that your business does well and that differentiates it from its competition. Being ‘innovative’ would be one organisational core competency of Apple, whereas being ‘quality oriented’ would be an organisational core competency of IBM. But knowing what you are today is only half of the job. You need to understand where the business is going, and this will determine the organisational competencies required in the future. To greater understand this vision Alison Brady, National Consulting Manager for PageUp People, recommends interviewing ‘future focused stakeholders’. These are members of the executive team and senior leaders who have a holistic view of the organisation. Her team assists some of the world’s largest employers define their core competencies and cascade these competencies throughout their entire organisation – whether locally or globally.
b. Link the organisational core competencies of the company to individual employee attributes. Ask yourself, “What skills do our people need do to demonstrate to continue to make this competency a source of competitive advantage?”
c. And now that you have defined the core competencies of your employees, ensure that the behaviours that describe each competency are written in a way that is relevant to the workforce. For example, if you include ‘customer focus’ as a competency, a valid description might be, “Is quick to provide support to clients, via all means of communication – e-mail, phone and face-to-face.” Don’t use ‘legal-speak’ that only serves to baffle your employees.
Once the competencies have been decided, you can move to Step 2.
Step 2: Testing your Candidates
Testing the core competencies of candidates is more challenging than incumbent staff, since third party opinions of a candidate are limited. Referees can be contacted, however, they are usually nominated by the candidate to provide a biased rosy picture. Consequently, behavioural interviewing is one of the best ways to test for competencies of a candidate.
Says Brady of PageUp People, “behavioural interviews work on the premise that past behaviour predicts future performance.” An example of such a question that would test customer focus could be, “Tell me how you had a challenge with a customer in the past.” Brady adds that combined with group role play and psychometric testing, behavioural interviews are an effective way to measure competencies, pre-offer letter.
CEB is one company that provides psychometric testing that can be aligned with set competencies. CEB’s SHL Talent Measurement Solutions function has been in the market for 36 years. Stuart Hedley, Director of Business Enablement, APAC, Middle East & Africa, says that “the OPQ32 (Occupational Personality Questionnaire), which measures 32 traits, is able to link to core competencies. For example, with respect to customer focus, the OPQ32 could measure ‘conscientious’, ‘caring’ and ‘socially confident’, all personality traits that would underpin the core competency of customer focus.” The OPQ32 takes 20 to 25 minutes to complete and is applicable for entry level right up to CEO.
Step 3: Conducting a 360 Degree Review on Incumbent Staff
Psychometric tests are ideal for new candidates, but for incumbent staff the easiest way to measure core competencies is to conduct a 360 degree review. Because these reviews are essentially opinions, it’s important to collect data from 10 or more raters in order to decrease bias in the overall result. These raters are split between superiors, subordinates, colleagues or vendor/clients and their collective opinions will define whether a particular core competency of a staff member (subject) is a known strength, humble strength, known weakness, or blind weakness. These are explained as such:
a. Known Strength – Both the subject’s opinion and the opinion of the raters are essentially the same for this competency AND above 4 out of 5.
b. Humble Strength – For this competency the subject has rated themselves below 4 out of 5, but the raters have rated this staff above 4.
c. Known Weakness – The subject is aware that they perform below a 4 out of 5 for this competency, and this weakness is confirmed by the raters.
d. Blind Weakness – The subject has rated themself above a 4 out of 5, but the average score from the raters is below 4. There is an obvious difference of opinion between the subject and the raters.
The outcome from the 360 degree review will determine who and what gets trained.
Step 4: Consult, train and take ownership
Obviously strengths, whether known or humble, do not need to be trained. This is a waste of the limited training budget. Nevertheless, compulsory training is often mandated by HR departments or headquarters; or equally wasteful, subjects with humble strengths attend the training. Identifying those subjects that need training, and those that don’t, is a responsibility of the HR team.
Uncovering weaknesses of a subject also poses problems, but not for obvious reasons. For subjects with known weaknesses, there is a possibility that this subject has conceded that they will never be good at this competency. If, for example, an organisation’s organisational core competency was ‘customer focus’ but an administration staff admitted that they chose their job to avoid working directly with people, then this staff member will unlikely improve from any future training. Managing this staff out of the organisation is the best option.
For subjects with known weaknesses, there is a possibility that this subject has conceded that they will never be good at this competency.
When a 360 degree review uncovers a blind weaknesses, another problem arises. Since a blind weakness is unknown to the subject, this subject is likely to question the validity of the results, while possibly finding offense at the accusation that they are underperforming. Line managers and HR professionals must therefore be trained to provide professional feedback that encourages proactive behaviour, and not spite in the subject.
Once each of the subjects has been consulted and those that need training are identified, the training can begin. At that time, both training material and the trainers themselves should be focused on the relevant core competencies, and trainers should even go as far as reminding the trainees of this direct connection.
Training is not the only step towards improvement in competencies, however. The 70:20:10 model for learning and development, accredited to Morgan McCall at the Center for Creative Leadership (CLC), states that most learning must be self-directed. The model is as follows:
- 70% from self-learning on tough jobs;
- 20% from people (mostly the line manager); and
- 10% from courses and reading.
According to this model only 10% of the improvement in a particular core competency will be attributed to training. Approximately 90% will be contributed to self-directed learning and assistance from colleagues, predominately the line manager.
Regardless of where the input for change originates, the output is behaviour change, or more specifically, an improvement in the relevant core competency. It is for this reason that rewards can also be used to create new positive habits. Andrew McMeekin, Managing Director of BI WORLDWIDE Australia, says that a key element of sustained behavioural change is a well-defined recognition and reward program to drive employee engagement. Employee recognition strategies can reinforce progress and this will drive performance within an organisation. Implementing a strategy that focuses on communication, complemented by a training plan and reinforced by recognition, will create alignment and influence manager and employee engagement. Recognising progress and reinforcing that behaviour will create line of sight for your employees, resulting in employee satisfaction. McMeekin believes that it is important to have a strategy to develop a culture of recognition in an organisation and to define and align the business objectives, values, desired behaviours, the performance required and the results that need to be achieved.
When creating a high performance culture, the more types of recognition that are used, the more employees that will be reached.
When creating a high performance culture, the more types of recognition that are used, the more employees that will be reached. There are three critical aspects to a recognition strategy. The first is to recognise results. The second is to recognise accomplishments, and the third is to recognise the positive behaviour. There is no need to necessarily reward this third aspect, except with the manager reinforcing the peers’ recognition. By doubling up on the recognition, the desired behaviour is further reinforced in the mind of the employee. So how do you measure positive behaviour change?
Step 5: Measure Behaviour Change
The easiest way to measure behaviour change with incumbent staff is to complete a second 360 degree review. It’s important, however, that the same raters from the first 360 degree review complete the second review, in order to maintain consistency and relevance of the results. A good scenario is that each of that subjects’ weaknesses improve, if only slightly. A great scenario is that the previously weak core competencies are now rated as 4 or above by the raters – making them strengths. This second 360 degree review should be conducted around three to four months after training and reward programs are initiated.
Training, rewards, the threat of termination or a combination of all three, are your tools to turn average employees into future CEOs. However, for those staff that show no improvement, and continue to under-perform with respect to your defined core competencies, the next challenge begins – managing them out. That might sound excessively tough, but companies that have survived the test of time have taken these uncomfortable steps, time and time again. And in doing so, have built a powerfully strong employer brand for candidates, as well as equally strong profits for CEOs.