A second reason for the importance of competencies in building leadership brand is that, when properly defined, they (and the impact they have on desired results) can be measured. Thus organizations can evaluate the extent to which their leaders demonstrate behaviors critical for success and the business-relevant return on resources invested to attain or develop these competencies in their leaders.
In leadership development efforts, the effectiveness of managers in developing or demonstrating key competencies is routinely measured with powerful 360-degree feedback instruments that enable these individuals to compare their self-perception to that of their boss, peers, and subordinates (Chappelow, 1998; Dalton, 1998; Dalton & Hollenbeck, 1997; Tornow, et al. , 1998). The ability to know if individuals are demonstrating the behaviors judged to be critical for producing the organization’s desired results and whether or not they are making progress is critical for developing an organization’s leadership brand.
If the measurement of competency development progress is coupled with the measurement of the impact of these competencies on business results this heightens the organization’s capability to progress in its development of leadership brand. Leadership Development A third reason is that competencies can be learned. An organization that determines the kind of leadership behaviors critical for its success can enhance success in creating leadership brand by taking steps to develop the capability of its leaders to demonstrate these competencies on the job.
Unlike personality traits, competencies are characteristics of individuals that are (relatively more) malleable–they can be developed and improved. Continuing the previous example, now I know I am not perceived as visionary by my colleagues, I need to learn and demonstrate more visionary behaviors. Organizational Differentiation A fourth reason competency is important for developing leadership brand is that they represent a behavioral dimension on which organizations can distinguish and differentiate themselves.
While two organizations may be generally alike in the kinds of financial results they achieve (as well as results related to their employees, customers, etc. ), how they accomplish this can vary depending on the competencies that fit their particular strategy and culture. Having a brand that is differentiated can enhance its value. Steve Jobs is a great example of integrating the vision of a company with the vision of a person. Apple seems visionary again, because it is associated with Steve Jobs, who gets a lot of PR for being visionary.
Actually delivering some visionary new products helps a lot too. Management Practice Integration Finally, competencies are important for producing leadership brand because they can provide a structured model to integrate management practices throughout the organization. With competencies appropriately defined, organizations can align their recruiting, performance management, training and development, and reward practices to build and reinforce key valued behaviors.
Employees in many organizations can feel pulled in multiple directions when HR practices reinforce and demand competing priorities. If employees and their managers are responding to “mixed signals” about what is important within the organization their capability in producing a recognizable and distinct leadership brand is diminished. What Is Wrong (Or Lacking) With Current Competency Models? Most organizations are concerned about leadership and leadership development.
Following the guidance of leading competency modeling practitioners, many have developed their own competency models or architectures to define the overall leadership behaviors expected in their culture, and may have invested in creating a number of additional job or role-specific models (Boyatzis, 1982; Dubois, 1998; Linkage, 1997; Lucia & Lepsinger, 1999). These models typically define 10 to 25 key behaviors that effective leaders are expected to develop and demonstrate and are becoming fairly commonplace in corporate America.
Despite the significant investments many organizations have made in competency modeling efforts, the models produced have not necessarily helped them to reach their goal of developing the leaders they want and need (much less created a distinctive leadership brand that could lead the investment community to attribute greater value to their company). 1. Competencies are focused more on behavior than results. Most organizations with competency models define each competency in terms of how leaders are expected to demonstrate it behaviorally, but stop short of explaining why demonstrating it has business relevance.
As a result, competencies often end up being perceived as “soft” stuff (all about style, not substance). Part of the reason this occurs is tied to how the competencies themselves are often developed or “chosen” for the organization. While it is possible to develop competency models in ways that strongly link them to the results that a particular organization needs to attain, such methodologies can be time-consuming and expensive to implement.
Many organizations make the decision to develop their competencies more quickly and less expensively. Examples of competency modeling that are fairly typical and not as rigorous include: a. Using focus groups or expert panels of employees to employ an open-ended process to discuss and identify competencies important for getting good results; b. Simply asking focus groups to rank order the relative importance of a predetermined set of generic competencies and pick those they feel are most critical in their organization; c.
Simply picking an already developed competency model because it looks complete and describes leadership behavior in a way that organizational leaders feel makes sense. While these methodologies offer speed, convenience, and relatively low cost, their success in identifying competencies that will help their leaders to attain the specific results-outcomes that fit an organization’s particular strategy and business is likely to be highly variable. While the resulting model may have the “buy-in” of the participants because of their involvement it may not be the “right” model.
Regardless of how an organization reached its competency model it will be difficult to maintain its credibility with line managers and employees unless the competencies can be clearly linked to getting the results the organization desires. Sears (Rucci, Kim, & Quinn, 1998) provides a good example of how competencies believed to be critical for success can be evaluated prospectively and modified if appropriate. By evaluating the linkage between certain leader behaviors believed important and key employee results (e. g.
, retention, commitment) they discovered that some competencies they believed important were not, while others that were initially not considered at all emerged as critical. Organizations that invest the effort to build competency models and introduce them throughout their entire organization owe it to themselves to assess their linkage to results. 2. Competencies are too generic. In a recent workshop, we had 10 participants post their leadership competency models. These firms, from different industries and with different strategies, all had nearly identical desired attributes for successful leaders.
If we had to match the 10 companies with the competency models they presented, it would have been impossible. All the desired attributes were generally the same. In “branding” terms, these companies had somehow ended up with a generic leadership brand much like the generic product aisle in a supermarket in which one product is indistinguishable from one another. One scenario is for the selection of an organization’s leadership competencies to be heavily influenced by the latest best-selling leadership book that the CEO read on a recent long plane trip.
Not surprisingly, the result may look so much like those of other organizations (whose CEOs may have read the same book) that it will not much help the particular organization achieve its desired business results or establish a distinctive leadership brand. Another scenario that leads to generic rather than distinctive leadership branding is when the competency development process focuses primarily on identifying fundamental general behaviors essential for human beings to interact effectively with each other (e. g. , having emotional control, doing the most important things first, demonstrating interpersonal understanding and sensitivity).
While such behaviors do help make leaders better people, they are not likely to be sufficient for helping a business achieve its desired results, if leadership competencies are to help an organization achieve its desired business results and create distinctive leadership brand, they must be able to articulate the more specific behaviors that a particular set of leaders, in a particular industry, in a particular organization, with a particular business strategy, and a particular history, culture, and set of values needs to demonstrate to succeed.
3. Competencies are linked to the past and not the future. Some competency modeling development processes begin by identifying current high and moderate performing leaders and then do critical incident analysis to determine what knowledge or behavior separates these two groups of leaders. Effective competency models need to be clearly tied to a firm’s future strategy. They need to be able to answer the question: “Given our future strategy, what knowledge, skills, and abilities should our leaders possess? ” 4.
Insufficient attention paid to competency application. It is not uncommon for organizations to invest more time and energy (and perhaps money as well) in developing competency models than they do in practically applying them. In other cases, applying the competencies may be complicated by organizational politics or potential resistance. This results in such scenarios as: (a) leaders getting feedback about their competencies but not being provided with powerful, practical development ideas, training programs, etc.
to close performance gaps; (b) competencies being used to guide or manage the behavior of middle managers but not being applied to the senior executive level; (c) competencies being used to help direct “personal development” of employees but not being included in the performance management process that could end up affecting their compensation. The key consideration here is that the job is not complete simply because the organization has developed its leadership competency model.
Employees generally have a good sense regarding whether their organization’s competencies are merely “window dressing” or are really being taken seriously. If the model has been developed in a manner that links competencies to the desired results of the business, an organization must do as good or better a job in applying it as it did in developing it. 5. Competency models are owned by HR more than line management. Too many times, the work of developing competency models or architectures is delegated to others (e.
g. , task forces, HR professionals, outside consulting firms) while the senior executives, who will eventually need to model it, stay far too distant from its development. As a result, the model may get executive “approval and blessing” but not executive use. It may be treated as a tool to serve the rest of the organization while the senior executive group continues to use its own shorthand and shared perspective about what makes leaders effective.
As an example, the organization’s “official competency model” may call for “collaboration and teamwork” while its key senior executives may most admire and continue to promote “individual heroes. ” If an organization is going to be serious about developing a strong leadership brand, such gaps and “disconnects” cannot be allowed to exist. The organization’s leadership competency model must be aligned with its executives’ own personal leadership models and its executives must both use it and live it.
The likelihood of competency models producing strong leadership brand is enhanced to the extent that they measure up against five fundamental standards: (1) linkage to and balance across the organization’s key result areas, (2) alignment with business strategy, organization capability, and values, (3) connection to the organization’s enabling systems, (4) differentiation of expectation by role or level within the organization, and (5) alignment with senior executive leaders’ beliefs and personal role modeling.