HomeEmployee ExperienceEngagementApplying core and leadership competencies to drive employee and customer engagement

Applying core and leadership competencies to drive employee and customer engagement

  • 5 Min Read

Adam Hickman PhD. discusses the application of competency theory in practice, separating core and leadership competencies to support job behavior and promote employee and customer engagement

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Using competencies is a pain point for many HR leaders during hiring, succession planning, or just developing their employees. And it can be a costly one. While not an exact science, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the average cost of a bad hiring decision is at least 30 percent of the individual’s first-year expected earnings.

What’s the fix? Leaders must establish characteristics anchored in the right cultural and company competencies.

Building a competency model

Competencies relate to knowledge, skill, ability, or other characteristics like traits, mindsets, or attitudes applied to the job demands. You have to know the theory of competencies but apply the application of competencies differently.

In theory, HR leaders can create an all-encompassing list covering behavioral and on-the-job tactics. In practice, this does not work. Most HR departments are too busy with day-to-day firefighting. They need more time to create and build a competency model. The most successful HR functions often create frameworks that include corporate core values, job descriptions, and incumbent studies to determine the best behavior. All these items are correct, and with the right I/O psychologist and L&D leaders in place, they can be impactful. The application of what to do with all these items comes next.

In application, HR leaders must rely on strings of PowerPoint slides, PDFs, reports, and a list of terms that have meaning to the project but miss the point of the activity. Even worse, some lists of competencies are so exhaustive that any L&D employee would feel overwhelmed considering how to develop people.

This is where we can differentiate the process and put the best of the theory into practice, with a focus on maximizing the application.

HR leaders should differentiate competencies into two categories: Core, and leadership.

Core competencies

Core competencies are tactical, on-the-job parts of the role. These competencies help to achieve the organizational strategy through the type of work being employees complete. Potential candidates read these in your job description as to what they would do on a day-in-day-out process.

The theory of core competencies is almost as easy as the application of the process. For application, create a T chart with the word ‘Do’ on the left side and ‘Be’ on the right side. The column for ‘Do’ is what you should write about their job demands.

Below are some questions to help with what to write about for core competencies:

  • What does this person accountable to in their role?
  • What are the day-to-day demands of their role?
  • What tasks are being completed?
  • What tasks are they evaluated upon for midyear and end-of-year review?

These are the ‘Do’ items of the list and are the core competencies. What comes next are the leadership competencies.

Leadership competencies

Leadership competencies are where your biggest gains come from. These are the set of competencies that teach managing leaders how they lead, behave, and show up for employees.

Leadership competencies are anchored in your core values, aligned to the leadership development strategy, and aimed at the curriculum of each level of leadership development.

For example, if ‘Meaningful Conversations’ are a core value of your organization, and a leadership competency is to ‘Develop People,’ then how you would teach emerging leaders through leaders of a function would be different.

Translating the theory of Leadership competencies to the application requires time and an ear for talent. Time, in this case, means blocking time for your number one asset in your organization: Your people.

Leaders and managers tell me that their people are the most important. Yet, when I ask to see their calendar and time they have dedicated to employees in the last 30 days, the conversation silences quickly. Block the time and be a coach.

The ear for talent requires an easy concept and it’s free. Ask your employees about their most recent success. The clues to their talent are in that story. These clues tell you how they live and work. It may be the enjoyment of involving people, getting work done, or building relationships to influence policy or decisions. Listen for talent. It falls out of employees’ mouths every day.

How core competencies impact business results

By separating these two categories, HR leaders can identify what is most critical to the role, how they do the job, or how they behave. And currently, I encourage all HR leaders to focus more on leadership competencies as we are headed directly for an emotional recession. Gallup estimates that low employee engagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion dollars – or 9% of the global GDP.  How your leaders behave is a predictor of employee engagement. Employee engagement trickles down to your customers. Engaged employees create engaged customers.

Leadership competencies are the most predictable lever in your entire organization. Align, build, and sustain these as a priority: Your employees and customers are depending on it.

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