Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Problem with Competency Models

Fortune magazine recently published its list of the top firms for developing leaders.   The magazine works each year in conjunction with The RBL Group and Aon Hewitt to develop this list.  IBM topped this year's list. The report identifies a number of characteristics of these top companies.  For instance, it notes that the best firms have clearly defined competency models that identify what the organization expects of its leaders.  Specifically, the report indicates that, "Top Companies have a defined competency model that describes a unified theory of what leaders at their organization should know, be, and do. And they use their competency models in all phases of talent and leadership development."

I agree wholeheartedly that firms should construct well-defined competency models, and then use those models to guide talent management and leadership development processes, including performance evaluation, coaching, and succession planning.  However, in my experience with many large organizations, I have witnessed many highly flawed competency models.  What's the major weakness of these models?  Complexity!  Too many firms have developed a giant laundry list of competencies.  Leaders throughout the organization cannot even remember the list, never mind alter their behavior appropriately.   People need to understand clearly the organization's expectations.  Senior executives have to boil down their expectations to a simple list of behaviors and capabilities that they value and wish to cultivate in aspiring leaders.  Simplicity and brevity will breed behavioral change much more quickly and effectively than complexity and comprehensiveness.

1 comment:

Amir Muradali said...

Finally a voice of reason! Yes, I agree whole heartedly that complexity with competency models make them ineffective. I spent a few years in a large energy company where the competency model developed and implemented was so complex, the expected return timeline was in the order of 5-10 years. Being a user of the model, I found that it was too complex, but also most competency models require an assessment by an individual. This I found subjective, and individual assessments varied depending on who they reported to, their personal relationship with them, and the recency of rub points.

I am not in the business of competency model development, but I would like to find a model that is designed such that it is simple and easy to use, and proficiency levels are evaluated objectively and supported by fact.