Competency approaches underlie a majority of leadership talent initiatives within organizations these days. Human resource professionals like competencies because they go beyond the basic job requirements to identify the behaviours top performers demonstrate to realize success. When successfully identified, differentiated and validated, competencies can provide managers and employees at all levels with a shared language for discussing workplace requirements and performance.
Unfortunately, in many organizations, the concept makes good sense but design and implementation is weak. Unnecessary complexity often creeps into competency-based approaches and meaningful validation can be virtually non-existent. In addition, today’s rapidly changing marketplace often requires leaders to quickly change their approaches to meet new and emerging business needs. Specific competencies and behaviours, identified at a moment in time, may feel restrictive in both context and application.
In recent conversation with a senior leader regarding inclusion of key leadership competencies as part of his executive team’s narrative 360 feedback process, a particular comment emerged that resonated with me. ‘Well’, said the CEO with a smile, ‘these are certainly complete and, if realized, will ensure that we walk on water for most of our staff, shareholders and stakeholders.’ Once again, lots of effort had been expended to ensure the process was complete but real-time application was viewed somewhat skeptically by leaders in the company.
So, what options exist to host conversations about leadership requirements and performance expectations in your organization while ensuring simplicity, flexibility and relevance? Here are some key suggestions that will help you move along that trajectory:
1.) Focus On The Big Picture
- Ideally, your leadership competencies should drive foundational elements of your business. These include strategic direction, organization culture, employee engagement and operational excellence. Ensure that you and your leadership teams are clear and in agreement on details of each element and what success looks like in terms of key outcomes.
- Spend dedicated time identifying and articulating a few key thematic competencies that your leaders need to possess to advance your foundational elements. These might include, for example, managing ambiguity, cultivating innovation, being agile through change and engaging/inspiring others.
2.) Keep It Simple
- Instead of identifying a lengthy list of competencies and behaviours, focus on a few key competency themes that resonate with leaders and employees in your organization. Based on experience, I’d suggest no more than three or four key thematic competencies. These themes will more likely be remembered and acted upon than a lengthy ‘laundry list’ of specific behaviours and actions.
- Ensure there’s a direct ‘line of sight’ from your selected thematic leadership competencies to your foundational elements. Use of simple visuals and graphics can greatly enhance understanding and comprehension of these linkages. You can show, for example, overlapping concentric circles that encompass both thematic competencies and strategic priorities.
3.) Get Diverse Input
- Seek input regarding your identified thematic competencies from more than just your leaders. Include staff representation from all levels in facilitated forums and opinion surveys to get their sense of what’s important for leaders based on their experiences and the work in which they’re directly involved.
- Be sure to identify and involve key influencers in your company who may not have formal authority but have well-developed networks inside your organization as well as insightful contacts within the broader marketplace.
- Include input from other stakeholders who are knowledgeable about your business and the industry in which you operate. These may include selected board members, industry thought leaders, clients, suppliers and contractors.
4.) Engage Your Organization
- Once you’ve agreed on your thematic leadership competencies, it’s time to get your senior leaders facilitating company-wide conversations regarding the themes – what they are, how they were identified and how they’ll be used in your organization.
- Be clear on the kinds of development support leaders, and those who aspire to leadership roles, can expect from coaching, training and resource guides through to project assignments and job rotations.
5.) Provide Relevant Feedback
- Encourage leaders to get actionable feedback regarding how they’re doing relative to your thematic leadership competencies. Survey-based 360 feedback is a good approach for leaders from front line to director level roles. Narrative 360 feedback tends to be a more effective approach for leaders in executive roles.
- Help your leaders make sense of their feedback in terms of their contribution to your organization’s foundational elements. Ensure they focus on further leveraging an existing strength or developing additional capability in one of the thematic leadership competencies.
Thematic leadership competencies can provide a solid basis for advancing your strategic direction, organizational culture, employee engagement and operational excellence. Remember to focus on the big picture, keep it simple, get diverse input, engage the organization and provide relevant feedback.
To find out more about providing your leaders with impactful feedback relative to your thematic leadership competencies, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-882-8830.