Helen Giles, Managing Director
· Customer focus
· Personal organisation and achieving results
· Creativity and innovation
· Analytical reasoning skills
· Managing self and relationships with others
· Leadership and people management
Under each competency heading there will be a list of observable behaviours that a person who has that competency will demonstrate in everything they do.
When a client comes to us asking for support to manage someone whose performance is lacking we ask them to describe what the problems are. Where the organisation doesn’t have a competency framework and the manager is not used to thinking of good and poor performance in competency terms, they invariably do the following. They give us a long shaggy dog story of a list of things done and not done, things said to others which shouldn’t have been said, with no particular unifying themes other than absolute exasperation that it’s like trying to plait fog to try and address the issues with the underperformer.
We show them a typical standard competency framework and ask them to read the effective behaviours under each competency heading to see if this rings any bells in terms of what their person isn’t achieving. Then we see the light bulb moment as they identify that yes, their person is very good at analytical reasoning skills and creativity, but they are hopeless at personal organisation and achieving results, and they wind everyone else in the office up with their moodiness and aggression.
Competencies give the manager clear themes and objective language with which to approach the person and name their failings. We advise them to cite the competent behaviours that are lacking, and then use stuff from their original list of specific failures as examples to illustrate the theme.
It is actually very rare for people to underperform simply because they haven’t acquired certain knowledge and skills. It is always because they lack one or more of the underpinning competencies that enable them to perform to a high level. For example they may lack analytical reasoning skills at the level required to acquire certain knowledge or skills, or their emotional intelligence is so low that they cannot appreciate and respond to the needs of others.
Once the underperformance has been identified in competency terms, and the manager works out what level of support or coaching is reasonable to help them achieve the level of competency required, an improvement plan and review plan can be agreed. By addressing it in terms of competencies, using specific outputs, tasks or deadlines as examples, you can more easily pick up all future successes or failures and determine whether genuine improvement has been achieved and sustained.
If you don’t do this, you find that a person can improve for a time against one set of tasks, only to let something else slip because you haven’t nailed the fact that – for example - it’s their whole approach to personal organisation and time management that is at fault.
The bad news in all this is that underpinning competencies are very closely aligned to inherent cognitive abilities and deep seated behavioural preferences. This means that where anybody has a very marked lack of any competency it is very much harder to develop than where someone needs to learn knowledge or skills. This is why it’s so important to do excellent competency-based recruitment and selection to get the right match for the job in the first place.
Managing underperformance is never easy, precisely because it is always about underpinning competencies. But not having a competency framework to identify and address the underperformance makes it nigh on impossible.