<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none;" alt="" src="https://dc.ads.linkedin.com/collect/?pid=40587&amp;fmt=gif">

When (and How) to Re-Align Competencies

By HRSG Team on September, 16 2022

Article table of contents (jump to section):

  1. When to re-align competencies
  2. How to re-align competencies
  3. Before the project launch
  4. During the project launch
  5. After the project launch
  6. Align and thrive

When is the last time you revisited the competencies you use to manage your company’s talent?

If you can’t remember, it may be time to take a closer look. In this blog post, we'll look at when your company should consider re-aligning competencies, why it's so important, and how to do it right.


When to re-align competencies

A company is continually growing, adapting, and changing. These changes can often be small and incremental, but sometimes they are bigger, with lasting implications for organizational strategy or operations. An auto manufacturing company, for example, may need to shift to the production of electric and digitally connected vehicles in response to regulatory requirements and consumer preferences.

While the strategic direction is set by the company leadership, it needs to be translated into talent requirements, because you can't achieve the goal if you don't have the talent you need.

Take the example of the auto manufacturer adopting electric technologies. They will need their engineering, manufacturing, and design functions to acquire new technical competencies. The need for change will also radiate outward to impact non-core functions such as sales, marketing, and finance, who must be ready to sell, promote, and price these new vehicles effectively.

When your organization is facing the need for change, it’s an ideal time to re-align the organization's competencies, giving it a reliable way to define the talent it needs, evaluate the talent it has, and develop a plan to fill the gaps.


How to re-align competencies

Re-aligning competencies takes time and resources. This is not a project that a talent manager should undertake off the side of their desk. Depending on your level of familiarity with competencies, in addition to developing a plan to take you through the project launch and beyond, you may want to consider hiring outside expertise and investing in a competency management platform.

When planning a competency re-alignment, it's helpful to divide the project into before, during, and after launch.

Before the project launch

Before rolling out the project, lay the groundwork so that you can confidently and efficiently engage stakeholders from the outset.

Focus on high-priority areas. Re-aligning competencies is not an all-or-nothing undertaking. In fact, it's advisable to start with a single job family and progress from there. Use the business strategy to identify the area of greatest business need and decide on the scope of the initial project. In the example of the vehicle manufacturer shifting into electric vehicle production, it may make sense to start by re-aligning competencies for the R&D or manufacturing team.

Get executive buy-in. Without the support of your leadership, you may struggle to engage the managers and subject-matter experts you need. These contributors tend to be busy, and they are incentivized to solve the organization's current challenges, not plan for tomorrow's needs. Unless they know that the company's leaders are invested in the outcome, their participation will be more difficult to secure.

Tap the experts. If you don't have prior experience re-aligning competencies, or if you need to accelerate the process, consider hiring a consultant to help with the planning phase. The perspective of an industrial-organizational psychologist or competency expert can help you decide on the scope of the project, determine which business area to focus on first, and engage stakeholders confidently. A competency specialist will also bring pre-built, validated competency libraries so that you don't have to develop your own competency content.


During the project launch

Once you have a plan in place, the next step is to engage the people in your organization who can help you understand the current competency levels and those required to support the new strategic goals.

Focus on upper management. Relying on the front-line workers and supervisors who perform the work may seem like a good idea, but they are too close to the day-to-day tasks and have too great a stake in the outcomes to be able to offer objective input. Instead, you will want to focus on the managerial or director level—people who have a 3,000-foot view of the workforce and its capabilities. Subject-matter experts and specialized contractors with deep technical expertise should also be invited to weigh in. With the help of these participants, you can begin the process of identifying the technical competencies required to deliver on the strategy.

Keep it simple. While subject-matter experts are invaluable, they can often get carried away in the details. This results in competency profiles that include too many competencies and an unworkable level of detail. As the talent manager, your job is to find ways to simplify the output by setting limits and guiding these contributors to clarify the priorities and create profiles that accurately reflect the job requirements and can be used to drive talent management.

Don't forget "soft" competencies. While upper management and experts define the technical competencies, you, as the talent manager, need to identify the universal competencies that are also required in the role. Universal competencies define abilities, motivations, and traits that apply to a wide range of roles across the organization. Examples of universal competencies include "adaptability," "collaborating with others," and "client focus." With visibility into employee surveys, 360 reviews, and other feedback channels, HR is best positioned to address any team, management, and leadership issues by applying the right universal competencies to every profile.


After the project launch

Once the competency profiles are defined, the re-alignment project is still not complete. The final step is to roll out the newly aligned competency profiles and ensure that the talent lifecycle supports the acquisition and development of the talent they define, including assessment, performance management, learning and development, recruitment, succession planning, and leadership development activities.

Create an action plan. Remember that identifying the competencies required for organizational success is only the first step. If you file those profiles away, they can't actively move the organization forward in the right direction. You need to ensure that they come alive by being woven into your talent processes. Ensure competency profiles are included in job ads. Create interview questions and processes that screen for the competencies required. Use competency profiles to guide assessments. Connect training and development opportunities to specific competencies and proficiency levels to help managers and employees design effective development plans.

Provide tools and coaching. Once you have ensured that your talent processes are driven by your re-aligned competencies, it's time to turn your focus to developing the tools and coaching that managers need to enact them. Managers need to be coaches and guides, and they need your coaching and guidance to help them develop those skills. Make sure they know how to have career conversations with their reports and how to recognize when a conversation is needed. Give them the tools they need to evaluate performance and support career growth, including assessment tools and development resources.

Choose a management system. In the early 90s, when competencies surged in popularity, many talent managers used spreadsheets to manage their competency content. The result was messy and labor-intensive, which led some talent teams to give up in frustration. Today, spreadsheets have been replaced with platforms that streamline the competency management and re-alignment process. Make sure you think about how you’ll store, update, and manage competency profiles over the longer term.

Track success metrics. Measuring the impact of the re-alignment in terms of business metrics is difficult because it's hard to isolate this input from the many others that can effect a positive change in business performance. However, you can measure the success of the re-alignment project in other ways. You can track utilization metrics such as the use of behavioral interview questions related to competencies, the number of competency-based assessments conducted, and the number of manager/employee career conversations that include a discussion of competencies. You can also track satisfaction levels by distributing surveys to find out whether employees have more clarity around roles and expectations, and whether managers feel confident guiding and mentoring their reports.


Align and thrive

When competencies are aligned to organizational objectives, it has a powerful effect. Everyone has a clear idea of what they need to accomplish in their role, and the entire company can move in the right direction. That's why re-aligning competencies is crucial when the company is faced with the need to change direction, whether to adapt to market changes, break into new markets, launch new products or services, or address underperformance or culture issues.

Learn more about how competencies positively impact business outcomes. Read "The Business Case for Competencies."

Enhance your skills in competency-based management by taking an online course through the Competency Academy.