Competency based HR decision making

The understanding and description of competencies has been around for a long time and doesn’t represent some new technology or science, what is new however is the growing use of a framework of competencies as part of broader HR decision making.

Competencies are observable abilities, skills, knowledge, motivations or traits defined in terms of the behaviours needed for successful job performance, they are the observable behaviours that demonstrate an application of knowledge and experience.

When you want to have someone drive your expensive company vehicle with a very expensive cargo, the first thing you are likely to do is to make sure that the driver has an appropriate valid licence, you probably go a bit further and check their driving record with the traffic department or their insurer and you might even take it to the next level by having a practical assessment of their driving skills, looking for an advanced ability to manoeuvre the vehicle and cope with various traffic conditions. Some will even require the prospective driver to undergo psychometric assessments to check their ability to deal with the possibility of road rage or even how they might deal with your customers at their destination.

This is a simple example of competency base decision making in the process of selecting a driver where a ‘hard’ skill is required. To those in the transport industry, it’s probably second nature and the process will have been adapted and modified over a period of time to take into account the critical factors required to run a successful transport operation

The challenge for HR professionals or anyone given the responsibility of making HR decisions, is, how do you go about a similar structured approach when it comes to a ‘soft’ skill such as adaptability or influence for example.

The first step is to decide what competencies you are looking for. This can often be derived from an analysis of the position description. Once you have identified the four or five most desirable competencies, then it is necessary to break the competency down into levels of proficiency. For example you may decide that adaptability is important but then realise that adaptability ranges from recognising change through to adapting organisational strategy to take advantage of change or even creating favourable change. Likewise, if influence is important, at what level is influence needed, is it a simple use of facts to persuade others or is it the ability to design complex influence strategies to impact company wide performance over the medium to long term.

Next, the various levels of proficiency need to have examples of the desired behaviour you want to see that demonstrate the candidate or employees suitability, so to use our examples of adaptability and influence, behaviours can range from seeking clarity when faced with ambiguity, through to anticipating change and creating strategies to deal with the change. Or, using examples and visual aids to influence at one end of the spectrum through to establishing alliances with others outside the organisation.

The application of your framework can be as wide and varied as you want it to be. Successful HR practitioners and organisations integrate competency assessment throughout the employee lifecycle from hiring, integration, development, training, promotion, project team selection, portfolio selection to employees exiting the organisation.

The development of your competency framework is not meant to be a simple task, in fact it can be a time consuming process requiring the input of many in the organisation as you tailor your framework to serve the HR needs of the business, however, once you have developed your framework of competencies, proficiencies and behaviours, you are better able to make critical HR decisions from a level playing field. Decisions are more objective and the robust process you have used will give greater confidence in the resultant decision.