- Pub. Date:
- Society For Human Resource Management
- Pub. Date:
- Society For Human Resource Management
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Defining HR Success
9 Critical Competencies for HR Professionals
By Kari R. Strobel, James N. Kurtessis, Debra J. Cohen, Alexander Alonso
Society For Human Resource ManagementCopyright © 2015 Society for Human Resource Management
All rights reserved.
The History of Competency Modeling
To understand the value of the SHRM Competency Model, a brief overview of the history of competency modeling will help set the context for the development of the SHRM model and provide you with a greater understanding of the model's value to you as an HR practitioner and to the HR profession.
What are competencies, and what are competency models?
In a foundational review of competency models, Jeffery S. Shippmann and his colleagues, as delineated by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) taskforce on competency modeling and explored further by Michael Campion and his colleagues, noted a great deal of variability in how competencies are defined, often depending on the professional field of interest and the context of the discussion. When conducting research on the HR profession, SHRM defines a competency as a collection of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) that contribute to individual and organizational performance.
A competency model is a set of related competencies linked together that describe the requisite attributes (that is, KSAOs) for successful job performance in a given domain, such as human resources. Competency models include a set of specific behavioral statements that define the competencies and describe what the job-related behavior for each competency looks like. Competencies can be either technical (or functional, capturing the "what" of the job that is being performed) or they can be behavioral (capturing the "how" you perform your job successfully). Both types of competencies, technical and behavioral, should be included in any one competency model (see Figure 1.1). Well-developed and easily implemented competency models typically have no more than 8 to 15 competencies, capturing both the technical skills and behavioral attributes that are needed for successful job performance.
Where did the practice of using competency models come from?
The practice of competency modeling was not developed by a single individual or at a specific point in time. Instead, the practice and our current conceptualization of competencies and competency models have evolved slowly over the past 40 years. The work of David McClelland is often viewed as the origin of the current competency movement. McClelland, in an attempt to understand academic achievement testing, presented competencies as an alternative to the then-prevalent approach that focused on traits and intelligence. Subsequent research by Richard E. Boyatzis focused on the "characteristics" of more than 2,000 managers, which were arranged into a management competency model.
The practice of competency modeling also grew from the use of assessment centers, as a method of assessing employee performance and potential to identify managerial-level employees who are ready for promotion or to determine specific training needs. Assessment centers function on the basic idea that a broad set of job-related KSAOs (called "dimensions") are required across similar jobs.
Competency models rest on the assumption that a broad set of job-related competencies can be used to understand and assess employee performance across a variety of jobs and organizations. For example, the competencies necessary for successful performance as an HR generalist in one organization may also be necessary for successful performance as an HR manager in another organization.
The practice of competency modeling gained widespread popularity after the introduction of core competencies in 1990 by C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel. They defined "core competencies" as those needed by an organization to operate successfully. Although these thought leaders focused on competencies at the organizational level, which are different from individual employee competencies, they emphasized that an organization's employees are the building blocks that give rise to the organizational-level competencies and thus should be the focus of change initiatives. In other words, an organization's ability to operate successfully and achieve strategic objectives is an outcome of individual employee competencies. Today, HR departments focus on selecting for and training on individual-level competencies to support the attainment of desired business outcomes.
How Competencies Influence Business Outcomes
When we speak about competencies influencing business outcomes, we are talking about both "hard" and "soft" outcomes. Hard outcomes are concrete and quantitative, such as job performance, profit and loss, or turnover; soft outcomes are qualitative and less tangible, for example, the satisfaction and engagement of employees or the reputation of the organization. Because competencies provide reinforcement of the link between organizational goals and workplace behavior, we need to consider these outcomes from two angles: the organization and the individual.
We all crave work that keeps us interested — or "engaged" — in our tasks (a soft outcome at the individual level). The desire to be engaged is innate in almost all of us — especially on the job. When we find ourselves engaged in our job tasks, we are likely to see a spike in our productivity (a hard outcome at the individual level), which may affect pay or benefits. A surge in productivity at the individual level typically translates into cost-effectiveness for the organization (a hard outcome at the organization level). We can then translate the hard outcome of cost-effectiveness into balancing the organization's scorecard and ensuring that the productivity is aligned with the mission and vision of the organization (a soft outcome at the organization level). By informing employees that the organization is on track, the individuals on the team are more likely to experience a flow of self-esteem, perpetuating the cycle of positive business outcomes.
How can an organization come to know the mediators of these outcomes? What are the drivers? Competencies help us answer these questions (see Figure 1.2).
For example, at the core of any job is the conceptual framework of technical or functional competencies. Beyond these technical areas of expertise, behavioral competencies work together to harmonize the organization's well-being with the organizational commitment of its personnel. Technically proficient employees are the driving force behind helping the organization be cost-effective and shaping an engaged work culture. Similarly, an HR professional with strong behavioral attributes or competencies will establish programs, policies, and procedures to support the organizational culture so that, at the individual level, employees continue to have high self-esteem and to work toward increased productivity.
Implementing a competency-based talent management strategy helps business professionals answer tough questions:
» What is going well?
» Where do we need to excel?
» Do employees have knowledge gaps or skills gaps that are affecting optimal performance?
» Do we have the tools/resources to do the job?
» What does our organization need to do differently to increase our value to stakeholders?
It is the competencies of the HR professional that work to reconcile how the organization performs today, what the individuals need for tomorrow, and what improvements can be made now to achieve desired business outcomes.
Competencies are the fulcrum of high-performing organizations. For you to effectively contribute to the strategy of the business and be a great business partner, you need to possess not only those competencies that are technical but also those that are behavioral. You also must be able to identify and recognize those competencies that the organization deems important and relevant. The process of effectively and objectively measuring competencies that the organization values against the competencies currently held by individuals within the organization is the key to that company's business success.
Competency Models in Human Resources
Early HR competency models focused on knowledge-specific competencies, such as knowledge of employment law and knowledge of benefits structure, as opposed to more general work-related abilities, such as the ability to manage interpersonal relationships and the ability to provide attention to detail. However, competency modelers realized that HR success requires more than just knowledge; successful HR performance is a combination of KSAOs. Today, competencies integrate KSAOs that indicate what successful employees need to know — knowledge — and what they need to be able to do — skills and abilities.
As previously noted, other HR competency models exist, and SHRM has participated in the data collection with Dave Ulrich and the RBL Group's HR competency model as well as in the development of other models by Tom Lawson and Vaughan Limbrick. Although these models and discussions have added greatly to our knowledge in the field, nothing has been as comprehensive as the current research to create the SHRM Competency Model. In the past, it made sense to look at various segments of HR (for example, senior and executive). However, if the HR profession is to continue its effort to be taken more seriously by those outside the profession, the entire profession — from education to entry level to executive level — needs to have a robust map, tools, and assessments to help guide the development of critical skills and critical thinkers.
An evidence-based competency model developed by the profession and validated in organizations provides copious opportunities and an ideal place to start for individuals who are entering the profession or who are currently in the profession and seek to enhance their capability and reception in the business community. If the sentiment expressed by chief human resource officers (CHROs) in the 2011 book, The Chief HR Officer, is correct, then our efforts to date have not been sufficient in training and preparing future professionals. Those individuals dedicated to the profession have an obligation to improve, not just promote, the skills, abilities, and expertise of HR professionals.
Furthermore, because the field of HR is multifaceted and continually undergoing change, competency models have become broader and more flexible over time. As technology changes the way organizations do business and the way modern workplaces function, the role of the modern HR professional must also change. Prominent HR models show evidence of this constant adaptation, and it is good practice to revise and update any competency model as needed.
You might wonder why researchers put so much effort into maintaining competency models. It is so that changes in business, society, technology, and other factors are reflected to ensure job relevance (see Figure 1.3).
For example, competency models are helpful in recruiting employees because they outline the most important qualities to look for in job candidates, given that grades and college and advanced degrees do not fully account for job performance variance. Competencies, on the other hand, are attributes that are tied to successful performers. Knowledge and skill are what distinguish good performance from mediocre performance. Competencies have gained popularity among organizations looking at ways to identify, hire, and retain top talent. Competency models are particularly helpful in finding the right people for senior roles: In recent years, competency models have frequently been used to guide executive succession programs, given that otherwise the qualities of a good executive might be difficult to identify. Competency models often serve as the foundation for defining and identifying improvement areas for current employees and for providing clarity in what content should be covered in an organization's training programs.
A key benefit of competency models is that they can be customized to describe the specific competencies needed at each career level and for different job roles. A competency model may, for example, describe how a specific competency might not be of much importance at the early career level but is essential for senior-level HR professionals. In situations where an employee targeted for potential promotion is failing to develop as expected, managers can use a competency model to identify the competencies that an employee is lacking and can structure development activities to promote growth. Competency models make clear exactly which competencies and, more significantly, which behaviors are of utmost importance for employees wishing to advance their careers.
SHRM's Goals Related to Competencies
The intent from the outset of developing an HR competency model has been to serve the entire HR profession from the college graduate to the executive, looking at the profession holistically and asking: "What do HR professionals need in order to be successful when they begin their careers and as they progress?" This effort connects to other initiatives from SHRM, such as the focus on students and academic curriculum. Advancing the HR profession and providing lifelong career resources is a distinguishing factor for SHRM as the world's largest HR professional society.
Work on the competency model began with examining the career path of HR professionals and determining how their competencies are enhanced over their careers. Since that study, SHRM has sharpened its focus to ensure that it can provide tools for HR professionals to develop themselves. The overarching goal of SHRM's competency modeling initiative is to define what it means to be a successful HR professional. This starts with defining the knowledge and behaviors associated with success.
The foundation of the initiative is the SHRM Competency Model. This model is designed for the entire HR profession: Each competency listed in the model is relevant for all within HR regardless of level, organization size, setting, or specialization. How is that possible? The answer is that these competencies are needed for every job, role, or function in the practice of HR management. The level of expertise needed in each competency will vary according to your role or function or organization, but some level of proficiency in each competency is needed. You might require additional competencies for specialized roles or functions, but these nine competencies serve as the core competencies, to be augmented as necessary. Because of this, the SHRM Competency Model has several features that make it distinct from other HR competency models.
The Model Applies to the Broad Profession and Not Just to Specific Roles or Career Levels
Other models for the HR profession have focused primarily on experienced professionals. The SHRM model is applicable to all career levels. It describes what each competency looks like at each of four career levels: early career, midlevel, senior level, and executive. In addition to helping the HR professional, this model is also useful for business executives outside HR to help them understand what HR does and, more importantly, what to expect from HR.
The Model Is Applicable Regardless of Industry or Organizational Bias
Some competency models are designed for a specific organization or industry, or even for HR professionals within a specific organization or industry. Although these models are useful, they are not applicable across different organizations and industries. For example, a competency model designed for HR professionals in a large, multinational organization might not be applicable to a one-person HR department in a small, regional organization. Unlike other HR competency models, the rigorous and extensive development of the SHRM Competency Model ensures that it is applicable to all HR professionals.
The Model Is Geared for Organizations of All Sizes
Whether you are working in an HR department of one or are part of a large multinational enterprise with 100 HR professionals, the SHRM model is applicable to your career development. Because SHRM's research included HR professionals from a wide variety of organizational types and sizes, it is broadly applicable.
Excerpted from Defining HR Success by Kari R. Strobel, James N. Kurtessis, Debra J. Cohen, Alexander Alonso. Copyright © 2015 Society for Human Resource Management. Excerpted by permission of Society For Human Resource Management.
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Table of Contents
Part I Overview and Introduction 1
Chapter 1 The History of Competency Modeling 3
Part II The SHRM Competency Model: Foundational Competencies 19
Chapter 2 HR Expertise (HR Knowledge) 23
Chapter 3 Ethical Practice 29
Part III The SHRM Competency Model: Business Competencies 35
Chapter 4 Business Acumen 37
Chapter 5 Critical Evaluation 43
Chapter 6 Consultation 49
Part IV The SHRM Competency Model: Interpersonal Competencies 55
Chapter 7 Relationship Management 59
Chapter 8 Leadership and Navigation 65
Chapter 9 Communication 73
Chapter 10 Global and Cultural Effectiveness 79
Part V Building Your Road Map 85
Chapter 11 Your HR Career Path 89
Chapter 12 Finding the Resources You Need 107
Chapter 13 How Does Certification Fit In? 111
Chapter 14 How Can You Benefit from the SHRM Competency Model? 119
Chapter 15 Never Stop Learning 123
Appendix A SHRM Research Spotlight: Developing HR Professionals 127
Appendix B Content Validation Study of the SHRM Competency Model 129
About the Authors 191
SHRM-Published Books that Support the SHRM Competency Model 195