ThePublicManager_Vol41N5_StephenPick

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					                                                                              INNOVATIONS IN LEARNING


Use a Competency Library to Build
A Talent Management System

by Stephen Pick and Neville Uhles




A
                  competency library is a critical founda-     munity employees with a framework of core and techni-
                  tion for building an integrated talent       cal competencies. Core competencies include models for
                  management system. In the Talent             nonsupervisors, supervisors and managers, and senior
                  Management Handbook (2010 second edi-        officers. However, similar to the ECQs, ICD 610 only
                  tion), authors Kim Ruyle and Evelyn Orr      provides competency definitions with no additional mate-
state that the value of competencies is proven to positively   rial behind them.
impact both mission and financial return-on-investment.
Agencies that use a comprehensive competency library to        Characteristics of an Effective
build their integrated talent management system are able       Competency Library
to realize human capital and budgetary gains.                  Most organizations don’t need to develop a competency
                                                               library from scratch. There are commercially avail-
Competency Libraries                                           able research-based competency libraries available. For
Need More Than Definitions                                     example, Korn/Ferry International has developed a com-
Integrated talent management is not a new concept.             petency library that is more comprehensive than both
Developed under President George W. Bush, the Human            OPM’s ECQs and ODNI’s ICD 610. Agencies should
Capital Assessment and Accountability Framework                choose a competency library with these characteristics:
(HCAAF) on the Office of Personnel Management                     • alignment with the strategic goals and culture of the
(OPM) website spells out five areas for “strong human cap-          agency
ital management.” Federal agencies still use the HCAAF.           • competency definitions
However, a major shortcoming of the framework is that             • levels of growth so that employees throughout the
it does not explicitly recommend using competencies to              organization can use it for development
drive an agency’s human capital management system.                • examples of what each competency looks like when
     Although not tied to the framework, OPM has a                  done well or poorly, so employees can adapt their
competency model. It developed the Executive Core                   behavior accordingly
Qualification (ECQs) competencies for senior executives           • improvement suggestions for employees to grow and
in the late 1990s and refined this model a few years later.         develop.
The 28 ECQs roll up into five meta-competencies and are
a good start toward a model that could be used for inte-       Leadership Architect Library Structure
grated talent management. But they do not provide any          The Leadership Architect competency library has six
information beyond competency definitions. Agencies            factors broken down into 21 clusters and populated with
that adopt the ECQs need a more robust competency              67 leadership competencies. An additional two factors
library system as the foundation for their integrated tal-     are broken down into five more clusters and 19 stallers
ent management system.                                         and stoppers, which, as detailed below, are the opposite of
     In 2008, the Office of the Director of National           competencies (see Figure 1). Both the factors and clusters
Intelligence (ODNI) published Intelligence Community           were statistically derived from factor analyses and ongo-
Directive (ICD) 610, which provides intelligence com-          ing normative studies.


                                                                                        The Public Manager   |   Fall 2012   29
ForUM:

                                                                 • May not stop to define and analyze the problem;
                                                                   doesn’t look under rocks
                                                                 • May have a set bag of tricks and pull unfit solutions
                                                                   from it
                                                                 • May miss the complexity of the issue and force-fit it
                                                                   to what he or she is most comfortable with
                                                                 • Unlikely to come up with the second and better solu-
                                                                   tion, ask penetrating questions, or see hidden patterns

                                                               Skilled
                                                                 • Uses rigorous logic and methods to solve difficult
                                                                   problems with effective solutions
                                                                 • Probes all fruitful sources for answers
                                                                 • Sees hidden problems
                                                                 • Is excellent at honest analysis
                                                                 • Looks beyond the obvious and doesn’t stop at the
                                                                   first answers

Figure 1. Library Structure Pyramid                            Overused
                                                                 • May tend toward “analysis paralysis”
     This library also contains seven global focus areas,        • May wait too long to come to a conclusion
which detail competencies highly valued outside the              • May not set analysis priorities
United States. The 19 career stallers and stoppers are           • May get hung up in the process and miss the big
significant because research has shown that it is often            picture
the presence of a staller or stopper and not the absence         • May make things overly complex
of a competency that derails a career. Figure 2 shows the        • May do too much of the analysis personally.
cluster of traits within the strategic skills factor.
     The 67 competencies are measurable and observable         Three Essential Levels
characteristics that provide a clear description of what       Korn/Ferry has identified the competencies that are
each skilled, unskilled, and overuse looks like in action.     essential to high performance for employees in different
For each competency, there are six to 12 behaviors that        roles across an organization. Research has identified the
describe what someone does when he or she is unskilled         competencies that tend to be mission critical at three dif-
at the competency, skilled at the competency, or overus-       ferent levels within an organization:
ing the competency. While unskilled and skilled are               • individual contributor
intuitive, people sometimes question what it means to             • manager
overuse a competency. Simply stated, too much of a good           • executive.
thing is not a good thing.
     The following example shows unskilled, skilled,                Essential competencies can overlap across levels, but
and overused definitions for the competency of problem         as one might guess, they tend to become more macro-
solving.                                                       focused as they move from individual contributor, to
                                                               manager, to executive. For example the action oriented
Unskilled                                                      competency, with skilled behavioral aspects such as
     • Not a disciplined problem solver; may be stuck in the   “enjoys working hard” and “not fearful of acting with a
       past, wed to what worked before                         minimum of planning” is listed under the subsets of both
     • Has to rework the problem a second time                 individual contributor and manager, but not executive.
     • May be a “fire-ready-aim” type                          Action Oriented is not needed for success as an executive
     • May get impatient and jump to conclusions too soon      and may even be detrimental as they should be shifting


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                                                                                    INNOVATIONS IN LEARNING

                                                                     Developing Strengths
                Factor 1: Strategic Skills                           or Mitigating Weaknesses
                                                                     It is necessary, but not sufficient, to assess a person’s
               Cluster A. Understanding the Business                 competencies for effective development. Once a per-
                       5. Business Acumen                            son knows what competencies he or she is skilled and
                      24. Functional/Technical Skills                unskilled at, the next question that person should ask
                      61. Technical Learning                         is, “How can I improve my strengths and minimize my
                                                                     weaknesses?” Leadership Architect ranks the ease or
               Cluster B. Making Complex Decisions                   difficulty of developing each competency and provides a
                      17. Decision Quality                           numerical score for how easy or difficult each competency
                      30. Intellectual Horsepower                    is to develop. This score is useful when an employee is
                      32. Learning on the Fly                        creating an individual development plan. A plan should
                      51. Problem Solving                            have the appropriate level of challenge for each employee,
                                                                     given their capacity for development at that point in their
               Cluster C. Creating the New and Different             career and personal life. Most people would not have the
                       2. Dealing with Ambiguity                     capacity to develop more than five competencies at the
                      14. Creativity
                                                                     “easiest” level or three competencies at the “hardest” level
                                                                     at any given point in time.
                      28. Innovation Management
                                                                           Figure 3 shows where Leadership Architect can be
                      46. Perspective
                                                                     used to develop an integrated talent management system.
                      58. Strategic Agility
                                                                     Leadership competencies create a common language for
                                                                     everyone in an organization, regardless of position.
Figure 2. The Cluster of Traits Within the Strategic Skills Factor
                                                                     Case Study
from “doer” behaviors to more strategic, “get work done              One federal agency is using the Leadership Architect
through others” behaviors. Similarly, the dealing with               competency library to align its talent management prac-
ambiguity competency is only listed for executives. This             tices. Although this agency is also interested in develop-
is a difficult competency to be skilled in, and research has         ing technical competence, and while a technical compe-
shown that an employee can be a successful individual                tency library is often an important part of the foundation
contributor and manager without excelling at this compe-             for integrated talent management, this article addresses
tency. However, being a successful executive without being           only leadership competencies. [Author’s note: due to the
comfortable with change or uncertainty is less possible.             sensitive nature of this agency’s work, its name cannot be
     Additionally, Korn/Ferry’s career flow research has             used.]
identified the competencies a person would likely be
weak in at each level, which competencies are most likely            Setting the Stage
to be associated with promotion to the next level, what              for Integrated Talent Management
competencies should be developed early if a person is to             The following enablers set the wheels in motion for this
achieve success at the next level, and what “flame-out fac-          agency’s integrated talent management work (see Figure 3).
tors” (career stallers and stoppers) might get in the way at
each level.                                                          Strategic alignment. The described agency underwent a
     Organizations can conduct internal research and                 reorganization to rethink how business processes need
analysis to determine any differences that may exist as              to change to prepare for continued relevance. Part of this
a result of its own specific characteristics, but the com-           reorganization aims to redesign the talent management
petency profiles provided as a result of this career flow            system to attract, develop, and retain high-performing
research provide an excellent foundation from which any              employees more effectively.
organization can begin integrated talent management                       Representative teams identified the most important
processes for each of these three major levels.                      competencies for executives, supervisors, and individual


                                                                                              The Public Manager   |   Fall 2012   31
ForUM:

contributors within their specific agency. First, a leader     oversaw working groups that are developing integrated
development initiative team, an assembly of senior execu-      talent management practices for senior executives. A
tives, was created to determine the appropriate mix of         senior executive was appointed to lead that initiative full
leadership competencies that are mission-critical for          time. That team is setting up governance systems to fully
senior executives; it ultimately settled on 17 competen-       integrate talent management systems at the senior execu-
cies. Additionally, this team identified eight stallers and    tive level and beyond. Its three current focus areas are
stoppers that can derail a senior executive’s career.          leadership behavior, education and training, and succes-
      A supervisory council, a volunteer group of supervi-     sion management and promotion.
sors from across the agency, also identified a set of essen-
tial competencies for all supervisors. Third, two volunteer    Processes for Differentiating Talent
representative groups of non-supervisors decided on the        This agency is transforming several areas of integrated
competencies most critical for all individual contributors.    talent management.
The process for all three groups to determine individual,
manager, and executive competencies encouraged rigor-          Talent Acquisition
ous debate.                                                    The lifeblood of any organization is a continual stream
                                                               of candidates who are skilled in the competencies that an
Culture. Feedback from the agency’s most recent annual         agency has deemed critical for their role. The described
climate survey revealed dissatisfaction with career devel-     agency’s recruiting office completed training in the use of
opment. Like many of their counterparts in other federal       the Leadership Architect competency library.
agencies, employees, said there were too few avenues for            Additionally, the recruiters were trained on Interview
career advancement. Agency managers suspected that             Architect, a methodology for conducting competency-
high-performing employees were leaving for positions with      based structured interviews, both for new hires and for
other federal agencies or outside the government not for       internal job placements and promotions. Competency-
more money, but for better career advancement opportuni-       based interviews use specifically-worded questions to
ties. Building a competency-based integrated talent man-       assess competencies that have been identified as critical
agement system can help this agency maintains a robust,        for a specific role. Interview Architect includes questions
transparent career development system for all employees.       to assess a candidate’s level of learning agility, which is
                                                               highly correlated with leadership potential.
Technology. The agency relies on an information tech-               Recruiters also are partnering with hiring manag-
nology (IT) platform that contains contact and other           ers and recommending competency-based questions
information from employees’ professional biographies.          that assess not only the results of whatever scenario the
For example, this IT platform records what leader-             candidates are discussing, but what those candidates
ship development courses employees have taken and              learned from the interaction and how they have applied
what mandatory training employees need to complete.            that knowledge to other situations. Competency-based
The agency is discussing tying employees’ performance          structured interviewing is a more effective way of ensur-
management competency ratings and competency-based             ing that the appropriate talent is brought into an agency
individual development plans into this IT platform. One        than the common practice of reviewing and asking ques-
benefit would be easier tracking of performance manage-        tions about a candidate’s résumé. The competencies that
ment and career development data.                              hiring managers use to assess candidates are determined
                                                               from the customized agency career flow profiles.
Change management agility and talent management
governance. As with the majority of change manage-             Development
ment initiatives, progress is rarely linear. As part of the    The described agency has its own leadership college
reorganization, the agency’s director outlined agency          and other independently funded courses. Because it is
visions. Leadership teams were set up to advance these         in the process of being created, the college has not yet
visions. Team and vision evolution occurred quickly.           formally adopted all agency-specific competency pro-
For instance, the leadership development initiative team       files. However, one of the agency’s flagship leadership


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