There are benefits and limitations of Competency Models that are often not understood in their implementation. The top companies like Bank of America, General Electric, IBM, Lufthansa, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Royal Dutch Shell share one thing in Common – identifying and developing leaders through the use of competency frameworks.  They highlight the one key insight, which is that these companies do not assume competency frameworks alone will shape the perfect leader, but that they play a critical role. The Benefits And Concerns Of Competencies

Some thinking by Conger and Ready is slightly limiting.  They define 3 C’s.  “Clarity” the competencies provide clear expectations too the employees.  “Consistency” the same competency applies regardless of where in the organisation you work. However, the employee may exhibit the right competency for the culture in that region, but it would be inconsistent from the global competencies. “Connectivity” it is a common tool that binds together recruitment, development, reward and recognition.

What I have seen in that some companies have too many competencies, which can be too “Complicated.”  “Conceptual” the development of the competencies is often based on longitudinal studies of a range of leaders that identifies the ultimate mix or recipe.  In some competency frameworks it does not recognise the subtle differences that are needed to lead in different cultures.  The result is a fictional “what great looks like” leader, but in reality very few can meet all competencies.  Other commentators criticise Competency Frameworks as unrealistic role models (Lester 1994) (Bell 2002) (Brundett 2000) (Bolden 2005).

So What Do We Do? 

We need to address the application of frameworks in organisations.  The application needs to take into account that we are reviewing: humans, in different cultures, contexts and situations.  This problem is how to better understand the variation of competencies in different cultures away from the norm.  For example, how important is the ability to influence downwards in a very autocratic culture. Baldon 2005 states “leadership cannot be dissociated from the temporal and situational context…Leadership occurs in a situation and cannot be distilled into a number of constituent elements.  It is in a constant state of flux and hence can never be captured with a static framework.” As Organisation Development specialists we need to customise our frameworks to be able to perform in the different cultural nuances, and we need to regularly review and update frameworks to deliver the desired organisation.

The major weakness of Leadership Competency Frameworks is the focus on ‘evidence based’ performance to construe competencies ignores the subtler, but necessary dimensions of a leader, like relational, ethical, and emotional.

Finally competencies focus on individuals and ignore the social surroundings and connections, which play a part in the success of a leader, for example, the role of followers.  Baldon analysed 29 competency frameworks and cross-referenced it with what leaders identify as important.  8 of the competency frameworks mentioned the ability to listen and none referenced the role of the “follower.” Contingency and Situational leadership are not considered barriers to an individuals ability to lead in different circumstances.  Baldon compared the 29 Frameworks to the Windsor Leadership Trust to identify: personal values and vision are absent in one third of frameworks.  Trust, ethics, inspiration, adaptability, and resilience are absent form two thirds of frameworks.  Personal beliefs, moral courage, humility, emotional intelligence, coping with complexity, personal reflection and work life balance are not mentioned in 80% of frameworks.  Baldon suggests that the gap in the moral and emotional concerns is down to the inability to predict these qualities.  “Making reference to the less 'rational' concepts of morality and emotions might be seen to undermine their ability to predict and prescribe managerial behaviour. Yet, at the same time, their failure to do so greatly undermines their utility in the real world.”  Baldon concludes metaphorically a competency framework is a two-dimensional map, and that the user needs to know how to read it.

The implementation and use of competency frameworks appears to be a common flaw.  Competencies despite the benefits and concerns clearly have a value.   However they are just one way of looking at and developing leadership.  The Organisation Development Expert needs to ensure that they are designed, implemented and applied correctly in the organisation.  It is important to regularly review them as fit for what the organisation requires, and that other tools for Talent Management are utilised in the company’s toolbox.

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