[LTR] Whenever you read an article about talent management, you hear about a whole gambit of HR elements that our corporations, not-for-profit agencies and our governments are facing. These include recruitment and selection, succession planning, leadership development, performance management, and managerial coaching.

But according to a talent management survey by Developmental Dimensions International (DDI), a Minneapolis based research and consulting firm, organizations are very weak on assessing potential employee readiness for development and even more weak on developing competency and/or success profiles. In other words, they are not taking time to develop a profile of the characteristics (skills, knowledge, etc) of what a successful performer looks like. Without this skills list, how can companies and organizations make good decisions about new hires and/or about development? Without knowledge of what characteristics they desire in their employees, they are literally flying blind!

What needs to be done to overcome this issue? First of all, you need to confirm the vision and strategic direction for your company and then define the skills and competencies required to get you there. Competencies are simply characteristics or traits that individuals have and use as they perform their work. This typically includes general and technical knowledge and skills as well as softer traits such as confidence, self-image and social and emotional intelligence.

Competencies are also typically categorized into specific tiers or building blocks. These include foundational competencies such as personal effectiveness, academic and workplace competencies, industry related competencies such as industry wide or specific technical competencies, occupational specific competencies and management/leadership competencies.

Once the analysis is complete, a competency model of each position is developed. The competency model describes the particular combination of knowledge, skills and characteristics needed to effectively perform a role in an organization. It also clearly demonstrates how an employee can move from entry level to high performance at a senior level within a job category. Once a competency model has been created, the organization/corporation will have a solid framework for recruitment and selection, performance management, professional and career development and succession planning.

How can this be achieved? The first thing to do is to form a group of subject matter experts who can discuss and brainstorm the competencies that will support high performance for each job category. They will make approximately four-to-six levels of competencies for each job. The result is a competency dictionary that defines the competency and lists all the required behaviours, skills and competencies for each job.

Identifying competencies is a time consuming process best done in a discussion format rather than simply selecting from a computerized list of behavioural choices. This allows a more effective development of behavioural clusters that represent various levels of performance for each competency. The levels will demonstrate noticeable differences that can be observed and measured. In addition, organizations can clearly describe the desired leadership competencies and ensure they are built into every job level and into every managerial leadership training program.

How then are competencies applied in an organization? First of all, from a recruitment and selection perspective, the competencies provide a complete picture of the job requirements and helps employers to more effectively evaluate their candidates and increase the potential for success when hiring new employees. From a training and development perspective, competencies enables employees and managers to focus on the most important skills, knowledge and characteristics for each job, they help to ensure that training is aligned with strategic direction and they also provide an effective foundation framework for individual coaching.

From a performance management perspective, a competency dictionary will create a shared understanding of behavioural expectations. The employees know exactly what is expected of them and can clearly see what needs to be developed in order to progress in their career. Since many managers and leaders have difficulty with performance appraisal conversations, the dictionary also provides the vocabulary for the discussions.

Finally, from a succession planning perspective, a competency framework and its accompanying dictionary helps to clarify and confirm the skills, knowledge and characteristics required for any of the jobs within an organization. Not only that, employees and managers can review the different characteristics and use the lists to identify gaps, to determine cross training and promotional opportunities. All in all, it helps organizations to ensure they have the right balance of skills required to meet their strategic vision.

A competency model is not simply a strategy limited only to larger organizations, it is very useful for any size organization. In fact, a competency model will assist smaller organizations to create a framework for its entire human resource system.