While most organizations will agree that their people are their most important asset, it is not always clear how people are actually developed and trained so they can optimally support reaching business goals. An established pathway to growing your own cadre is Competence-Based Development (CBD). CBD is a structured and proven approach in which a Competence Framework is used to develop people with the right skills and competencies.
So why is CBD not a core business to many organizations? It is hard to explain as there are many who have successfully deployed this approach. The most likely reason may be a short-term focus, with staff development seen as a lower priority than meeting the more urgent business needs of the moment. This is especially true in technical areas where the strategy might be to ‘buy-in’ such skills.
Yet a structured approach to competence and staff development is important as:
- It guides staff in their individual development and directs them to future opportunities in their organization leading to retention of staff and timely availability of successors for key positions
- It provides assurance to management and stakeholders such as investors that the proposals and plans presented to them are based on solid work executed by sufficiently trained people
- Organizations with a well-designed and deployed staff development structure find it easier to attract talented staff who are motivated by the opportunities to learn and grow. The structure itself provides good guidance on the pace of development and leads to more realistic expectations by staff
- Finally, there may be legal requirements for management to demonstrate that their staff have the right skills and competencies, especially important for safety-critical areas.
“I want to develop my skills” – “I want to develop my team”; “What training do I need?” – “What training should I provide?”.…
The hopes of the individual and the aims of the company are all too often misaligned. For example, top talent is put into narrow roles where they will become frustrated, training is rarely provided at the right time, and mentoring and broadening opportunities are missed. But imagine how powerful it would be if the aims of the individual and the organisation came together.
One tool an organisation can adopt, linking the requirements of the company and of its people, is a Competency Framework. This sets out a range of skills and behaviours at different levels, and methods to assess accomplishment in these. However, such frameworks are often set by the organisation to assess its individuals, and in turn, those individuals then attempt to demonstrate achievement and the ‘evidence’ to progress. This can be counter-productive as we indicate below.
Various examples of competence frameworks are available ‘online’. However, some frameworks are generic and, whilst extensive, fail to reflect the career paths the company can offer. Some are provided for specific disciplines only. Others do not address the full range of competencies required.
The authors believe it is more powerful to treat the issue of competence development with a three-pronged approach. This:
- Makes optimal use of company resources to develop its people (mentoring, on-the-job opportunities, training, secondments),
- Encourages Individuals to own their own development, identify gaps and options to act, identify long-term career direction, etc – drawing on the support and input of their managers, mentors, and colleagues,
- Provides a structured framework to tie this together.
The approach needs to be holistic, with a buy-in of the individual and the organisation. It needs to be bespoke to address the Company’s roles – reflecting the breadth and depth of skills required. It also should lay out the range of career opportunities, from entrant to senior leader – technical, business, behavioural and corporate competencies, and specialist and management career options.
Our experience is that creating a Competence Framework as described above is a significant undertaking. It starts with adequately defining the competencies required, both from a functional as well as a leadership perspective. Ideally, it also covers new entrants to senior leadership. However, where organizations typically struggle most is to implement the framework in practice. Good intentions fail because of a number of common pitfalls that we briefly describe here.
First, there is the risk that the framework is made overly complicated and its implementation becomes bureaucratic and cumbersome. To avoid this, it is advisable to start small, e.g. with a certain sub-set of the staff population. Also, make sure the number of competencies is not made too big with competencies defined too narrowly. Start with what is really important and define what staff need to demonstrate to show they are competent. At the same time realize that assessing someone as competent in a certain area always requires a degree of judgement.
Secondly, building and implementing a Competency Framework is a long-term investment. We are confident that when done properly the investment will pay off. However, it needs commitment from the organisation and individual. It is key that time is made available, both from staff who are using the framework as well as from those who support its implementation (e.g. assessors, line managers).
Another issue we have encountered is that the Competence Framework is often linked to increasing organizational job grades. Competence attainment is therefore seen by some as a justification for promotion – a book of “stamps” to collect to obtain an entry ticket to the next level up. Make clear, in words and actions, that this is not the case. Who gets a promotion and who does not (yet) is based on a whole range of considerations relating to behaviours, fit, past achievements and yes, demonstrated competence. However, the latter should never determine or dominate a promotion decision.
Lastly, make sure defined competencies contain core and leadership skills. For example, the ability to integrate across different disciplines (e.g. technical, commercial, operational) is essential for positions of higher responsibility. Similarly, technical leaders should have a good business understanding to operate effectively at senior levels.
At Valvestris we have decades of experience in defining and implementing CBD models for the energy industry. We can help organizations with defining a framework from scratch and/or support implementation. We offer the full package, where we support the definition and implementation of a framework that is explicitly linked to the long-term strategy. This goes as far as defining the roles and workforce required in 5-10 years’ time and which competencies need to be grown now to make sure the organization can execute its strategy. Alternatively, we can help an organization take the first steps on the journey, leading to tangible results within a short time frame. An outline of the holistic approach is shown below. We offer bespoke solutions as every organization is different and has its own specific challenges and requirements. If you want to find out more, please contact one of the authors or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are more than happy to have introductory conversations without any further obligations.
Article by Martin Freeman