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In today’s competitive world, organizational leaders recognize the importance of developing and nurturing high performing cultures. Success in these efforts creates a competitive advantage. Moving from concept to implementation is challenging and leaders and employees may feel lost and confused.

Consider two scenarios:

  • Tom was recently hired as the Director, Marketing at ABC Association. With over 10 years of experience in marketing and a master’s degree he was considered a perfect hire. Unfortunately, within three months, it became clear that he was not a good fit with the organization.  
  • Mary, a high performing employee, recently announced her resignation from ABC Association. During her exit interviews, she expressed frustration regarding the lack of opportunities for professional growth. She stated that she did not know what she had to do to move up in the organization. A recent employee opinion survey provided similar feedback.  

In both of these scenarios, the organization lacked clarity and failed to communicate expectations regarding the competencies (i.e., behaviors) necessary for successful job performance. Tom possessed part of the “winning” equation; he had the technical expertise to be successful in the role. However, he lacked the necessary competencies to succeed at ABC Association.

In the case of Mary and other employees, there was no definition or common understanding of high performance. The lack of communication created a disconnect between employees’ perceptions of their contributions to the organization and the actual alignment with organizational goals.

A well designed and carefully implemented competency model can serve as a powerful tool to minimize these types of challenges.

A Winning Combination: Job Knowledge + Competencies = A High Performing Organization

A competency model is a framework comprised of competencies (i.e., behaviors) and are often grouped together by topical area. A competency is a combination of skills, knowledge, and behaviors. The behaviors are objective and measurable and define the components of high performance for a position or role. Some examples of specific competencies are: communication, innovation, relationship building, strategic leadership, and employee development.

There are numerous benefits to developing and implementing a competency model in an organization. Most importantly, the tool provides a common language across the organization to describe “high performance”, clarifies performance expectations, and links human resource functions to the organizational strategy. The tool facilitates stronger recruitment, hiring and retention of high performing individuals and provides strategic insight into the developmental needs of the organization.

While the advantages of implementing a competency model are plentiful, it is imperative that the model aligns with the organizational strategy, mission, and values.

Dawn Godaire is the Human Resources Director for the Heart Rhythm Society. She is presenting “The Role of Competency Models in Nonprofit HR” on Monday, October 8 at 4:15 PM during the 2012 Nonprofit Human Resources Conference.

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