Why Competencies Matter: Employer Brand

The “holy grail” for defining an organization

BrandA significant amount of research, time and money that has been invested in the search for a “holy grail” of attributes that define the culture of an organization. More specifically, this holy grail would identify a small set of attributes that successful leaders and workers must possess to not only perform well but to also represent and embody the culture of an organization. It must also articulate these attributes in ways that can be transferred across the entire organization and create experiences or learning to ensure that everyone can develop and possess these attributes. Ironically, while leadership matters more now than ever and while more money is spent seeking “the true” attributes of successful leaders, the quality of leadership continues to be a significant concern throughout the world of business. In survey after survey when executives are asked what is required for firms to succeed in the future, leadership tops the list.

In a McKinsey Quarterly article entitled Why Leadership Development Fails, authors Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen, and Kevin Lane outline four common mistakes that companies make when developing leadership programs.

  1.  Overlooking context: A brilliant leader in one situation does not necessarily perform well in another.
  2. Decoupling reflection from real work: Emerging leaders, no matter how talented, often struggle to transfer even their most powerful off-site experiences into changed behavior on the front line.
  3. Underestimating mind-sets: Although most companies recognize that this also means adjusting underlying mind-sets, too often these organizations are reluctant to address the root causes of why leaders act the way they do.
  4. Failing to measure results: When businesses fail to track and measure changes in leadership performance over time, they increase the odds that improvement initiatives won’t be taken seriously.

Competencies Can Distinguish and Differentiate the Organization

A fourth reason why competencies are important is to develop a brand that represents the behavioral attributes by which an organization can distinguish and differentiate themselves culturally. While two organizations may be generally alike in the kinds of financial results they achieve (as well as results related to their employees, customers, etc.), the way in which they accomplish this can vary depending on the competencies that fit their particular strategy and culture.

Having a brand that is differentiated can enhance an organization’s value and help them recruit top talent…in other words, people want to come to work for those organizations. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Apple, of course. Steve Jobs was a great example of integrating the vision of a company with the vision of a person. Apple historically seems visionary because of its association with Steve Jobs who received a lot of PR for being visionary. Actually delivering some visionary new products helps a lot too, which is helped along because of the importance of vision as a distinction.
  • Zappos. Their number one core value is “Deliver WOW Through Service”. As an example of this, a woman called Zappos to return a pair of boots for her husband because he died in a car accident. The next day, she received a flower delivery, which the call center rep had billed to the company without checking with her supervisor. How’s that for a competency delivering on a brand?
  • Starbucks. Their top principle, “Consistently create a great experience for our customers, one person, one cup at a time.” coupled with principle number two, “Provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity.” ensures a recipe for, “Happy Employees = Happy Customers”.

Many organizations that have competency models have taken the approach of defining each competency in terms of how leaders are expected to behaviorally demonstrate it, but stop short of explaining why demonstrating it has business relevance.

By using a validated, research-based competency model, connecting competencies to your culture/brand, transforming learning to changed behavior and measuring results, you can continue moving your company forward.

Tune in next month for the final piece in this series, Integrating Competencies into Management Practices.

Jackie Messersmith is President and CEO of Talent Management LLC. Talent Management is the developer and distributor of Talent Snapshot®, an integrated, competency-based, “in the cloud” talent management solution. Jackie can be reached at 513-528-9700 or jackie@talentmanagementllc.com.

Talent Snapshot® – Talent Management Made Simple. www.talentsnapshot.com