Assessing for Competency and Capability to Achieve Desired Outcomes

September 13, 2019
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The quality of the leaders in your organization literally determine its sustainability. Today’s leaders help the business successfully compete and thrive, while tomorrow’s leaders are the people who will ensure the organization stays agile and ready to meet challenges that are unknown at this point. Sometimes though, there is confusion about the difference between employee competence versus employee capability to become a leader who helps the organization keep efforts aligned with goals and the mission so the organization grows and people thrive.

Competent to Do the Job at Hand but Capable of What?

Competent employees and their supervisors have the required skills, qualifications and knowledge that enable a person to effectively, efficiently and successfully complete their responsibilities. They are trained to handle their responsibilities well, whatever that encompasses – engage staff members, meet deadlines, achieve goals, deliver great customer service and generally deliver a high quality job performance.

Notice that does not address what a person is capable of doing. Capability is one of the important qualities to assess in people because it refers to potential and capacity, or the extent of someone’s abilities. Assessing capabilities identifies the employees with the potential to become leaders or current leaders who have the capacity to assume higher level jobs. People who are competent are prime candidates for developing capabilities, but job performance should be coupled with assessments to determine the potential a person has to lead when given more responsibility.

Not Going Anywhere

Lower level leaders, like frontline supervisors, do important work, but many remain in their positions for years or decades and never move into jobs with more responsibility. They are good at what they do – meeting production targets, completing projects on time, managing their staff, completing documents properly and so on. As Founder & CEO of ALPS Leadership Philip Liebman so succinctly writes, "Competence is not what you CAN do…it is what you actually accomplish by what you do." It seems like someone who is so competent should move ahead, but that is not always the case. Being competent as a direct report or a current supervisor does not mean the person is capable of assuming more responsibility.

In fact, some supervisors succeed in their jobs because they do meet goals and deadlines, but closer analysis indicates they are not doing so in the most efficient manner because they lack people development skills or some other skills gap. It is a common problem in many organizations – supervisors hoarding work and protecting their status. They tend to be satisfied where they are and spend their careers hanging on.

They may be competent in getting work done, but they likely have little motivation or potential to move ahead. They appear to be incapable of assuming more responsibilities.

Capable of Doing More

Here is the catch. Some people do have more potential, but it remains undiscovered for some reason. The organization may not use employee assessments or job assessment simulations for evaluation or the manager purposely does not help the supervisor grow in the job out of fear of losing the supervisor. Organizational hierarchies make it easy for upstream managers and supervisors to hold people back. There are likely a number of employees who are a supervisor’s direct reports or are supervisors now who never get opportunities to demonstrate their potential. What a waste of talent!

Employee assessments add transparency to jobs, making it much more difficult for people with potential to be held back. For leadership positions, potential identifies a higher level of dimensions like cognitive ability to think strategically, personality characteristics, openness to learning and compatibility with the organization’s culture. A supervisor may have potential when given opportunities to learn and advance. Here is another catch. You want to invest in the people in any position who have potential, and it often starts by assessing for competency but should not end there.

That sounds a bit circular. However, different assessments are administered with different goals in mind. An objective pre-hire assessment for a contact center positions looks for competency in specific areas – written communication abilities if writing emails are a job responsibility, technical abilities, motivation, keyboarding and writing skills, ability to work within the workplace culture, etc.

Assessments to identify people with contact center supervisor potential look for people with the capability to perform on critical outcomes, understand complex communications, solve difficult problems solving ability, engage employees, make decisions in a dynamic work environment, take initiative, build positive relations and so on. Periodic assessments performance and skills and knowledge growth that indicate the person is successful while in the position should begin to focus on identifying capability gaps in order to target development opportunities that can leverage potential.

Assessments that Fit

At some point, it is important to customize the assessments and job simulations to match the KPIs for a higher leadership role. Competency has been determined in present behavior. Now potential needs expression as a predictor of future behavior in a new position.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) addressed this very topic, recommending leadership development programs should offer personalized learning, a focus on business context and relevant learning. Assessments can identify leadership potential at every manager level and help organizations better meet development needs of identified employees.

The content of the assessments is adapted to specific organizational needs. Does your organization need leaders who are adaptable to change, good at managing projects or willing to develop others for strategic purposes? Assessments can identify the people who are willing to learn and proactively complete courses targeted to skills and knowledge areas critical to the organization’s success.

Helping Employees Thrive

Objective evidence-based assessments bring transparency to human resources management and are critical tools for ensuring employees are competent in their current jobs and identifying employees capable of handling more responsibility. Regularly reviewing and analyzing assessments to keep them accurate predictors and in alignment with organizational goals ensures they always remain crucial tools for targeting employee development opportunities.

First, you find the best talent and then do what it takes to let that talent thrive. Ultimately, the competent and capable employees will stand out.

Assessing for Competency and Capability to Achieve Desired Outcomes
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