Competencies and capability Part IV: It’s a wrap

I was looking to wrap up competencies last week, but thinking time ran out as I hit the British Computer Society Annual Dinner.

Over drinks, I was reminded by IT skills specialist Paul Turner of ‘Don’s Diamond’, a sad bid of mine from years ago for eponymousness, that linked skills, jobs, qualifications and training. On returning home, I Googled “Don’s Diamond”. The top result: Shower Pan Replacements. Competencies, it seems, are having to fight for profile.

Then I noticed a query on Training Zone: Making Competencies Exciting.

Then I remembered McKinsey’s paper from last year: The People Problem in Talent Management.

And the conclusion to competencies week became clear.

Competencies work, but are not seeing explosive growth.


It’s not because they are boring (although they are not exciting). It’s not because they are complicated (most organisational initiatives are far more complex). It’s because they require just a little more effort than most people are prepared to give.

Not a lot of effort, mind. Just a little too much for most people.

The gist of the McKinsey report is that while companies increasingly view talent management as a strategic priority, they are failing to give it sufficient time and attention.

Specifically, in their interviews of 50 CEOs and HR professionals:

  • 50% said that line managers were unwilling to categorize their people as top, average or underperforming
  • 45% felt that line managers failed to deal with chronic underperformance

Given this environment, how likely is it that managers are going to embrace an initiative that requires them to categorize performance and to deal with underperformers? (because that is exactly what an effective deployment of competencies would require).

Not likely at all, this despite McKinsey noting that:

talent management cannot be isolated from business Strategy. Companies achieve the best outcomes by actively involving senior leaders in talent development…. Executives should find ways to make line managers unambiguously responsible for developing the skills and knowledge of their people.

There are two ways  to make competencies work. One is to start small, prove value, and then spread to other departments. That is the approach many InfoBasis clients choose to take.

The other is to re-organize, and put in place a structure that demands everyone take skills seriously, and gives them time to do so. As I’ve said before, for me the Norwich Union Life case study is the epitome of this approach (the presentation is here).

It looks as if the Training Zone questioner Lesley-Anne is asking for a lot in trying to make competencies exciting. Actually she has done the right thing so far:

We’re in the process of designing a competencies framework that will be used within a 360 feedback process and a management development programme. We’re going through a transformational organisational change at present, and the framework is designed to help us to identify the important behaviours we’d like to emphasise as part of that change. Managers have been involved in the design of the framework, but I’m now trying to think of ways in which we can introduce it to a large number of managers in a way that will excite them about the future – bearing in mind that some may see it as a threat. Any ideas, anyone

She has kept some line managers involved during the framework’s formulation, great, but watch out: some may see it as a threat. She’s right – some may. Without a top-down edict, the only way they’ll be convinced otherwise is by a promise of clear value. Given McKinseys’ report, that value may need to be high to overcome most managers’ natural reticence in talking about competency and behaviour and dealing with the consequences.

It strikes me that Lesley-Anne will get where she wants, because she’s got determination and the support of a community that has some experience with competencies.

It strikes me, too, that with enough Lesley-Annes eventually there will be no question of whether competencies should be deployed, or how, because – eventually – they will be a standard managerial tool. As ubiquitous as the budgeting process, and perhaps as disliked, but proven in practice.

Explosive growth or not, it is this proof in practice that will – eventually – establish competencies.

And perhaps, then, there will be scope for Don’s Diamond to appear on Google.

One response to “Competencies and capability Part IV: It’s a wrap

  1. Pingback: HCM and Blogging. Check out Knowledge Infusion. « Vendorprisey

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