Pitfalls of Competency Selection
volume 4 number 1
Selecting competencies can be a problem for people who jump on the "competencies bandwagon" too quickly. A case in point:
A human resources manager told us she'd asked senior management in her financial services start-up to use competencies to select employees. She gave management her list of competencies and asked eight senior people to select the most important ones for their key project manager position. Interestingly enough, the only thing the lists had in common was that the managers had each chosen competencies that seemed to describe themselves.
In trying to figure out what had gone wrong, we asked her the following questions:
First, had she provided a description of the job? She told us she hadn't because her people "already knew what a project manager did."
We also asked whether she had described the organizational culture - the company's values, beliefs, and attitudes. In effect, had she answered the question, "What's it like to work here?" Again, the answer was no.
Finally, had she asked management to think of the best project managers they knew when they picked the competencies they thought were important? "No," she replied, she hadn't.
It seemed clear to us that the senior managers were picking competencies that described themselves because they hadn't been given enough information to do anything else. Remember, they were working without a job description, a statement of organizational culture, or any real direction in using the competencies to separate average from top performers. Fortunately, it took only a few questions for the human resources manager to see the need to reevaluate their competency selection process in a way that was more focused and effective.
We're happy that more and more companies are recognizing competencies provide a platform for better interviewing methods. But here, as with everything else, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It's one thing to decide to make selecting for competencies part of the interviewing process. It's another to learn how to define competencies effectively.