Getting organizational buy-in for competencies

September 18, 2015 Sarah Beckett

Change is never easy, and when you’re trying to steer an entire organization in a new direction, it can feel like you’re trying to paddle an ocean liner with a single oar. If you’re trying to convince your organization to adopt a competency-based talent management approach, feel free to talk to one of our in-house experts. If you're just looking for some tips to get started, read on.

As individuals, we’re hard-wired to fear and avoid change. And at the organizational level, things are no different. If you’re considering competencies for the first time, it’s unlikely that your plans will be met with universal support. Building trust and buy-in for the project will take patience and planning, but there are things you can do to accelerate the process and ensure success.

Buy-In Tip #1: Start at the top.

When the HR team at The DXL Group, a multi-channel specialty retailer serving the “big and tall” niche, decided to use competencies, they made sure the leadership team was well informed early in the process. While competencies touch everyone in the organization, it’s the top level of decision makers who have the power to drive the initiative forward.

“When you hook them early and have meaningful conversations at the senior leadership level about competencies, the rest falls in place,” says Tracy Piper, DXL’s Director of Human Resources – Talent Management.

When engaging the leadership cadre, it’s especially important to be aware of their top priorities, and focus the discussion on ways in which competencies can be used to support those areas. For example, if they have been tasked with strengthening cultural cohesion across a globally distributed organization, show them how competencies bring greater consistency to talent management while accommodating cultural differences.

Buy-In Tip #2: Tailor the message.

One of the most compelling ways of getting the organization on board is to change the message to fit the audience. Instead of limiting yourself to a single narrative, create different benefit lists for different stakeholders that communicate exactly what’s in it for them:

  • Managers may want to know how competencies will help them feel more confident and be more effective in their managerial roles.
  • Employees may want to know how competencies can help them build their careers and make the most of their skills.
  • If you have a legal department, their primary concern will be the defensibility of a competency-based approach.

These preoccupations and concerns will vary from group to group and from organization to organization, but if you can identify the unique concerns and show how your competency initiative addresses them, you’ll achieve buy-in more effectively.

“We advise our clients to identify a different list of key messages or benefits for each distinct stakeholder group,” says Ian Wayne, HRSG’s Chief Product Officer. “If you’re relying on a single presentation to reach everyone, a lot of the material won’t connect with the audience.”

Buy-In Tip #3: Don’t get short-changed.

Wayne says that HR teams often invest 90 percent of their project resources into the development and deployment of competencies, and no more than 10 percent into communicating the project rationale, goals, and outcomes to employees and other stakeholders. In fact, the division of resources should be closer to 50-50 throughout the lifespan of the initiative.

Affecting change—and justifying it after the fact—is more time- and resource-consuming than many HR professionals plan for, and it requires a sustained effort over the long term. Make sure you build in enough time and budget to do a good job of winning the organization over.

Buy-In Tip #4: Lean on the pros.

If possible, consider hiring a competency specialist to help you sell the idea of competency-based management to your organization. Competency consultancies have the benefit of hundreds of engagements across dozens of sectors to draw on, which is a level of experience and expertise that’s hard for internal HR teams to achieve. A consultant can help you identify the best ways to engage the organization, promote a competency-based approach, and create buy-in.

For Piper, having a consultant on board during the early stages was instrumental in pushing the initiative through.

“They were able to really drive home the importance of competencies and get people committed and interested,” she says.

Need help getting your organization on board?

Contact us to find out how we can help you get your competencies initiatives off the ground. Talk to a competency expert!

About the Author

Sarah Beckett

Sarah is an experienced marketer with over 12 years experience. She drives HRSG brand marketing strategy and the implementation of all related programs.

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