Psst, want a good competency framework?

I’ve written before about how effective Talent Management hinges on competency. Competencies are edging back into the limelight now, but will never be as hot at Talent Management is. That’s not tough on competencies, it’s just life.

Imagine it’s evening. Your partner has cooked you a wonderful dinner. Here are two alternate dialogues. Which would you choose?:

You:  That was above competent.
Other: Argh!

You: You are a wonderfully talented chef!
Other: Ahhh!

And so talent cranks up 116m Google hits, against just 20m for competencies.

But while Talent Management is sexy, it still needs a structured understanding of competencies, which in turn rests on the really unsexy competency framework.

And if you want a good competency framework, here’s my advice: use someone else’s.

Yes, of course your organisation is different, and yes, the role descriptions and job families you will build up from the competencies will be different from other organisations. But really, how different are they?

If you want to produce your competency framework, you’d better be sure that it’s worth the pain.

One organisation I know assigned a six-person team to drawing up their own competency framework for fast food staff. It took a year. It was a perfectly adequate description of the required skills, but the production process didn’t involve getting practical buy in from workers or managers, so there were details of wording that didn’t chime with their experience. And after a year the perceived need for a framework had gone, and with it any executive sponsorship.

Inevitably, the implementation bombed. It was seen as just another HR-driven administrative burden with no benefit. The result: little participation, no data or results, and no way back into the good books of the people who matter: managers and employees.

The upside of this is that the team never had to deal with the second hurdle of a home-grown competency framework: maintaining it. That requires dedicated resource and an on-going dialogue with people using it.

Sometimes, of course, you can’t avoid this effort. At InfoBasis we have a library of over 100 competency frameworks used by clients, and the majority of them are home-grown, of necessity.

But before you go down that path ask yourself (in the words of the British war-time poster) “Is your journey really necessary?” If the skills you are describing are in any way generic – e.g. retail, customer-facing, sales and IT, it’s likely that you can cut straight to managing your skills by simply using an existing framework.

Some frameworks you have to pay for, to recognise the accumulation of intellectual property that they represent. Others have been developed by institutions and are free. In the UK, there are now several frameworks which are ‘Crown copyright’ – that is, developed by the state, and available for licence. Usually the licence is free. But even if you have to pay for a framework, remember what you are buying: someone else has done the work to produce and test this thing for you, leaving you to get on with what matters – using it for business benefit in your organisation.

The framework is unlikely to fit your needs exactly – that’s okay. Use it with your pilot group and work out which 80% of the framework does fit. Then augment it with whatever else you need. Suddenly you have cut your work load and are closer to demonstrating the benefits of what you’re doing.

As you can tell, I feel quite passionately about this, but often find I’m the last one left at the bar when I start talking about competencies. So I will limit myself to one further posting in the near future: on the now slightly confusing world of IT Competency Frameworks in the UK.

One response to “Psst, want a good competency framework?

  1. Pingback: Competency frameworks, Learning and Development and the CIPD « Donald H Taylor

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