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While I am in perfect agreement with your distaste for systems based on TRAITS, you seem to lump all those subjective and typically unreliable measurement schemes under the category of "competencies." I believe in competencies defined by specific valid KSAs but destest trait-oriented approaches that slander the good name of "competency." Even Wiki (http://www.erieri.com/PDF/CompetencyWhitePaper.pdf) recognizes the distinctions.

Maybe some slick snake oil salesmen are repackaging their dreck under the respected name of "competencies," but I'd hate to see that tarnish a perfectly respectable field of research. The practical realities of KSA-specific "competencies" have been studied and verified (see the details towards the end of this white paper http://www.erieri.com/PDF/CompetencyWhitePaper.pdf) for many years.

Let your criticisms be leveled against "traits" and I stand with you, Jacque. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater by labeling all output-based competency analyses as subjective trait guesses. Yes, it is semantics, but words make a difference.

Sorry: it appears that my security system blocked proper posting of those links, which should be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Competence_(human_resources) and http://www.erieri.com/PDF/CompetencyWhitePaper.pdf where you might have to ID yourself to view the last of those two.

Thank you, Jacque, for pointing out the elephant in the room, and saying that the emperor has no clothes. Agree wholeheartedly. Competencies are usually far too vague to impact behavior or to be measured or evaluated against consistently. If you ask ten managers to define teamwork, to list specific behaviors that demonstrate effective teamwork, and then describe how they would coach someone who isn't a team player, you will get wildly different answers. Competencies are rarely specific enough to help people know what to do.

Knowledge, Skill and Ability aren't enough either. Just because people know they should eat well and exercise, and are able to, doesn't mean they will do it. The knowing-doing gap is prevalent in business. That said, KSA is a pre-requisite.

The key to improving performance is holding people accountable to the critical behaviors - which requires that they know what those are in the first place. Let's look at a specific example. One of the main reasons employees are disengaged and leave their jobs is a lack of appreciation and recognition. We also know that employees who feel appreciated and recognized are far more productive. So it's fair to say that one of the key measures of a manager is how effectively they recognize their employees. The rarity of this as a management competency is telling, but let's just say an enlightened company does have a management competency about recognition. Having a competency of "Recognition" has no impact because there is no agreement on exactly what recognition means. Managers need to know the specific, critical behaviors that improve the expected outcome, and then they need to be held accountable (which does NOT always require a metric).

Chip and Dan Heath talk about this in their book "Switch" - what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity, and in order to actually change behaviors, you need to "script the critical moves". So if you want to improve recognition, one of the critical moves is for managers to ask their employees for input regarding who has done something recently that deserves recognition.

Incidentally, this applies to values as well. Having a value of "Integrity" is meaningless unless is it defined in terms of specific behaviors, and people are held accountable to them. Everyone knows that Enron had stated values that were very different than what was actually practiced and reinforced. If you want to have integrity, one critical behavior is not to allow jerks or assholes (as Bob Sutton would say). Another would be to speak up, another would be to value people that speak up rather than penalize them.

Competencies and values that are described in a single word (leadership, creativity, integrity) are far too vague and have no impact. When competencies and values are defined in terms of specific critical behaviors, and everyone is held accountable to those behaviors, everything changes. Unfortunately, managers are rarely taught what the specific behaviors should be, much less held accountable to them.

Jim ----you and I are in agreement. This is an incredibly . . . messed up .... practice. We have people using the same words in different ways and spending a lot of time just trying to define everything. We have traits, behaviors, skills, aptitudes, knowledge, attitudes, etc. and many times they are used inter-changeably. And by vendors and consultants too. Drives me crazy. I read your paper Jim. I agree with it.

Mark --- I agree with you too.

Both --- the things that I don't agree with are 1) the amount of time spent on defining everything and how things are defined --- centrally. And in the end you can never be entirely sure everyone is using the correct definition. I know it is important to get things correct ---- but my opinion is that we are straining at gnats here. 2) I weigh the pros and cons and I think -- again my opinion ---- each manager knows what the "how" is of any job ("how" meaning competency). It is different for each job and it is different for every person. Why? Because no 2 people are alike. What the "how" is for one person is not a "how" for another one. People don't get things done in the same way. Some people get what they need done by cajoling. Some by reasoning. I have an article that says when you force exact "how" definitions on each person and job you force consistency at the expense of allowing people to react and judge and create their own unique way. Each one done differently but each one with a good "how". So I say let individual managers define the "how" for each employee. It can be included in each goal for performance appraisals or each responsibility in each job profile/description or whatever you want to call it -- for recruiting or T&D.

So, I just think you have to think about the amount of time it takes to create the volume you are talking about. If the workplace were stable and jobs stayed the same from year to year then maybe it's worth it or at least tolerable. But things are moving too fast now. What does your system do for people that are doing the work of 2 people now because of the layoffs and employees have not been replaced? What do you do when there is a reorganization? What happens when jobs are combined or re-configured? Do you fix every change that comes along? Jobs are changing too fast. There are trade-offs. And I think letting each manager define the "hows" is the best way.

This is not the only practice that needs changing in HR by a long shot. I have a comment from a VPHR at PepsiCo that says "kill" high potential programs. Peter Cappelli says traditional succession planning is doesn't work anymore. Performance management practices don't work. Every thing is being re-examined. Personally I think we need to go back, all of us let loose our idols and re-think everything.

Sorry ---I agree with each of you in theory but I think taking the amount of time to apply the theory when it will be out of date in 6 months is just not practical. And I think having "hows" defined centrally takes entirely too long. Let each manager do it.

That's my 3 cents!

Thank you for this, Jacque. I have felt this way about competencies for a long time. Semantics are important - I know that there are many companies out there trying to impose trait-oriented "competencies" believing them to actually be competencies. What's the point, in the end? Your follow up comments need to be explored in another post - as I'm afraid not everyon will take the time to read through the comments section. Sometimes the best content comes in the comments! As we are in the process of re-defining our employment brand as well as our performance management processes, I am more inclined than ever to work our current set of competencies out of the process altogether (which were aquired from my predecessor). Great post - and comments from all.

Anybody else old enough to remember MBO and BARS? Thirty years ago that was the movement to measure "results only" but then oops we realized that people sometimes cheat to get there so we have to dictate the behavior we want too. It became unbelievably cumbersome and died on the vine.

Not sure which one became cumbersome??? Would you explain? Thanks Mike

Think Mike was referring to the difficulties of creating MBOs with Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales... it was one of the reasons Peter Drucker created MBO as a concept but was too smart to go into the details of how to best implement his concept. That was left to pioneers like George Odiorne and other early consultants. Everything could get cumbersome.

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