Why competency frameworks stop your staff from being great at their job

Can you confidently say that you have unlocked the full potential of your team? If you rely on competency frameworks to assess your workforce then the answer is, likely not! Co-author of Leadership: The Multiplier Effect, Dr Andy Cope, makes a strong case for opening up your people-management approach to flexibility and focusing on employee strengths and developing these

Our work environments are evolving at an alarming rate and the concept of ‘workplace’ has become blurred. Gone are the days of a desk with your family photos and your special mug bearing a slightly inappropriate slogan which ‘Secret Santa’ brought you last Christmas. Instead we’re competing for hot desks, working in the canteen or using the free wifi at a convenient coffee shop whilst living out of a backpack.

Policies and processes don’t scream flexibility

Unfortunately, the evolution of policies and processes tends to lag behind quite a lot and the result is a governance structure that inhibits your star performers. We’re not a fan of ‘rules’, as most of them were created to control a few, poorly behaving employees, and now they just constrain the whole organisation.

Competency frameworks are a particular bugbear of ours. They reek of mediocrity and averageness and their aim is to make everyone ‘fair to middling’. If you’re looking to stay ahead of the game in business, we’re pretty sure that creating an average workforce is the last thing on your mind – unless your vision statement is, ‘Developing uniformity in our people and offering a mediocre experience to our customers’.

If it is, good luck with that!

Supporting personal development

Remember Daley Thompson? He was the first decathalete to hold the European, Olympic and World titles simultaneously. That meant performing well in ten track and field disciplines over two days. Daley was awesome at nine of them but really rubbish at the tenth, the 1500 metres. Imagine if his coach had used a competency framework to drive his personal development? In his performance review it would have been noted that in nine disciplines he met, or exceeded expectations, but the 1500 metres would have been a ‘needs improvement’.

His personal development plan would have focused on that tenth discipline and, guess what? He would have started losing ground in the other nine and we wouldn’t be writing about him now. Fortunately for Daley and Great Britain he knew the secret of being awesome was playing to his strengths – so he focused on being superb in the first nine events and his strategy for the 1500 metres was simply to finish. A legend was born!

Focus on strengths

So, we’d strongly recommend you bin the competency frameworks and start focusing on strengths. Most organisations do it already – in part. They recruit someone with the strengths they need for the role but, when review time kicks in, the focus is on weaknesses and how to bolster them up rather than how to make those strengths they were employed for even better.

If an employee’s weaknesses are stopping them working safely, or massively hindering them in your organisation, you absolutely need to sort them out. But we promise that if you switch your focus to strengths-based development, employee engagement and productivity will rocket.

A better way of working

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve binned the competency frameworks and focused on strengths, work life starts to become awesome for your people. Employees who get to play to their strengths every day will get more enjoyment from their job, have more energy, have high levels of engagement and will be more likely to give you the 15 to 20% discretionary effort that they have available.

At the end of the day, that’s what all organisations are striving for, to get the best from their workforce. We believe great leadership is about getting your people to go above and beyond their job description. Ditching those competency frameworks, developing strengths and helping your employees to be their best selves at work will create a high performing workforce and an awesome place to work.

Leadership: The Multiplier Effect co-authored by Dr Andy Cope, Jonathan Peach and Mike Martin is out August 2, 2018, published by John Murray Learning and available on Amazon £12.99

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