A Google search for ‘competencies’ yields about 20,000,000 hits, while a Google blog search brings up over 45,000 hits.
Suddenly, it seems, competencies are hot again
Actually, ‘suddenly’ may be overstating things. After all, Gartner’s Jim Holincheck pointed out that competencies were due a revival back in February 2003 in his paper The Coming Resurgence of Competency Management. In other words, like so many overnight successes, this one has taken its time arriving.
So are competencies just the latest trend, or something more substantial? And if they are coming back, what’s different this time? After all, weren’t they hot sometime back in the late ’90s?
Put simply, things are different this time around because technology has finally caught up with competencies, just at the same time as competencies as caught up with reality.
Back in the ’90s, a competency-audit was a costly, consultancy-driven paper-based exercise. Usually it was focused on a better understanding of job families in large organisations, coupled with a sort of coarse, one-off competency-gap audit. The audit highlighted organisational competency gaps, and you went off to plug them. Then you found a store cupboard and stuffed it full of the results of the paper audit. (I mean that literally. I have seen those store cupboards. They’re scary.)
Today, web apps make it possible to have a central repository of required and actual competencies for a workforce that can be regularly updated and queried – the technology has caught up with the potential. And competencies have caught up with reality, too: their use is no longer that a one-off exercise seen as an end in itself. Today, nobody begins competency management for the sake of it, they do it to tackle a particular problem, and then find that the data is useful – often very useful – elsewhere.
And that one fact – that competency data is re-usable – is what will make the resurgence different this time. Quite simply, sharing data on competencies brings the potential of the integrated talent management suite to life.
Before I go any further, some disclosure: I’m a director of InfoBasis Ltd, which produces technology that helps organisations implement competencies to gain an understanding of their capability. But it’s not just me saying this. Back to Jim Holincheck. In June 2006, when reviewing his 2003 report, Jim pointed out that competencies are a key part of HCM / talent management applications.
In a subsequent post, Jim went on to suggest that competencies are powerful, because they represent structured data, but can be limiting if they are set up only to capture data relating directly to a person’s current role. I don’t go along with Jim’s suggestion of tagging as the best solution for this – it’s possible to produce a solution by collecting data beyond the individual’s core, job-related skills. However, I would definitely agree with the point that for full value, competency management needs to extend beyond a check of an individual’s current ability against a generic role description.
So just what can competencies do for you if implemented properly?
As I mentioned in March, the real value is that when you have a structured definition of your people’s abilities, against the needs of the organisation, real Talent Management – what I dubbed Pervasive Human Capital Management – becomes possible. It is possible to recruit against actual requirements, train against actual development needs, assign and manage personnel without relying entirely on the contents of your managers’ heads. And you can report on the whole lot, aggregated across the organisation, or chopped by demographics, department or any other data point.
And best of all, you can do all this on a regular basis, without having to call in the competency consultants or store one single piece of paper.