The age of competency

Today’s human-resources executives have added a new term to their vocabulary: competency-based systems. These tools demystify what constitutes solid performance for both work teams and individuals.

To formulate models based on core competencies, begin by asking, “What does superior performance look like—or consist of—in a particular work unit?” The answers, from skills to talents to standards, highlight what competencies matter most to organizational effectiveness.

As an increasingly popular approach to recruit, hire and manage employees, competency-based systems are also starting to influence the process of performance appraisals. Managers can provide more structured feedback to employees during formal reviews by focusing on demonstrable competencies.

“Using competency-based systems helps during each stage of performance evaluation from planning and goal-setting to ongoing coaching to the performance review itself,” says Robin Kessler, president of the Interview Coach, an HR and career counseling firm in Houston.

Begin by collaborating with each employee to identify success factors for that job. Examples might include showing initiative, mastering technical processes or communicating well with customers. Then draft specific, quantifiable goals for each competency. To show initiative, for example, your employee may need to submit at least three suggestions every quarter to control costs or increase productivity.

Tough Talks D

The next step involves coaching the employee to provide clear, concise “accomplishment statements,” Kessler says. These statements summarize how key aspects of performance align with success factors.

“Managers tend to understate what their employees have done and employees may not track their accomplishments or take enough credit for them,” says Kessler, author of Competency-Based Performance Reviews.

Once the performance review rolls around, you and your employee can compare notes on each competency area, Kessler explains. Workers who monitor their performance throughout the year can come armed with evidence to support their contention that they rate highly in each competency. This way, the review process becomes more straightforward and less subjective.