For those who have worked with me, you know the importance I hold Competency Models. These are critical, both for recruiting, but also onboarding and ongoing development. Without these, we don’t know whether we are recruiting and hiring the right people, or developing them to achieve their full potential.
What is a Competency Model? An easy way, at least for sellers, is to think of it as your organization’s ICP–Ideal Customer Profiles. We know the importance of the ICP. The ICP represents customers who are likely to have the problems we are the best in the world at solving, and are highly likely to be interested in engaging us in improving their businesses. We know our ICPs have very specific characteristics. At an enterprise level–market, industry, demographics, firmographics. In the past years, thanks to the work of Hank Barnes and Geoffrey Moore, we’ve started to understand the significance of organizational behavioral characteristics.
Then within those organizations, we identify and target people that are impacted directly or indirectly by the problems we solve.
We know the further we reach outside our ICP, the least likely we are going to succeed. We also know, in tough times, we improve our effectiveness and results by narrowing our focus, even within our ICP–focusing on those customers where the problem is most urgent.
The Competency Model performs the same function, except if’s focused within our own organizations. It helps us understand the what great performance looks like for each role in our organization. It describes the characteristics, behaviors, skills, experiences, values, knowledge expected for top performance in the role. It provides a guide for developing those people, over time.
We develop Competency Models for each key job/role in our organizations. The Competency Model is not a job description–too many people make this mistake. The Competency Model requires us to have a deep understanding of the role. What are the things most critical to high performance in that role? The job description only defines what the role does.
I won’t go deeply into the development of the Competency Model, I’ve written some white papers and provided samples, in the past. If you want one, just reach out. But some of the things critical to putting high impact Competency Models in place, include:
- Cultural fit, behaviors, values, attitudes: Each of these is unique to the organization. If the people we are recruiting aren’t aligned with these, regardless how talented they might be, they will fail–they are just the wrong fit. This is probably one of the biggest errors in hiring that I see.
- Perhaps this is a variant of the previous point, but capabilities around team work, collaboration, ability to develop relationships, trustworthiness, ability to deal with conflict or contention, and other capabilities may be critical to their “fit” into the company and perform at the highest levels in the role.
- Knowledge/learning ability: Deep knowledge in certain areas is critical to success. Depending on the role, this will be different. For example, in selling roles, deep knowledge of certain markets, industries, even certain functions within organizations. Business/financial acumen are important. Critical thinking/problem solving/curiosity are mandatory for complex B2B selling. A drive for continued learning and improvement is critical for most jobs.
- Experience: While very often, we look at experience in similar industries/markets or roles, often it’s better to look at experience differently. Perhaps we want to bring people with very diverse experiences and backgrounds into an organization. If we want to have people that think differently in a role, we may want very different experiences.
- Skills: Here we want to look at a couple of dimensions. Specific skills relevant to the role they will take. For example, specific skills selling skills—the skills for transactional selling are very different from complex B2B selling. Skills for selling capital equipment, consumer packaged goods, financial services, embedded products, or technologies are all very different. Does the person have and demonstrate those skills? Perhaps, more important, do they have a demonstrated ability to learn, develop and execute new skills.
- There may be a whole variety of skills/capabilities in very specific aspects of the role, for example the ability to effectively use certain tools. Or certain roles require certain certifications. Or the ability to work remotely, or a variety of other things.
- Leadership capabilities: For leadership and management roles, there are a whole variety of capabilities and competencies critical to their success in these roles.
I’ll stop here. But within each of these major elements, there can be a number of more detailed competencies or capabilities. In developing these models, you want to explode the model to get to a deeper level of detail. Also, you want some sort of prioritization scheme. Not every line item you identify is as important as others. You want to be able to think about the priorities within each of these major sections (I’ve listed the sections in rough priority, based on my experience.) Also, some may be “showstoppers” If the individual doesn’t have this capability/competency, there is no sense in going forward.
In developing this model, you are looking to develop a model of the Ideal Candidate. You want to develop the competencies/capabilities of high performers. In recruiting, you are unlikely to find the perfect person. But you want to find the very best fit you possibly can find. And you want to assess the ability to develop their competencies in the role.
I always challenge executives that are recruiting new people, “How do you know the person you are talking to is the very best fit for the company and what how you expect them to perform?” Often, the response is, “I’ll know it when I see it?” Alternatively, “When I feel right about the person, when there is the right chemistry….”
“But Dave, that’s a lot of work, isn’t it easier to just look at a CV, interview the person, see if we feel good about them?”
The real issue is that until we have invested the time to understand/define the characteristics of the Ideal Candidate, we don’t know what we are looking for. Inevitably, we have some great conversations, we build chemistry. But if we haven’t probed into the specific competencies required for the role, the behaviors that are a great fit for the role, but we won’t have the right person.
Recently, a client was struggling with the performance of an individual. The individual was in a new role, strategically to the performance of the organization. After a couple of months, the CEO was struggling with the individual. “Dave, he’s just not the right person….” I had met the individual, he had a rich experience in similar roles, a great track record, and seemed to be a cultural fit.
“What do you expect for a person in that role? Have you developed a Competency model to define the role, competencies, and expectations?” I asked the CEO.
When the CEO reflected and said, “Welllll……. I had thought……. This is what I was trying to do…..,” I realized the problem.
The role had been vaguely defined, but with unclear expectations for performance, and no definition of the capabilities/competencies of the right person for the organization. As the three of us sat down, developing a competency model and expectations for the Ideal Candidate, the person that had been hired said, “I’m the wrong person for what you expect!” While the individual was extremely good and had been a high performer in similar roles with other organizations, for this role, the person was wrong for what the CEO expected.
If we want to maximize the performance of each person in the organization; we need to know what “great performance” and what a “great fit” for the organization looks like. If we don’t do this, we are doing our people and our organizations a disservice.
Action: For each of the key roles in the organization, develop a Competency Model. Assess the people currently in the roles, developing plans to coach and develop them to achieve their full potential in the role. Use this model in all your recruiting and onboarding efforts. As things change, keep it updated.
Afterword: If you’d like a white paper and sample for a salesperson, just email me.