I love a good competency model. I’ve previously written about the value of using competencies for improved performance outcomes in the recruiting process, succession planning, and learning and development. The competencies model is a road map for success giving us the criteria of which to measure by, improve on, and hire for. Susan David from the Harvard Business Review recently warned that in some cases our competency models have become so robust that they are actually “impossible and counterproductive”. Check out the article. She lays out some interesting points.
I agree with her that a competency framework can become so enormous that it’s just plain unmanageable. You risk your model becoming something more like the IRS code and despite all the fabulous software nobody really understands what’s in there. Additionally, Susan points out that with too many competencies you may end up with KSAs that are inversely related. As a result while improving one skill you are suppressing performance in another. This is similar to suppressing learning through cognitive overload. By trying to fit that one more critical piece in a training session you actually end-up depressing learning.
An enormous list of competencies also may lead to an enormous list of areas for improvement, even for strong performers. Presenting someone with a laundry list of areas for development is demotivating and contrary to the goal of implementing a competency framework. Secondly, it can create too great of a focus on the negative. This risk is not inherent in using a competency framework but it’s something to be aware of. Consider for a moment team performance. What happens if a leader spends too much time and resources trying to develop an underperformer as opposed to a star performer? Perhaps it seems logical that the A players don’t need any type of learning intervention. However, how might the long term results for the company be better suited by focusing energy on further developing super star skills? What else might your top performers accomplish? A low performer may be brought up to standards, but they also might be a wrong fit for the job and eventually leave or be managed out of the organization. Similarly, Susan points out that too much focus on what needs improvement may result in bringing those competencies up to an average level of performance while the person’s natural talents are largely ignored instead of perfected and taken to the next level.
I’m still an advocate for competency frameworks and I think in many instances they are worth the time and research. Like any tool there are definitely pitfalls to avoid. What do you think – are we getting carried away with our competencies?
Susan David, Are Your Goals Impossible and Counterproductive? The Harvard Business Review (Jan 2010)