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A Q&A with Dr. Suzanne Simpson: The Highlights

By Caitlin Leishman on April, 6 2018
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Caitlin Leishman

Last month, our CEO & Founder Dr. Suzanne Simpson took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions that the community had about competencies and implementing frameworks. 

We've gone ahead and compiled the highlights of the questions into this post for your pleasure. Enjoy the read!


Question 1) What is the relationship between competence and performance? The objective is to increase individual and collective levels of performance.

Most companies are faced these days with looking at how to improve individual and overall performance. It’s helpful to look at performance as basically “The What” you must accomplish in your job or role and that should be related overall to the performance of the company. This could be how you contribute to generating sales leads in the marketing department, or how as a developer you create new software for clients.

So, what does it take for you to be able to do that as an individual? It takes certain capabilities or competencies needed for success. A manager may be looking for certain qualities in their employees, things like their tenaciousness, their ability to focus on their job, or they may be looking for certain technical skills and capabilities. It's a combination of what is it the person has to perform in their job and the competencies and capabilities they bring to that job.

Question 2) What competencies can be used to support talent management? 

Competencies come in a variety of forms. The first type are core competencies that are integral to the success of the company. Here at HRSG, we have three core competencies that are important for success:

  • First, and most importantly is that we must focus on our client and our client needs.
  • The second one relates to innovation, relating to our creative processes and putting ourselves ahead of the curve in terms of being able to deliver to our client base.
  • And thirdly, we also have to offer a team-based environment because if we want to stay ahead of the curve, we need to have those kinds of capabilities to work together as a team

The second kind of competencies are related to the job, and are general in nature, such as Initiative or Attention to Detail.

The third type of competencies are the technical skills, the parts of the job that relate to professional capabilities, like Accounting and Reporting or Brand Management.

Question 3) What is the best way to define technical competencies? Can we have 5 levels of technical proficiency the same way that we do for the behavioral competencies?

A technical competency or a professional competency should describe what's needed from a very basic level, right up to a mastery level where the individual has to be top of their game. They may be setting standards for the organization or coaching and developing other people within that area of responsibility.

For the most part we try to stick to a five level model with increments of proficiency on that five level scale. In some cases we've also worked with clients who can't divide it in that many levels and can only come up with four levels.  Most of the technical professional competencies that we have in our libraries are based on a five-level model. The key thing is that you use the same number of levels for every functional area like sales or marketing, to make sure that your employees can see the path for progression. 

Question 4) In an organization where there are multiple unique technical roles in a department, it can be challenging to narrow down all the technical competencies and skills. How many should be considered when developing the matrix or framework? 

It really depends. If you have a competency library, there might be 20 or 30 competencies for a functional area like IT or Marketing. But an individual would only use a small portion of the competencies that are the most critical for that job. 

So you would use the library to select the competencies that are the most critical to the performance of the job. A copywriter and a graphic designer in the marketing department would have very different competencies from each other, but they would still have marketing competencies. The key is to not overload any job with too many competencies where they cannot be used for learning and development, because you have to use them. So you really want to focus on those key competencies that are critical for the job.

Question 5) What are some ways to encourage adoption of new competencies for a midsize company?

The first and most important factor is that there has to be a felt-need for the competencies and a competency-based talent management system at the most senior levels of the company. Senior level management faces business challenges around revenue or taking a new direction, and therefore, needs a plan to find talent to help with the goal. 

The other key stakeholder group is the intermediate management levels and positions, as they're responsible for the actual execution of a competency-based initiative. You need to look at communication and change strategies that highlights the direct benefits to them. Added to this, the employees need to also see the benefits of this program, so the change strategy has to incorporate what the focus is to them. 

So the major way to encourage adoption is to figure out what the value is to the different groups in your company, and communicate that to them. For senior management, this might be a focus on how identifying talent can help them grow revenues and meet targets for the quarter. 

6) Do some organizations or executives resist the use of competency-based management and if so why? 

One of the first things to consider is whether there is a felt-need in the organization. Sometimes people can be more resistant when there is not an immediate need for a Competency-based management solution, like high turnover or poorly defined job descriptions.

The other resistance usually comes from scope fears. Senior executives can feel that this may be a large and distracting project to undertake for the company, and the disruption may not be worth it. Methodologies are important to allay these fears by providing a way to incorporate stakeholder input, but not overly burden the employees with tasks that distract them from their core job. This is a key area where companies like HRSG can help, as they provide those methodologies and work with the company to get the results they desire.

7) What issues or problems do organizations encounter when they integrate competencies within their talent management architecture? 

A common issue with this problem is that the HR department may be resistant, as it is a new approach or a new undertaking. So, HR may be hesitant if they cannot see the immediate advantage to their department. But if the communication strategy is focused on showing HR the value of this approach and the improvements it might make to their internal satisfaction rates, then this issue can be overcome. 

8) What type of model did HRSG use for their competencies? And what was the process we undertook?

As mentioned above, we use three core competencies because it is extremely important for us to succeed. We're a growing organization, so we need to promote a shared understanding of where we're going and provide a clear set of common cultural values.

Beyond that we have functional areas, so these areas needed their own capabilities. These are organized by job family, and include areas like sales or professional services. Then each job has their own job specific competencies, which outline the work expectations for that particular role. We follow the exact methodology we do for our clients, and use our own software to make sure our new employees are set-up for success at HRSG!

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