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COMPETENCY MAPPING

Overview Over the past 10 years, human resource and organizational development professionals have generated a lot of interest in the notion of competencies as a key element and measure of human performance. Competencies are becoming a frequently-used and written-about vehicle for organizational applications such as: Defining the factors for success in jobs (i.e., work) and work roles within the organization Assessing the current performance and future development needs of persons holding jobs and roles Mapping succession possibilities for employees within the organization Assigning compensation grades and levels to particular jobs and roles Selecting applicants for open positions, using competency-based interviewing techniques What has not been written about or explored as much over the past decade are the answers to the following two questions: 1. How do competency-based human resource management methods of defining and measuring human performance impact individual workers? What impact does an organizations use of competencies have on individual employees career management planning and actions in the long-term? 2. How can career management professionals help prepare their individual clients to identify and present their competency strengths in various work or job search situations? The answers to these questions are the basis of this article. However, before I answer these questions, I need to lay a foundation with some definitions. How Is Competency Defined in the Context of This Article? Many definitions of the term competencies have arisen over the past decade. The definition that I most prefer is as follows: Competencies include the collection of success factors necessary for achieving important results in a specific job or work role in a particular organization. Success factors are combinations of knowledge, skills, and attributes (more historically called KSAs) that are described in terms of specific behaviors, and are demonstrated by superior performers in those jobs or work roles. Attributes include: personal characteristics, traits, motives, values or ways of thinking that impact an individuals behavior. *Figure 1 illustrates this definition. Competencies in organizations tend to fall into two broad categories: - Personal Functioning Competencies. These competencies include broad success factors not tied to a specific work function or industry (often focusing on leadership or emotional intelligence behaviors). - Functional/Technical Competencies. These competencies include specific success factors within a given work function or industry. The emphasis of this article will be on how both types of competencies impact the ways career professionals can advise their clients to use competencies in their personal career management efforts. In this article, however, the predominant focus will be on practitioners and clients work on personal functioning competencies, since they tend to differentiate success over time more often than do workers functional/technical competencies. Three other definitions are needed: Competency Map. A competency map is a list of an individuals competencies that represent the factors most critical to success in given jobs, departments, organizations, or industries that are part of the individuals current career plan.

Competency Mapping. Competency mapping is a process an individual uses to identify and describe competencies that are the most critical to success in a work situation or work role. Top Competencies. Top competencies are the vital few competencies (four to seven, on average) that are the most important to an individual in their ongoing career management process. Importance to the individual is an intuitive decision based on a combination of three factors: past demonstrated excellence in using the competency, inner passion for using the competency, and the current or likely future demand for the competency in the individuals current position or targeted career field. Although the definition above for competency mapping refers to individual employees, organizations also map competencies, but from a different perspective. Organizations describe, or map, competencies using one or more of the following four strategies: 1. Organization-Wide (often called core competencies or those required for organization success) 2. Job Family or Business Unit Competency Sets 3. Position-Specific Competency Sets 4. Competency Sets Defined Relative to the Level of Employee Contribution (i.e. Individual Contributor, Manager, or Organizational Leader) This article will not go into depth about the differences among the four mapping strategies. Instead, the focus here will be on ways that individuals need to present or demonstrate the use of the various kinds of competencies when interacting with organizations. Research is ongoing about the nature of competencies that are important for success across many organizations. There are a number of sources that describe some very common personal functioning competencies found to be important for employees at all levels across organizations. One good quote in this area is from Michael Zwell (2000, pgs. 53-55), the author of Creating A Culture of Competence when he says, From the body of competency research to date, a basic set of 6 competencies would differentiate the top quartile of performers from the rest in most positions in an organization: Initiative, Influence, Results Orientation, Teamwork, Service Orientation, and, Concern for Quality. In addition, research on the importance of emotional intelligence to organization success is starting to identify a number of emotional intelligence competencies. In particular, Daniel Golemans work describes four categories of emotional intelligence: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. (Goleman, 2002) A companion article in this journal issue by Kivland and Nass includes further information on this topic. Although not included in the information above, the definition of a competency includes three elements: 1. A title 2. A brief high-level definition 3. One or more key behavioral statements Below is a sample definition for one competency that has a connection to Zwells above list of differentiators and also to emotional intelligence. Motivating Others is an example of an important organization competency at a sales promotion agency that was my earlier client. Motivating Others: Facilitating increased commitment, effort and results from others. Key Behaviors [Behavioral Indicators]: Empowers others by inviting input to decisions and requesting appropriate assistance. Acknowledges the effort, achievements and contributions of others. Uses active listening skills regularly. Assesses each persons hot buttons and adjusts style to get the best out of them. Encourages others to set challenging goals, give their best efforts and work to their potential. Helps others to feel important and respected.

Notice that the behavioral statements all begin with an action verb worded in present tense. This format is important for completing the implied-but-not-written beginning to each statement, The superior performer. How Do Competencies Relate to Individual Career Development? First and foremost, competencies must be demonstrated by individuals. Perhaps the most common place where they are demonstrated is within the scope of a particular job or project involvement. However, competencies are also developed and demonstrated by individuals in the following settings: volunteer roles in the community, professional associations, school projects, sports participation settings, and even within ones own home life. One of the first encounters with competencies for most individuals is in securing employment with a new organization. Organizations that are purposefully using cutting-edge methods to choose talent for positions or project roles are engaging in what is called competency-based interviewing and selection. These interviewing and selection methods are being used not only for hiring external applicants, but also for staffing internal roles, as described later in this article. Many organizations that use competency-based interviewing and selection are also later using the same competencies to assess performance, to encourage future development plans from individuals, and to plan for succession in the organization. Therefore, the individual employees in such an organization will have an ongoing need to use and map their competencies. Up to this point, Ive implied that the main need for identifying and mapping competencies is for individuals who may be pursuing full-time employment with an organization. However, the need for mapping of competencies also extends to independent contractors seeking project work with those organizations that broker their services. Take the example of The Fulcrum Network, an organizational development consulting brokerage organization. Fulcrum recently released a manual entitled How to Hire the Right Consultant, in which it identified 18 factors that can be used to evaluate consultants. (Fulcrum Network, 2002, pg. 10) Most of the 18 factors would be considered competencies, according to the definition included earlier in this article. (Note that the process for mapping competencies will not differ significantly for self-employed individuals from the process explained in a later section of this article.) Why Should Individual Employees Map Their Competencies? A list of compelling reasons includes, at a minimum, the following. An individual: Gains a clearer sense of true marketability in todays job market; once the individual knows how his/her competencies compare to those that are asked for by the job market in key positions of interest. Projects an appearance as a cutting-edge and well-prepared candidate, who has taken the time to learn about competencies, investigate those in demand, and map his/her own competencies prior to interviewing. Demonstrates self-confidence that comes from knowing ones competitive advantages more convincingly, and from being able to articulate those advantages in specific language. Secures essential input to resume development - a set of important terms to use in describing expertise derived from prior career experience. Gains advanced preparation for interviews, many of which may be delivered using a competency-based approach called structured behavioral interviewing or behavioral event interviewing. (See the section below titled How Does Competency-Based Interviewing and Selection Work?) Develops the capability to compare ones actual competencies to an organization or positions required/preferred competencies, in order to create an Individual Development Plan. Many organizations today are using the process of 360 degree feedback to compare an individuals self assessment of his/her own performance against key position and organization competencies to the assessment of key stakeholders that the individual interacts regularly with. The 360 feedback received is then used as input to the Individual Development plan. David McClelland takes the position that definitions

for various competencies, which contain real-life examples of more competent behavior, provide specific guideposts as to how to develop the competency. The feedback information also provides a basis for career counseling or explaining why a person should or should not be promoted. (McClelland, 1994, p. 10) Claudette Nowell-Philipp, organizational career consultant, offers strong philosophical argument for the importance of an individual knowing and mapping his/her competencies as part of ongoing career planning inside an organization. Nowell-Philipp says that in todays organizations, especially those going through fundamentalchange, it is essential to be able to articulate your value-add and who you are, as a person and as a professional, in language that is common and accepted in the organization (Nowell-Philipp, 2002). That prerogative implies the importance of competency-based self presentation: in ones resume, in interviews, and in public functions where introductions and credibility are important But what about individuals who work in organizations (or have their own businesses) that do not hire, appraise or develop employees using competencies? There are several reasons for these individuals to map their competencies, as well: 1. If the individual ever has a desire to leave the current organization, it is very possible that competencies may be a part of the HR practices used by the next employer. 2. The true factors for success dont really vary that much in most organizations. This is another way of saying that competencies tend to be valid across a wide range of jobs, work roles, organizations, industries, and professions. Therefore, even if competencies are not officially being used, they do indeed have a lot to do with success in most organizations. So an individual who is prepared with insight into his/her own competencies will probably be able to use them in service of success in the organization anyway. 3. If the individual is self-employed, then self-presentation of strategically-targeted competencies will be an essential every-day practice in order to develop new business. (Remember the Fulcrum Network earlier example in this article.) Based upon the above description of the benefits of competency mapping, and the likely organizational and self-employed applications of ones competency map, it is probably clear by now that an individual needs to become very familiar with his/her own competencies and examples of when they have been demonstrated in the past. Therefore, individuals need to build some time into their career management efforts to do the following: Research (likely through informational interviews with key contacts) which competencies are in demand in their target organizations as a whole, and in particular positions of interest. Map their current competencies, giving emphasis to those which appear to be in the most demand. Integrate key current competencies into their resume, along with behavioral examples and key outcomes or results obtained. Practice describing their competencies, complete with behavioral examples of past use. Map their future development needs for additional competencies , based on their future career goals and the results of the informational interviewing noted above. One caution here: The Gallup Organization has recently presented the results of relevant research in their best-selling books First Break All the Rules, and later, Now, Discover Your Strengths. (Buckingham & Clifton, 1999) They caution that Strengths (talents, to which one has added knowledge and skills) may not be developable in many cases, and may need to be built into up-front hiring criteria as a result. So the caution with using competencies for development planning is this - be careful of spending too much time trying to develop a missing competency into a strength. Sometimes the implication may be for the individual to find a position that better matches his/her current strengths. How Does Competency-Based Interviewing and Selection Work? Competency-based interviewing and selection presupposes that a set of organization-wide, job family/department, or position-specific competencies have been identified by the organization. Interviewers are then trained in the art of Structured Behavioral Interviewing, which has several hallmarks: A structured set of questions is used to interview all candidates. Each question is designed to elicit behavioral examples from the candidate which demonstrate the use of one or more key behaviors

underlying each competency that is accounted for in the interview. A team of interviewers is usually used and they typically divide the list of competencies among themselves so that each interviewer can focus on asking the related detailed behavioral questions and documenting candidate responses. Interviewers typically ask open-ended and situation-based questions such as, Think of a specific time when you faced ____________? How did you handle the situation? How did it turn out? Interviewers record evidence of behaviors that the candidate relates, and they ask probing questions to gather complete behavioral evidence that includes details of the circumstance, the actions taken by the candidate, and the results achieved. This process is called the CAR (circumstance, action, results) Model. At the conclusion of the interview, all interviewers of a particular candidate meet and compare the behaviors they heard from the candidate that support the assertion that the candidate possesses a specific competency. If the candidate did not offer specific examples with relevant behaviors, after additional attempts at rephrasing the question or asking different but related questions, then the determination is made that the candidate does not possess the competency. (The underlying philosophy here is that the best predictor of future performance is past performance that was demonstrated by concrete, observable behavior. A final hiring decision is made based on the total strength of competencies demonstrated by each candidate, compared with those competencies that are considered essential for success in the position and in the organization, and as compared with the competency strengths of the remaining candidates for the same position. (A more in-depth description of the above may be found in another article by Simonsen and Smith that can found elsewhere in this issue of the Journal [CPaD Journal 18_4]). How is Competency Mapping Carried Out by Individuals? Individuals can complete their own competency mapping process by completing a series of logical steps, including: 1. Find and locate relevant competency resources. 2. Identify the individuals current competencies and then determine the top competencies. 3. Define the top competencies with a list of behaviors the individual has demonstrated in the past. 4. For each key behavior, identify past performance examples. 5. Prepare verbal explanations of the examples, using the CAR Model. (Note: Completing this step of the process has considerable value for the individual. In addition to being used during interviews, situation examples will also be of great value when participating in a performance appraisal, in a proactive career networking situation, or in identifying future positions of interest either internal or external to the organization.) 6. Use the top competencies and key behavioral examples to write or revise the individuals resume. These steps are described below. Step 1: Find and locate relevant competency resources. The first action here must be to identify what types of competencies the individual most needs to focus on. The individual may be employed by or seeking employment with an organization that uses any one of the four ways of categorizing competencies that were identified earlier in the article: Organization-Wide Core Competencies, Job Family or Business Unit, Position-Specific, or by Levels of Contribution (i.e. Individual Contributor, Manager, or Organizational Leader). Then, of course, the next action is to find a resource that covers the types of competencies the individual is focusing on. Some primary options for competency resources would include: 1. A variety of competency listings and corresponding materials such as card sorts, are immediately available on the Internet. (Competency card sorts are decks of cards with individual competencies described on each card. They are useful for individuals during the sorting process, in determining the competencies

that are part of their map.) Some of these resources are in the public domain while others are not. Some are available at no charge, and some must be purchased from private consulting organizations. 2. Numerous books on the subject of competency identification, available on the Internet, directly from publishers, and sometimes at bookstores. On-line booksellers are an immediate source of these items. 3. Local career coaches who are experienced in identifying competencies. (Note: the International Association of Career Management Professionals has an Experts Section on its website, www.iacmp.org <http://www.iacmp.org> that would be a good resource.) 4. Informational interviews with known experts in an occupational field, and within key organizations the individual is targeting in his/her career search. In order to increase the effectiveness of discussing the individuals competencies during informational interviews, I do have one suggestion to make. Many subjectmatter experts, both inside and outside of the human resource field, have little direct knowledge or experience with the language of competencies or behavioral science. Therefore, I have found that it is beneficial for the individual to take a sample list of easily understood competencies, including their own top competencies, to their informational interviews. Such a visual aid will provide an example of how the person being interviewed can best support meeting the individuals needs for information. Step 2: Identify ones competencies and determine their top competencies As noted in Step 1 above, the individual can identify current competencies directly by using a card sort. Competencies can also be identified with the assistance of an experienced coach, either organically through sample interview questions, standardized assessments, answer and writing exercises, or through the use of a 360-degree feedback process (i.e., a full-circle multi-rater evaluation) where one is assessed by ones supervisor, subordinates, peers, customers, clients, or others. No matter which method is used, the individual should do a quick validation of the list of competencies that emerge to establish their face validity - in other words, a reality check. (A validation of this sort need not be scientifically done to add important value to the process.) Next, the individual should identify the four to seven Top Competencies that they believe are the most important to success at this point in their career. As described in the definition of a Top Competency earlier in this article, importance from the individuals perspective is an intuitive decision based on a combination of three factors: (1) past demonstrated excellence in using the competency; (2) internal passion for using the competency; and, (3) the current or likely future demand for the competency in the individuals current position or targeted career field. Three primary ways of validating ones competencies, and then determining the top competencies, include: A review of the list by an experienced coach who knows the client well, in comparison to an established list of competencies. The inclusion of the individuals competencies in a 360-feedback or multi-rater evaluation process, if feedback is sought from others as part of the coaching process. Feedback from one or more trusted, experienced mentors. Step 3: Define the top competencies using behaviors the individual has demonstrated through past performance. Career or performance coaches who have expertise in resume writing often are ideally suited to assist with this task. It can be a somewhat time-intensive task, made easier by the use of competency development resource materials (see Step 1). One caution is to ensure that behaviors are worded to include specific, concrete action verbs (e.g. Helps others see the personal benefits of doing their job well) instead of vague, cliche-oriented wording (e.g. Inspires others to go the extra mile). Another suggestion is to limit the number of behaviors per competency to no more than seven, since the human mind starts to lose its focus once a list exceeds seven items in length.

Step 4: List performance examples of each key behavior This is one of the most crucial steps in preparing individuals for competency-based self-presentation. In addition, its a step for which the individual owns the bulk of the initial responsibility, since the coach does not have easy access the individuals library of all past experiences. Individuals should compose a list of their prior work experiences, projects, and volunteer roles. Then, under each entry, they should spend quiet time thinking of one or two concrete behavioral examples - times when they had positive results from their effort. More recent examples are most advantageous, as they tend to have greater selling value. Most career coaches have probably encountered many scenarios where individuals state some difficulty and/or discomfort with coming up with specific examples of accomplishments for resume writing. A very useful technique for clients in envisioning their competency examples is to suggest categories of end results, and then ask the individual to brainstorm examples that fit under each catetory. *Figure 2 includes samples of end results. Step 5: Prepare verbal explanations of the examples, using the CAR Model Many career development practitioners have had experience in preparing clients to develop and present CAR examples. Provided below are a few tips for coaching individuals to come up with examples when they are confronted with unexpected interview questions, or requests for unusual examples: Have written notes, with condensed CAR examples organized by competency, in ones portfolio during an interview or performance discussion. Take time to pause and think during the discussion - although silence at these times can be a painful experience to the candidate, when an example does not immediately come to mind. A quick glance at ones notes during these times will be a great help, as well. The pausing technique requires individuals to develop an inner reservoir of tolerance for silence. Becoming comfortable with these moments of silence requires practice on the part of the individual. Our mainstream Western culture does not tend to reward silence, as does Eastern thinking and culture. Ask the questioner to rephrase the question, if the meaning is at all unclear. This allows the individual more time to think, and may also result in a more clearly worded question from the questioner. The following is a CAR example for the competency Motivating Others that might be used by a person conducting an interview for a new position. (Note that the example is based on the second behavior for Motivating Others that was listed earlier in this article.) Interview Question: Tell me about a specific time when you intentionally recognized the achievement or contribution of someone else, when it would have been perfectly acceptable to take the credit yourself or not mention the achievement at all. Circumstance: I was leading a project team tasked with writing 40 job descriptions inside a division of the large telecommunications company that I had been employed by for 8 years. Our project team had been through a series of planning meetings to put together a project plan that spanned several months. It was time for us to give a status update to the Senior VP of Human Resources, before we began interviewing position incumbents and writing job descriptions. Actions: I invited the rest of the project team (three other colleagues) to join in on the meeting with the HR VP. As part of the status update, I asked each team member to report on their insights to the project plan we had completed. I made a point of praising the level of teamwork that we had developed as a group, thus far in the project. In particular, I thanked one team member who had brought his MS Project expertise to bear in drafting the format of the plan we presented to the HR VP. Results: The HR VP commented later that she was pleased to see the whole project team so engaged and involved. The other members of the team talked pointedly about their enthusiasm for the plan that lay ahead, and their excitement about our team-oriented way of proceeding. We even had some fun referring to our one

team member as the MS Project guru, and he beamed from ear-to-ear. The project as a whole ended up being completed in a near-record three months of time, with numerous compliments around the organization about the quality of the final job descriptions. Step 6: Use the top competencies and key behavioral examples to write or revise resumes I will comment only briefly on resume-writing here, as this is a topic for another article. But there are at least four areas where a competency-based approach to writing a resume has impact: 1. In writing a chronological resume, the competency titles and some of the behavioral action verbs should be integrated into the descriptions of ongoing responsibilities for each position. 2. In writing a functional resume, the headings of the functional accomplishment sections should tie very directly into the titles of the individuals most important competencies. This is especially true for selfemployed consultants, whose functional experience headings should correlate with their most important consulting service offerings. Those service offerings should be ones that incorporate the consultants top competencies. 3. In either version of a resume, accomplishment statements should form a solid core of information in the experience section. The verbal CAR statements previously developed can be condensed into ideal resume accomplishment statements. 4. The summary of qualifications section, usually found at the beginning of a resume, is an ideal place to list the titles of the individuals top competencies, almost verbatim. What Challenges Do Individuals Who Want to Map Their Competencies Face? Yes, there are some challenges that an individual will have to surmount in order to truly integrate competency mapping into his or her career management efforts. It is important to highlight some of those challenges here, and to make some suggestions for overcoming them. The first challenge has to do with the fact that effective competency mapping calls for some insight into the requisite competencies for success in the individuals career field and in key positions of interest. It is often difficult to find competency-based position descriptions, or organizational lists of key competencies with effectively-worded behavioral definitions. And many of the key contacts the individual might seek out for informational interviews will not be used to describing success in an organization or position in competency terminology. So, the individuals questions to their contacts about essential competencies for success in a position or organization may not be answered well or accurately. These factors will require the individual to do some guessing as to the most desired or required competencies. This raises the second challenge. It will be a bit difficult for many individuals to create their own competency maps, given limited experience with competencies and their behavioral definitions, as well as some blind spots about their own prior accomplishments. The apparent solution is for the individual to find and hire an experienced career coach, as mentioned earlier. If this option is taken, the individual should use due diligence in selecting their coach by conducting thorough investigations of candidate coaches credentials and experience in working with the design, development and application of competencies in organizational settings. Many career coaches are experienced in working with their clients to identify knowledge and skills, but they may not be experienced in the more substantial practice of identifying competencies as they are used in organizations today. The major reason for this is that competencies include, in addition to knowledge and skills, other attributes such as traits, thought patterns, self-esteem, mindsets, and other characteristics that extend beyond ones knowledge and skills alone. (This would be a good time for the reader to pause and review my earlier definition of a competency.) A third challenge has been mentioned earlier. A common occurrence for many career consultants is encountering individuals who are less than comfortable putting the extra effort into (a) writing their CAR

examples, and (b) focusing so much on accomplishments, since this activity often feels to them like selfcongratulatory back-patting. The value of working with an experienced career coach to overcome these two barriers cannot be overestimated. Fourth and finally, there is an issue also mentioned earlier that, based on the Gallup Organizations research, many competencies may not be trainable or, can not be developed by an individual, no matter their level of personal effort. Suffice it to say here that a good career coach will do a great service to individual career clients by seriously focusing on the idea of position or career field fit in light of their current competencies, while advising them to be cautious about attempting to develop competencies that might not be developable. Summary The key purposes of this article were to: 1. Define and illustrate the use of the terms competencies, competency mapping and top competencies 2. Describe how competencies relate to individual career development 3. Explain why individuals should go to the effort of mapping their competencies 4. Describe how competency-based interviewing and selection work 5. Recommend a series of steps for individuals to use in doing competency mapping, with the assistance of an experienced career coach or counselor 6. Highlight the challenges that will be faced by individuals who want to map their competencies The Six-Step Approach to Competency Mapping for Individuals was presented. The Approach includes the completion of the following steps: 1. Find and locate relevant competency resources. 2. Identify the individuals current competencies and determine their top competencies. 3. Define the top competencies using behaviors the individual has demonstrated in the past. 4. For each key behavior, list past performance examples. 5. Prepare verbal explanations of the examples, using the CAR Model. 6. Use the top competencies and key behavioral examples to write or revise resumes. A significant advantage of mapping ones competencies has to do with using them for future development planning. Development planning in organizations spans a continuum from not-done-at-all to very informal to very formal processes. Larger organizations that do practice the use of more formal development planning tend to have competency models and competency assessment tools, from which individuals and their managers craft future development plans. In some organizations, those development plans are part of the organizations performance management process. In other organizations, development plans are completed confidentially, separate from performance management, for the individuals own career development benefit. No matter how formal or informal and organizations practices are regarding development planning, the important idea for the individual is to map his or her top competencies that are important to their future career passion and success. From among those top competencies, the individual needs to identify their current competency strengths, and also their future competency development needs. Great care needs to be given to crafting a development plan that puts equal or greater weight on using ones competency strengths, rather than upon expending too many personal or other resources on trying to develop competency weaknesses into competency strengths. High levels of energy and motivation tend to surface for individuals who are focusing on better, more substantial uses of their competency strengths. Significant competency weaknesses do need to be managed around through the use of such methods as delegating, partnering, and some personal modification of behaviors. This will require some planning on the part of the individual, and can be a very valuable part of development discussions with ones manager, mentor, or career coach. But an approach that focuses on fixing weaknesses and building them into strengths tends to create a mindset of only grim determination, for both the individual and his/her

manager/mentor/coach. This tends to sap energy from the individual that could otherwise be positively deployed in the arena of developing and/or better using current competency strengths. Competency mapping is a powerful and potent tool for making concrete and recognizable the employable assets that any individual brings into their career. Mapping ones competency strengths might be one of the most powerful self-marketing tools available to both individuals and organizational talent management professionals today.