Wednesday 10 October 2012

Welcome Back to Competencies (Part 1 of 2)

When networking with folks at industry events or in meetings with new clients, I often hear the same story – “we have a competency dictionary but we haven’t really done anything with it”. Or, “we were using competencies but then they got away from us during implementation”. To understand this situation a bit more, let’s look at a brief history.

Interest in competency-based talent management surged in the 80’s and 90’s. Advancements in the area of behavioural psychology were brought over to the workplace and managers first became aware of the benefits of clearly defining the behaviours expected in their employees. Work in the area gained more steam as management gurus Pralahad and Hamel began publishing on the value of defining core competencies at an organizational level.

However, interest in implementing competencies began to wane in the late 90s and the first decade of the 21st century. Managers were faced with some major setbacks affecting the implementation of competency-based talent management:
  • Creating competency dictionaries from scratch was expensive and time consuming
  • Competency profiling, especially in a large organization, was highly time consuming as it required significant support from HR employees and time for validation among many stakeholders
  • Defining core competencies and general competencies (soft skills) was fairly simple, however technical competencies were much harder to write and apply to few employees
  • Implementing competency-based talent management as a manual process was time consuming, and it was hard to track and implement changes on a consistent basis as the paperwork/documents in all HR functions must be revised
As the surge begins to ebb, it hits yet another barrier – the tech boom. The labour economy switched from a buyer’s market for employees at the end of the last recession to a seller’s market as large organizations struggle to catch up with recruitment demands from job creation and poaching. The focus in HR became less about ensuring that employees had the required competencies to succeed and develop, to ensuring that employees stayed. It could be argued that outside of the government and non-profit sector many organizations were moving away from their competency initiatives.

The situation today is a very different story as the world is emerging at a turtle’s pace from recession. The focus is once again on employees; however, in these austere times, HR managers are faced with:
  • the task of ensuring that they keep individuals with the right competencies and provide reasonable development paths;
  • looming mass-retirement of the baby boom generation, especially in North America, and with this exodus, a massive loss in organizational knowledge and a dire need for adequate succession planning;
  • the need to recruit, select and retain immigrants who have the competencies needed to ensure organizational success.
It is for all of these reasons that many organizations are returning to competency-based talent management.

In the second and final blog post in this series, we will look at how vendors have made it easier for companies to adopt competency-based talent management, and how solutions are more strategic and business oriented. Sign up to our blog’s mailing list through the form on the right-hand side to receive the rest of the series in your inbox.

HRSG is a leader in competency-based talent management. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

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