Dear Workforce What Should the Mandate Be for Our New Competency Development Unit

By Staff Report

Jun. 8, 2007

Dear Results-Oriented:

Creating a new unit specifically for competency development suggests the scope or impact of this unit applies to most, if not all, of the positions in the company and involves the development of both hiring and training systems that focus on the job’s key accountabilities. For that reason, I’ll argue the primary mandate is to articulate and otherwise ensure a solid foundation is defined for each job–that is, to identify the key accountabilities in the job and the related competencies required to deliver on those key accountabilities. Once that is accomplished, this unit should put in place hiring and training systems to deliver the most important competencies in the job, and to manage the development of competencies across the organization.

Developing competencies within the organization can occur in two ways: 1) hiring the needed competencies or 2) training for the needed competencies. Both are methods that result in more of a given competency. Neither of these tasks needs to be owned by the competency-development unit. Rather, they should be owned by the individual business units or departments.

By some standards, building a competency development unit might be considered a huge undertaking requiring a large budget. But best-practice methodologies and technology make revealing key accountabilities in a job, and identifying the required competencies, much simpler and less expensive than ever before. These advancements also are empowering department managers to drive this process and use the results effectively, eliminating the need for this new unit to perform all of the required tasks. If the new unit wants to hit a grand slam in short order, it must consider how to balance high production levels, high-quality results with total stakeholder acceptance—none of which can happen without involving stakeholders.

A high level of production suggests competency development for every position occurs not in years, but in one to two months, regardless of how many positions need to be profiled and studied. It also suggests putting more effort into selecting off-the-shelf training modules. The level of quality suggests the end results of each job study must be valid and reliable, and that training and development programs must be focused on development of the right competencies for each employee. That requires the ability to quickly compare the talents required in the job with the talent of the person in the job. You will also want a solution that managers and employees will accept and embrace. The best measure of stakeholder acceptance is when managers demand more of it. That only happens when they feel the program delivers results as defined by them, isn’t expensive, and is easy to understand and use without an interpreter.

To summarize, the primary mandate of your competency development unit is to:

1. Create and communicate to stakeholders a solid strategy for developing and documenting the key accountabilities of each job, including measures of success.

2. Empower managers and high-performing incumbents to identify the key accountabilities. Use the key accountabilities as the reference point for stakeholders to identify the most important competencies required in the job (online job profiling tools allow stakeholders to identify the key competencies in a manner of minutes).

3. Implement job-talent assessment tools that identify gaps in competencies.

4. Implement work processes that assess applicants early in the hiring process to reveal “best fit” candidates quickly and to expedite the recruitment of high potential candidates.

5. For the most popular competencies—those found across jobs throughout the organization such as a set of management or leadership competencies—develop internally delivered training programs (purchase off-the-shelf programs where possible) or contract with training/consulting firms to deliver the program on a regular basis at your locations.

6. For unique or not-so-popular competencies, provide guidance to department managers on the most cost-effective training and development alternatives. Many times, competency development requires nothing more than correctly identifying the competency, correctly assessing the level of the competency within the organization, and providing some basic strategies for developing skills in the competency.

For a list of competencies used to identify job requirements and talent, go to For an article on how to develop key accountabilities in the job, go to

SOURCE: Carl Nielson, principal, the Nielson Group, Dallas, June 26, 2006.

LEARN MORE: Please read about 31 core competencies that most employers seek.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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