When I first started working in the talent management field, one of the most confusing concepts for me to understand was competencies. On the surface, they look like activities or behaviors that we expect people in specific jobs to perform. And on some level, that is true. However, if three companies each have the same job title – let’s pick a generic position like “Sales Representative” – and all three companies have the exact same competencies for that position, then somebody is doing something wrong. Or, at very least, they could be ‘leaving money on the table’.
Competencies are foundational to effective talent management. When written well, they should be based on your organization’s strategy and your competitive differentiation – not a comprehensive list of everything that is expected for someone to perform in their job. Competencies are a limited summary of that job’s behaviors/activities that we want to encourage, measure, and reward because they contribute to the organization’s unique value proposition.
Let me illustrate with an example. Both Dollar General® and Neiman Marcus® are in the retail business. They both, most certainly, have a position called ‘Store Manager’. You can imagine, however, that the competencies for the Store Manager positions should be very different. One store is a low-cost, high volume supplier of goods to the masses vs. the other who is an exclusive seller of full-priced, high-end goods for customers who value luxury and full-service attention.
When evaluating Store Managers, Dollar General would likely emphasize behaviors that enable efficiency, scale, volume and customers’ satisfaction with pricing, access to basic goods and minimal time spent in store.
Neiman Marcus, on the other hand, would likely want to emphasize behaviors that leave customers feeling they had an exceptional experience both during and after the purchase of one-of-a-kind, high-end items. Ultimately, a purchase that sets the customer apart from the crowd.
Both positions are called Store Manager and will require common skills. However, their competencies should be very different based on the organization’s strategy and competitive differentiation.
In your own company, do the competency models for your positions encourage, measure, and reward the behaviors that reflect your organization’s strategy and differentiation? If they don’t, there’s a good chance you’re selecting the wrong candidates. In addition, you may not be effectively managing and developing employees to make the greatest impact on organizational results.