Medium and big organizations tend to use a competence system that segments people by grades and by degree of competence. A typical segmentation is, for example, one of non-managers, managers, senior managers, top leaders etc., and a set of achievement levels such as collaborators, contributor, exceeding, outstanding. Another cut is by ‘job families’. There are also core competencies, technical competences, job family competences and leader competences. Other authors distinguish between meaning competences, relation competences, learning competences, and change competences. There are also behaviour competences, management competences and organizational competences.
The official use of this jungle is: selection of people, performance management, of course, career development, succession planning, etc.
There is an interesting line in one Wikipedia entry about ‘Competency Libraries’: ‘Organizations that don’t have the time or resources to develop competencies can purchase comprehensive competency libraries online. These universal competencies are applicable to all organizations across all functions. Organizations can then take these competencies and begin building a competency model’. Did you hear? ‘These universal competencies are applicable to all organizations across all functions’.
I am describing a jungle, a system of baskets and matrixes that often seem as if designed by a quantum physicist. In my consulting career, I am yet to meet a leader who seriously believes these supermarket shelf approaches work. I have also met many HR mangers who, smiling and whispering, tell me that this is imposed by headquarters, and they have little room for anything other than implementing. Nice.
Sure we need a system of classification. However the use of that classification for the purposes of bonuses, for example, has taken over all the original noble aims. The complex system allows us to allocate money more than training packages or career path. Many systems and uses are deceiving. The music is about career development; the lyrics are about a percentage increase.
I don’t know where this fascination for the matrix of 50 boxes or so comes from. We are collectively fooling ourselves with some sort of smell of ‘scientific management’. We need a diet. The competency system needs to lose a few kilos, pronto. We need one, but slim and agile. Secondly, we need to be honest. Is it there to promote/demote/and allocate the ‘2 points above the inflation’, or to support performance and professional development?
Ah! I know. Both. The famous both, or all of the above.
Lets clean up these systems and make then fit for purpose. If I had a pound for every HR manager who says to me in private that he does not believe in the little monster, and another pound for every manager who, also in private (of course!) tells me that he has been asked to allocate money ‘in those boxes’ according to a pre-cooked Bell curve (‘you must have 5% outstanding, 10% below expectations’, etc.), I could plan for a holiday in the Bahamas any time soon.