The central idea behind competency systems is a great one – find out what excellent performers do in a role, team or business area, codify the behaviours and train others to demonstrate these behaviours at a high level of competence. Bingo, great performance all round….or perhaps not.
So why do competency frameworks often fall way short of this ‘promised land’ of full competence? Let’s examine some of the flawed assumptions underpinning the majority of competency systems and how a strengths-based profiler such as Strengthscope® can help overcome these:
1. People in the same job don’t perform the role in the same way and often, particularly for complex, knowledge-based roles, the manner in which a job is performed can vary significantly. The reason is that people have different strengths or qualities that energise them, enabling them to become particularly proficient in different areas. So, a sales person with a relationship-building strength might perform the job in a very warm and friendly way whereas a sales person with a critical thinking or courage strength is likely to be more probing and challenging when analysing customer needs. A tool like Strengthscope® will help to identify these natural energisers or sources of passion. By optimising these, companies can help their people become brilliant in areas that they love the most.
2. People are not all-rounders when it comes to performance, particularly not in a world of increasingly complex and specialised skills. Everybody has strengths and weaker areas, but traditional competency frameworks assume we can become excellent at everything through good training. Recent research shows this is not the case; people learn fastest and best in areas of natural strength, when they are passionate about something. By identifying people’s unique strengths and areas of potential, Strengthscope® can help ensure scarce training and development budgets are allocated in a way that reduces wastage and doesn’t try to turn someone into something they haven’t got any energy for. A good analogy here is professional sport. Rather than trying to turn every Olympic sportsperson or World Cup footballer into an expert all-rounder, it makes more sense to focus on areas of natural strength and excellence.
3. People rarely, if ever, cover all the competency areas on their own; they achieve their goals by drawing not only on their own strengths, but also on those of their co-workers. Strengthscope® helps build strong, complementary teams who understand and leverage one another’s strengths. In this way, a culture of positive, inclusive teamwork arises, where work is tackled in in a way that is motivating to diverse team members and generates a positive cycle of mutual support, trust-building and success.
4. Competency systems focus primarily on weaker areas when identifying training and development needs. Apart from the flaws of this approach already outlined above, weaknesses are only one type of risk area that need to be considered when helping employees achieve peak performance. A far more common source of career derailment for leaders and knowledge workers are overdone strengths, or strengths used in the wrong way, in the wrong amount or at the wrong time. For example, empathy can become over-involvement in another’s problems and decisiveness can become rash, overhasty problem-solving if these strengths are not used with caution and care. Self-limiting beliefs and assumptions, including poor self-confidence, present a third type of risk factor that needs to be understood in helping people achieve peak performance.
Competencies are a great way to clarify and communicate behavioural standards required for a particular role, team or business area. However, they are limited and are unlikely to stand the test if time if they continue to be used without taking account of employees’ unique strengths and diverse ways of operating. All employees, but particularly younger Gen-Yers (i.e., those in their early 20s to early 30s), expect their strengths to be taken into account and leveraged from the get-go with their employer, they want to love the work they do, not merely tolerate it. Therefore, a strengths profiler like Strengthscope® that helps you understand and optimise the strengths of your employees is a valuable addition to your competency system, enabling you to implement your system in a way that is more relevant and motivating for the modern workforce.