Competency Based Interview - Assessment


[Image source: Google Image]

While going through SHL - "2013 Global Assessment Trends Report", trends reflected that 'Creating / implementing Competency Model (s) was ranking at number eleven (11) in list of 'HR Priorities - 2013'. And only one-third of respondents indicated that Competency Models are used effectively in their organizations.  Now, that was an unexpected finding, considering the fact that Competency Development and Management is an integral part of strategic HR initiatives. In fact mission critical for successful strategy implementation for any organization. ( 'The Execution Premium' by Robert S. Kaplan, David P. Norton )

It also reminded me of a well-known quote, "Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important" by Stephen R. Covey.

As a matter of fact it was Hay Group that assisted Mr. Lou Gerstner Jr. Chairman & CEO, IBM (1993-2002) in developing eleven "IBM Leadership Competencies"  ( Leadership Run Amok, HBR - June 2006 )  Importance of this initiative is underlined by the fact that it was part of the largest turnaround strategy of corporate history, successfully headed by Mr. Gerstner.

I would like to refer to his remarkable comments in the book ( Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? 2002 )
" Specifically, people wanted to know how they could make it into the SLG (Senior Leadership Group) one day. Our answer was to create a set of common attributes that we wanted all of our leaders to have, and to formalize them as ' IBM Leadership Competencies'." ( p. 210 List of 11 competencies) (Details of these competencies available in the book Management and Organizational Behavior by Laurie J. Mullins 2005)

Leadership performance within IBM was assessed in line with these eleven competencies. As stated by him,  "The competencies became the basis for evaluating every executive in the company. It did not take long for people to realize that this was going to be how you got ahead in the new IBM."

It is important to note that he personally advocated and promoted this initiative. He spent three days in the training session for this initiative along with his team of 300 selected Executives within IBM. He wanted his Executives to adopt and display behavior in line with his turnaround strategy. And he successfully implemented this change management process. He further states that " Although I actively promulgated the principles and built our management training and evaluation around the Leadership Competencies, the new ways of doing things were much less codified than what they had replaced. That was how I wanted it to be and it did produce a marked change in our leadership's behavior and focus".

The competency-based methodology was pioneered in late 1960's by Dr. David McClelland, Founder of Hay McBer Company, also Psychologist at Harvard University. Subsequently many others had also contributed for the development of Competency-based HRM. It was primarily focused on an assessment of employees, not just on the basis of intelligence, but on the basis of a set of competencies. Competencies are the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes that lead to high performance.

Types Of Competencies:

Three types of competencies are specified by Korn Ferry Institute in the white paper, 'The Art & Science of Competency Modeling' (2010) 1) Core Competencies 2) Position Level Competencies & 3) Functional Competencies.

1) Core Competencies: These are set of critical competencies that result in shaping organizational capabilities and required culture to achieve strategic objectives.

2) Position Level Competencies: These are competencies which are critical for success in relevant position i.e. Individual Contributor, Manager or Executive.

3) Functional Area Competencies: These are competencies which are most critical for different functions within an organization. For e.g. Creativity - more important for Marketing and less important for Finance.


[ Image source: "The Art and Science of Competency Modeling" 2010 The Korn/Ferry Institute ]

Some authors have also defined other types of competencies, such as Organizational Competencies, Technical Competencies, Behavioral Competencies, and Management Competencies etc.

Competency Library:

There are many institutions which have already designed set of universally applicable competencies; for e.g. Hay Group, Center for Creative Leadership ( CCL) , Lominger / PDI ( Kornferry) , DDISHL - CEBKenexa. Different experts may call the competencies by different names or differentiate them on the basis of different levels. However, the content and essence of these competencies is essentially the same. These Competency Libraries are updated and validated periodically, and hence are the better option than developing our own library. In addition certified professionals bring in value-added assistance and support throughout the implementation process. The success of the Competency Model and the entire initiative hinges on competency  library, in terms of quality of its contents. Hence, it deserves special attention and care in the decision-making process.

The important question here is that whether these competencies are suitable or can be customized according to strategic requirements / cultural norms of our organization. In fact, some experts say that organizations should not “plugin” ready-made competencies from an existing library unless they truly reflect the company’s culture, business strategy and unique market dynamics. Please note what Mr. Dave Ulrich and Mr. Norm Smallwood state in their HBR-July 2007 article 'Building Leadership Brand'. It says, "...vanilla competency models generate vanilla leadership.... Expanding the competency model to include an external focus allow companies to offset that risk, by enabling them to tailor their leadership model to their own requirements".

Process For Developing Competency Model:

1. Establish the performance criteria.
2. Identify people for the criterion samples.
3. Collect data through behavioral event interviews (BEIs) or other assessment methods.
4. Analyze data and define the competencies.
5. Validate the model.
6. Design applications.

These are six stages in the process of developing Competency Model according to working paper, prepared by Hay Group - "Using Competencies to identify High Performers" - 2003. Each consultancy has their own process which is more or less the same.

Integrated Approach:

While designing business strategy, Competency Models become a valuable tool for defining critical skills required for achieving success.  Simultaneously it also facilitates the integration of talent Management and other HR processes within an organization. ( e.g. Recruitment & Selection, Career Planning, Succession Planning, Training & Development, Management Development, Performance Management, Compensation & Benefits, and Workforce Planning ) Effectively designed models are capable of delivering expected transformation in organization culture. ( Strategy-driven Talent Management 2010). A transformation that Mr. Gerstner completed successfully, hence he says, " I came to see, in my time at IBM , that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game."

Software implementation can be a wise option to ameliorate the burden while simplifying the entire process. There are many software’s available for implementing competency framework while ensuring integration with other Talent Management initiatives. [ERP : Taleo ( Oracle), Success Factors ( SAP), & Workday. Standalone : SabaCornerstoneonDemandHalogen SoftwareSum TotalLumesse, & Peoplefluent] They provide an effective solution in association with above-mentioned companies. Especially by capitalizing on their expertise with competency libraries  (e.g. DDI, PDI, Lominger) and latest research & development in the field.

Competency- Based Assessment:

Now the big question is 'where to begin'? Here I would like to refer to remarks made in the white paper 'The Art and Science of competency Modeling' - Kornferry. It says, "Processes that are widespread and well-implemented may be a harder place to start because of the change management involved. Take interviewing and selection, for example. If the current state is decentralized and mostly managed by the individual hiring manager, offering a competency-based selection process not only adds science to the process but it makes it easier for those hiring managers. Identify the greatest need and begin there - other talent management practices will follow."

Besides it makes more sense to recruit or select for the Competencies that are being developed, rather than to train people for them in the short term. A competency-based selection process help organizations by providing a framework to consistently hire, develop and promote top performers. When you employ the process turnover drops, Individual and Group performance improves and your organization builds a strong & agile workforce that can solve problems, change with the times, and meet organization-wide goals. It reminds me of a remarkable quote by David Ogilvy, he summed up the importance of careful hiring when he wrote, “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

I have managed to design a Competency-based Interview Assessment Form. There are 78 Competencies based on which we can assess employees for selected 8 competencies relevant to the position. You can download the same using link provided below. Or send an email to vijay.bankar@gmail.com and I will forward it to you immediately. It can be used either for recruitment of employees or it can be used for employee assessment - for selecting employees for Leadership roles / promotion. Please note that the assessment form is being developed based on conceptual understanding. However, so far, it has not been administered on employees. Please do provide your valuable feedback.

As my previous post, I would like to conclude with a quote:

Jack Welch said that the core competency of GE is not making some product or GE's ability to grow at a double-digit rate: "GE's core competency is the development of people. In the end, great people make things happen. Involving all of them is really the answer."


... The Jack Welch Lexicon of Leadership, 2002 - Jeffrey A. Krames



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