Use Summer Downtime to Refresh Your Competencies

summerAs we head into the summer season, business often takes a back seat to some of the enticements of the world around us. Vacations, outdoor activities and longer lunches seem to edge out some of the usual intensity of our work rhythms.

It’s a great time to reflect on the successes of the past winter/spring and to make some adjustments for the road ahead. This is particularly true when it comes to some of the long established ‘frameworks’ that you may have used to recruit, manage and develop people in your company.

Competencies (or on-the-job behaviours) are the basis for a lot of “people practices” in most companies these days. And often the existing frameworks may have been in place for some time without any kind of ‘tune up’ or renewal. In my experience working with organizations conducting competency modeling, this timeframe is far too long given the rapid change taking place in the world around us.

I know of several major companies that are still using the same competencies and behavioural expectations for their staff more than 7 years after original development. Surely something has changed about their business, key priorities, major roles and organizational culture over that time period!

Ideally, every 24 – 36 months, you should be critically evaluating both the content and application of your competencies. Your business changes, so don’t let your people practices get left behind.

With all the investment being poured into managing talent, it only makes sense to ensure that your people are acquiring and demonstrating suitable knowledge, skills and attributes to be successful in their roles.

To get better results, here are 5 key steps to successfully updating your competencies:

1) Gather Feedback

Assemble all the relevant feedback that you’ve received over the past 18 – 24 months regarding your competency frameworks. Identify themes around what’s working well and what needs to be improved in terms of language, ease of application and impact.

As a second step, you may want to interview a cross section of leaders and employees in your company.  This will give you some feedback on their experience in applying your core, leadership and technical competencies in areas such as recruitment, training and development, and performance management.

2) Map the Context

Working with a small task team, determine how your company’s business strategy and operational priorities will impact expectations for employees and leaders for the next 18 to 36 months. Be specific in terms of new or different on-the-job behaviours that will be required to drive success in both individual roles as well as your company’s performance.


Then, go one step further and identify the key aspects of your organization culture that need to be reinforced or shifted to better support business priorities and employee engagement. Again, be specific about the kinds of on-the-job actions or behaviours that will be required to support your desired culture.

This mapping process will provide valuable insight into the kinds of changes (additions, deletions, adjustments) that you’ll need to make to your existing competencies to better support your people and the business.

3) Look Externally

While you want your updated competencies to be well crafted to meet your own organization’s needs, it’s always worthwhile to see what others (e.g. thought leaders, business partners, alliance members, your competition) may be advocating in terms of competencies for success. Groups like the Center for Creative Leadership, for example, are constantly updating core and leadership competency models based on research conducted across a wide variety of companies and industries. Trade, technical and professional associations along with educational institutions are likewise updating their models to reflect the latest technical competencies for specific roles and job functions.

4) Update and Validate

Based on the information gathered in steps 1-3, work with the task team to craft adjustments to the existing competency frameworks. This may include revisions to existing competencies, as well as the identification of new ones. Remember that more is not better; fewer targeted competencies with supporting actions/behaviours are far better than listing too many expectations.

At this point, you’ll want to reach out to validate your updated frameworks with key stakeholders (e.g. leaders, job incumbents, customers) through whatever method makes most sense given the time available, your budget and the depth of validation desired. For face and content validity  interviews, surveys, and focus groups will do the job.  

meeting review5) Communicate and Implement

Once you’ve finalized your updated framework, it’s time to communicate widely regarding the journey to date as well as the expected way forward. Explain to staff the need for revamped expectations, how the updated competencies were developed, and what key benefits are expected as a result of adopting any updated frameworks.

Spend time making sure people understand how the updated competencies better support long term strategy, operational priorities and individual job success.

Be sure to stage implementation of the revised competencies within your people practices based on the resources you have available. Decide which activities will benefit first and foremost from the updated expectations (e.g. recruitment) and then focus on updating ‘touch points’ such as reference guides, information materials, and orientation sessions.

Using the summer period to refresh some of your existing competency frameworks is a good way to ensure that your people practices are ‘fine-tuned’ to fully support your company’s priorities and agenda once the pace picks up in the fall.

…Just don’t forget to catch some of that summer sunshine, too!!

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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