Either way, I am now on my third engagement with a client doing things a bit different. Instead of creating leadership competencies that look and feel like every other company out there, they are creating models that share a distinct and focused relationship with the company’s purpose.
Let me explain a bit more. Over the past decade, I have helped companies create competency frameworks that define the behaviors expected of their employees. I typically use techniques that identify the essential and desired characteristics required in a particular job or at a specific level, as well as differentiate what the most effective employees are doing that is different from the rest.
The resulting competencies are given a title, a definition, and behavioral indicators that are then embedded into talent management processes, from recruitment through succession planning and development. Sometimes the competencies are levelled, to define what is expected of an individual contributor, frontline leader, mid manager, or executive.
Of course there are derivatives of the typical model. Sometimes competencies are clumped together into a category, like ‘results leadership’ or ‘people management.’ Other times, clear corporate values are embedded in the model. Even the title of the model changes, from competencies to principles, expectations, or behaviors.
Despite the best effort of Talent Managers, these models often fail to resonate with employees. Although useful as the basis of interview guides or to organize performance reviews, the behaviors hold little meaning for staff. If you think I am wrong on this, how many competencies can you remember from your own model (and chances are, you are even working in Talent Management!).
This brings me around to an emerging trend (at least within my client base). The paradigm around which the competencies are defined has been changed in a subtle, but powerful way. Instead of asking generally what makes for effective leaders or employees, we’ve started by looking at the organization’s purpose and trajectory.
We ask, what does this company have to accomplish in the next 3 to 5 years in order to be successful? From there, we delve into the behaviors that employees need to demonstrate to make these outcomes a reality. For a lack of a better title, I have called this an ‘Imperative Based’ model.
And I think we are on to something. By focusing attention on behaviors that are linked to a purpose, I have found the resulting models to be sharp (with 5 or so components, rather than the typical 8 or 10), more accepted by employees throughout the organization, and memorable. Additionally, the models look and feel different from each other. The traditional models I routinely come across could easily have been copied and pasted from another organization.
If your company is undergoing change, has stalled, or requires a different type of leader, an Imperative Based model might provide a fresh alternative. If done right, I believe that the model will be the cornerstone of a more relevant and purposeful talent management approach.
For more information about competency design and the tradeoffs made by practitioners, check out Chapter 1 from my book Misplaced Talent: A Guide to Better People Decisions.