If you are a CEO and have an anointed head of human resources (HR), chances are you would have heard of competency frameworks. And if you are among the rare breed that hasn’t, my guess is you won’t have to wait very long. For, with the new year, come resolutions. Every self-respecting HR head resolves to align HR to business, and blind faith, (and hearsay) leads him/her to the sure-fire magic pill of designing a robust competency framework.
Competency frameworks are a great way to ensure HR practices such as recruitment and training are aligned to what business actually wants. For the uninitiated, the competency framework is elegantly defined as “…the synthesis of the skills, knowledge, behaviours, attitudes and attributes that contribute to outstanding job performance” by the Society of (hold your breath) Actuaries, a professional organization serving actuarial members. And I believe you can’t ask for a more reliable definition than that!
Framewor: Each role demands a set of technical, functional and behavioural competencies.
Consulting companies specializing in the HR space will vouch for the revenue-generation potential of the competency framework. “It forms a cool 25-30% of our revenue stream,” said the head of a reputed HR consulting organization to me. “It can hold its own very well among all the evergreen favourites—compensation benchmarking, variable pay plans, Esop (employee stock option) schemes, and performance management systems,” he said.
So, Mr CEO, now that you have your very own competency framework, the question then for any discerning leader to ask is, “Have we sweated the competency framework enough?” Or do you resonate with my CEO friend who blithely told me: “Competency framework? Oh, that is just framed and enshrined like the vision and mission statements on our corporate billboard.”
Here are four ways to test the effectiveness of your competency framework:
Test of relevance
Is your competency framework relevant to the organization, its business purpose, the roles employees have to play, and the times? For example, the competencies required in turbulent times may be subtly different from those required in times of peace. Outdated frameworks are white elephants, urging human capital systems to march to discarded beats.
While relevance to the current climate is critical, every new HR head need not a new competency framework spawn. If the previous incumbent has already broken in a competency framework that has succeeded largely in translating the organization’s vision and goals into competencies, defined them and even identified measurable behaviours or proficiencies, minor tweaking may be all that is required of the existing framework; not a major reinventing of the wheel, complete with a proposal bidding war with all the big consulting organizations in the ring.
Test of comprehensiveness
This is really the acid test because it is at the altar of comprehensiveness that most competency frameworks falter. Each role demands a set of technical, functional and behavioural competencies, overlaid with the organizational ones. Most organizations are quick to define behavioural and organizational competencies. But what of the technical and functional ones? Without them, one flank, and a critical one at that, for each role remains undefended. For HR consultants, designing behavioural competencies is a walk in the park, thanks usually to the yeoman research and prolific competency dictionaries created by them in this space. But requests for the definition of technical and functional competencies usually elicit a tepid response. When pushed to a corner by a persistent HR head or an even more demanding business head, the counter solution proffered usually is a focus group discussion of functional heads moderated by the consultants to identify these technical and functional competencies. While this is better than nothing, the research and elegance of the behavioural competency framework is rarely found in the home-grown technical or functional definitions.
Test of integration
Is your framework integrated with other aspects of the employee life cycle? Are the competencies you defined with such care an integral part of the interview assessment forms? Do your performance management systems capture the competencies for respective roles when the powers that be sit down to “evaluate” an employee? And pushing the envelope further, does the “Needs Improvement” remark in the appraisal against a hallowed competency make its way into the “Training Needs Identification”? This is integration. It is possible only when the competency framework is holistic. A framework without technical and functional competencies cannot be effectively deployed for recruitment, appraisal or training needs identification.
Test of technology or IT backbone test
The benefits of the frameworks are best enjoyed when supported by IT (information technology). Once you have a comprehensive competency dictionary, technology unfolds the magic of having the requisite competencies actually pop up once you define a role. Then the performance assessment against these competencies can happen online, the competency gaps can be identified online and training plans can also get automatically triggered online. The framework then hums like a well-oiled Rolls-Royce in motion. And, if this divine technology allows the identified training needs to automatically flow into designing the training calendar of the organization, matching demand with supply in the form of training nominations, and sends cute reminders when the relevant courses are scheduled, then the circle is well nigh complete. Hakuna Matata. Nothing to worry about. Indeed, HR Nirvana.
A resolution, they say, is always stronger at its birth than at any other time. So as the new year unfolds and the resolution to align HR with business shines strong, do make it a reality by sweating your competency framework. Call the bluff of all those sceptics who deign to say that a New Year Resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other!
Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations. She was formerly the global head of HR for Infosys Ltd.
Write to Hema at firstname.lastname@example.org