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How competency models can improve employee performance

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Most employees initially learn about the expectations for their job through traditional means, like job descriptions, or casual conversations with supervisors. They may also get some insight later, through their annual performance review — assuming one is done. 

Unfortunately, it is frequently the case that these methods do not set clear expectations, causing a mismatch between how the business needs that person to work versus what they actually understand to be important. Luckily, there are alternatives to just these methods. Let’s review the typical methods, then look at an alternate solution.

Job descriptions: Are job essentials clearly defined?

Typically, job descriptions are sterile and only focus on the “what” or functional aspects of the job. They leave out the “why” and “how” that relate to attitude and value fit, which is what most employees are desperately seeking. Often managers and HR professionals are known to say, “I can teach the rest, I just need someone who is motivated, shares our values and fits our culture.” Specific values and culture fit are essential pieces to include when describing necessary characteristics for a position.

Casual conversations: Do you consistently set position expectations?

Conversations with a supervisor about what it takes to successfully move into other roles are good ways to support a message. However, employers and employees cannot rely on this as the primary source of information. Without clear guidance, supervisors must share their own personal thoughts or opinions about what it takes to be successful, rather than a message that has been fully researched and evaluated. Their message may not be aligned with the company’s true perspective or with what others are sharing across the company. It is important that those with the best insight determine what is expected of employees, share the same language and do so consistently across the business.

Performance reviews: Have you established job goals?

Performance evaluations typically occur once a year, but tend to either be punitive or a pat on the back, rather than a detailed discussion about expectations and job performance. The review process usually lacks insight into how to be promotable or exceed expectations. As a result, evaluations generally lack the prescriptive elements required for employees to know and reach job expectations. Not only that, a performance evaluation is a bit late to be setting expectations for new employees.

So how can you effectively tie everything together? Use a competency model.

A competency model creates a blueprint for employee attributes and behaviors that are required to perform a job well. 

Here are some tips for establishing a competency model:

• Use a core set of competencies for each job that captures the “why” and “how” of the job. Map all competencies back to a core list that reflects the company’s culture.

• Embed the competency language into all aspects of talent management and everyday language. Competencies should be reflected in what you hire, teach, develop and in every area in which you hold people accountable.

• Use competency names that are not sterile or technical-sounding. The names should truly reflect who you are and what your brand sounds like.

• Include descriptors associated with each competency that reflects the level of the position within the business. For example, at the individual contributor level, “Teamwork” indicates mostly playing well within teams. But “Teamwork” at the management level means being responsible for building teams and creating an environment that supports teamwork.

• Create your competency model and work with it. When implementing a competency model, put a good draft together, use it and then tweak it based upon what you learn during the process.

The number of competencies for any one job can vary, but we encourage organizations to keep the list focused— approximately 7 to 10 makes achieving the competencies more realistic and achievable. 

Employers new to competency models should consider collaborating with a consultant to for some coaching. 

Competency models have been successfully used by many companies to drive performance with one location or across multiple brands. Why not consider how your company can use a competency model to raise the bar and help increase sales?

James Ringler oversees Corvirtus’ Consulting Solutions, ensuring quality design and implementation of solutions that support customer success. 

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