Conducting Competency Identification Studies

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Competency studies may have different goals. The goals must be clear before

the resulting studies will be useful. Those who set out to conduct competency

studies should be clear what they are trying to do, why they are doing it, and

what their stakeholders (such as the CEO) are seeking. Elaborate studies do

little good if nobody knows what they are for, nobody really wanted them, or

nobody knows how to use them.

A present competency study, to define the term, focuses on one department,

job category, or occupational group. In conducting a competency study

of this kind, it is usually important to create two distinct groups—exemplary

performers and average performers—for the department or other unit studied.

The goal is usually to discover the difference between the highest performers

in the group and the average performers in that same group. When

completed, the present competency study clarifies what are the essential competencies

for success at present.

A future competency study also focuses on one department, job category,

or occupational group. But in conducting a competency study of this kind, it

is usually important to start by describing the organization’s strategic goals

and objectives. What results will the organization seek in the future? Why will

those results be sought? What competencies are necessary to realize those results?

A different approach is needed from that in a present competency study.

Often, there may be nobody in the organization who is an exemplary performer

when compared to future requirements. It may thus be necessary to do

scenario planning to discover the competencies needed in a future business

environment. That also requires a level of sophistication that few internal practitioners

possess—or have time to use if they do.

A derailment competency study, to define the term, focuses on the characteristics

linked to failure—or to falling off the fast track—for those in one department,

job category, or occupational group. In conducting a derailment

study, it is usually important to identify individuals who have failed assignments,

dropped off the high-potential list, experienced career plateauing, or

otherwise become ineligible for a list of successors or high potentials. The goal

is to determine why people who were once considered high potentials fell off

the track or reached a career plateau. Once that is known, of course, strategies

can be formulated to help them develop and surmount their failures—and

help others avoid similar problems. Causes of derailment might include,

among others, problems with morals (such as sexual indiscretions) or problems

with health-related issues (such as alcoholism or drug-related ailments).

Different approaches to competency identification have been devised.8

While space is not available here to review each approach to competency identification,

those who are serious about SP&M will search out information about

available approaches. They will select an approach that is compatible with the

organization’s corporate culture, since introducing competency modeling to

an organization that has not used it before is really a change effort in its own

right.

Competency modeling offers a newer way to identify characteristics linked

to exemplary job performance than traditional job analysis. An advantage of

competency modeling is its rigor. Another is its ability to capture the (otherwise

ineffable) characteristics of successful job performers and job perform-

ance. It can provide valuable information on key positions and high-potential

employees on which to base SP&M practices.

Unfortunately, competency modeling does have disadvantages. One is that

the term’s meaning can be confusing. Another, more serious, disadvantage is

that rigorous approaches to competency modeling usually require considerable

time, money, and expertise to carry out successfully. Rarely can they be

done internally except by the largest organizations. These can be genuine

drawbacks when the pressure is on to take action—and achieve results—

quickly.