Competency Based Models Eviscerate Talent Development?..Not So Fast!


cbtmIn doing research for an upcoming leadership coaching session with a CEO, I came across something in Forbes that I cannot resist taking on (you see, normally I’m quite a shy person 😉 ).  The author (Mike Myatt) makes a bold statement saying that companies are doomed to failure if they use a competency based model and that it “eviscerates talent development”.  Unfortunately, while he is trying to make a very important point that strategic (soft) skills are far more important than technical skills, he blames competency based models as the culprit when what he should be attacking is the content of the model.  His real point is that competency models that consist of Technical competencies and don’t account for Strategic competencies are doomed to failure – we could not agree more!!  Every single client of ours reading this will recognize that argument instantaneously and every alumni will now know why we insist on integrating Strategic and Technical competencies in our model, curriculum, processes etc. etc. etc.

First, it is critical that we pursue competencies and not just skills.  Competencies are applied skills that produce tangible business benefits. The act of applying those skills facilitates Adoption – otherwise, the shelf life for adults of these newly learned skills is measured in weeks.  Myatt somehow equates competencies with technical competencies, ends up using the terms synonymously and goes on to say that organizations should value alignment, vision, values, collaboration, communication etc. (Hallelujah!!)

He then commits the cardinal sin ( 😉 ) of appropriating the term Next Practices for his definition, when in fact it is Competency Based Talent Management that is a Next Practice – as long as you use our (TMG) construct of making sure that Strategic competencies are not only included but also have at least as much weight as Technical competencies.

His argument actually becomes self-defeating. In fact, it is only through incorporating the Strategic competencies in your Competency model that you ensure that your entire Talent Management life cycle is based on the desired competencies – both Strategic and Technical.  The gaps that he rightfully tries to address (organizational, talent, leadership cultural etc.) will only get addressed if the entire lifecycle ( not just performance management, which is but one component) is based on the desired competencies.

Not rewarding the core competencies needed to perform the job (using a spreadsheet) is an important point that he raises and I could not agree more.  My formative years were spent at the Enfield CT facility of Digital Equipment Corporation (a pioneer High Performance Work System location) where you were paid a wage for showing up and producing parts – which was table stakes as Myatt calls it.  If you wanted to make more money, you had to acquire AND apply strategic competencies.

While I totally agree with Myatt’s central premise that Strategic Competencies are far more critical than technical competencies, I totally disagree with how he proposes to achieve his goal.  It is in fact by incorporating the right competencies in the desired competency model and then using it as the foundation for your overall Competency Based Talent Management strategy that you can actually achieve your goal of institutionalizing and adopting Strategic competencies.  When people know that every decision from Hiring to Retiring is based on both Strategic and Technical competencies – they know the corporation is serious.  By the way, incorporating activities (Stakeholder management, Communication strategy, Value Drivers, etc., etc.) that require strategic competencies in your core processes is also very critical.

Myatt makes a very important point regarding the importance of strategic competencies but then does himself a disservice by the answer he proposes???  My guess is that if we were ever to talk, we would end up in violent agreement.




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