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The Language of People – The Power of the Competency Framework

Many businesses get giddy with excitement about defining their mission statement. In fact, it’s almost become a rite of passage for plucky, disruptive tech start-ups to graffiti it on the red-brick wall of their office space.

Seasoned founders will often emphasise the importance of this process and how it serves as the connective tissue during those sunny, bright periods of growth as well as the dark, gloomy periods of contraction.

However, a business can’t thrive on ambitious slogans alone; it requires structure, strategic planning, and a unified organisational language. There is a less glamorous document that unlocks the true value of these broad, brushstroke ‘purpose’ statements. It’s a document that takes care of detail and transforms the mission from a mere tagline into a reality. This document is known as a competency framework.

What is the one common thread that runs through nearly all businesses? It represents their greatest fixed cost, is wildly unpredictable, almost impossible to keep happy, yet is the cornerstone of success. This crucial element, of course, is people.

The common Language of People

A competency framework is a structured model that defines the specific knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviours required for effective performance in a particular role. It serves as a guideline for both employers and employees, ensuring that everyone understands the competencies needed to achieve individual and organisational goals.

So, why is this so useful? If you view it merely as a list of competencies for each role, its utility might not be immediately apparent. However, let’s explore the various use cases:

Recruitment

A competency framework really amps up the recruitment process by giving a clear, structured way to identify and select the best candidates. It spells out the specific skills, knowledge, and behaviours needed for each role, helping to craft precise job descriptions and job profiles so candidates know exactly what’s expected.

By setting clear competencies, the recruitment process becomes more objective, meaning hiring managers evaluate candidates against a consistent set of criteria, which cuts down on bias and boosts fairness.

More broadly, competency-based interviews focus on questions that dig into whether candidates have the required competencies, making it easier to see how they’ve demonstrated these skills in the past.

Plus, a competency framework lets you develop various assessment tools like situational judgment tests, role-playing exercises, and competency-based evaluations, giving more insights into a candidate’s fit for the role.

When you have multiple recruiters involved, a competency framework ensures everyone’s on the same page about what’s needed for the role, keeping the quality of hires consistent across different teams or departments.

Performance Management

This tool is a game-changer for performance management because it, once again, sets clear, objective, and consistent benchmarks for evaluating and developing employees.

The beauty of it lies in the clarity. This clarity helps managers evaluate performance fairly and accurately, cutting out subjectivity.

It also pinpoints skill gaps, allowing for targeted development plans that support continuous learning. With a competency framework, feedback and coaching become more precise and actionable, aligning individual goals with the company’s objectives.

It lays out clear career pathways, showing employees what they need to progress, which boosts motivation. Plus, it ensures performance management is consistent across the board, fostering a unified organisational culture.

Recognising and rewarding high performers becomes straightforward, improving morale and retention. In short, integrating a competency framework into performance management makes the whole process more structured, fair, and effective, driving better overall performance and success.

Training & Coaching

This is where things start getting very exciting, training and coaching can now be supercharged and highly effective.

Because it pinpoints the skills and behaviours needed for each role, it naturally helps identify training gaps and create targeted programs that are effective and focused.

Personalised development plans become easier to craft, tailored to each employee’s strengths and areas for improvement, making the coaching process more impactful.

By aligning training content with core competencies, the training becomes directly applicable and relevant, enhancing its effectiveness. Coaching conversations become more structured and meaningful, with specific feedback and actionable advice that drive employee development.

The framework allows for tracking progress, ensuring that training and coaching efforts are continuously improving. Aligning these programs with organisational goals ensures that the workforce is prepared to meet both current and future needs.

It also fosters a culture of continuous learning and standardises training across the organisation, maintaining a consistent level of competency.

I’m continually amazed at how many businesses frantically need training for their teams yet haven’t identified what they so desperately need training on! The competency framework is, by definition, a diagnostic tool for organisational capability and improvement areas.

There are many, many other applications for a competency framework including contingency recruitment, workforce planning, onboarding and managing underperformance too.

The Dreaded Dusty Draw

Now, this comes with a friendly warning. This is just a document, so don’t forget that, it only comes to life through its usage—especially its usage across the organisation. Often, businesses launch the competency framework with the usual pomp and pageantry of a new initiative, only for it to be consigned to a dusty drawer two weeks later.

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