The one with the police action

Recently I had a brush with the police. Not the ello, ello, ello police but the corporate equivalent – the auditors. The subject of the audit was the competence of the individuals within the organisation.

Having worked in several organisations that attempted to introduce a myriad competencies which mapped in some fashion to individual roles I am sceptical of the value of such systems to actual performance of role – they have always felt to me like another process HR introduce to justify their existence.

It was therefore with a skipped heart beat and a spring in my step that I was delighted when last year it was agreed to have set of 5 core competencies that everyone had to demonstrate some competence against with the remainder being articulated through individual role job descriptions. Felt like a fine balance of the need to demonstrate competence and a system that would actually achieve what it set out to do.

The other recommendation that was supported was that assessment of competence would align with the performance management cycle. Performance review, objective setting, competence review and personal development planning would all be managed at the same point in the year and through the same system. It almost felt elegant…

So now we reach summer of 2013 and the first contact all of this work has with any form of auditor. I talked through the strategy, how it had been executed, what levels of competence alignment we had achieved (very good) and the resultant summary of the personal development plan.

Was the auditor dazzled with our achievement? Were they overjoyed to actually see a system that had achieved what it set out to do? Did they marvel at how we actually empowering managers to assess their teams and manage their performance?

Of course not!

The questions that ensued were all about process policing, how we verified the results, how we checked that the competence levels assessed were in fact correct and challenged the core notion that managers manage people. The auditor’s questions weren’t interested in systems that empower managers, business partnership and the idea that managers are far better placed to manage performance that HR.

Was I surprised by any of this? Not at all. It’s the hallmark of the checkers checking the checkers but had I not been so resolute that I wasn’t going to concede ground, capitulate to an increase in policing and remove the freedom of our management teams to actually manage their people I could have genuinely given the shop away in this meeting.

The exchange that probably sums up this encounter was:

Auditor: What happens if you subsequently find out that someone isn’t at the competence level they were assessed at?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: OK but what if someone doesn’t undertake the training they’ve committed to increase their necessary competence?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: Right, right… So what if a manager isn’t assessing competence correctly how do you check that in an individual team and ensure it is addressed?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: (With a small grin on his face as if this one will be his winner) OK, but as a manager how will I know this?

Me: You have to attend a workshop before you can be authorised to use the system

Auditor: (still smiling) and what if that training was 10 months earlier and they don’t remember what is required of me

Me: It’s all summarised in a guide entitled “Managing performance, development and competence”

Auditor: And where would I find that?

Me: (Pointing at screen the auditor has been scrutinising) it’s linked there

Auditor: Yes, well, that’s all good then.

Why share all of this? Firstly, because I am now reflecting on it with a wry smile and I believe opportunities for wry smiles shouldn’t be taken for granted but secondly and more specifically to illustrate what I believe is the thin end of the wedge that gets us so loved loathed by our colleagues.

Hold the line, fight the good fight and rail against any system or process you believe won’t achieve anything and will reduce a manager’s right to manage.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The one with the police action

  1. The elegant solution you describe (of managers being responsible for managing people and assessing skills) ought to be the default in many situations, though there are some skills and competences,thise with safety impacts, that most people would argue need external assessment and validation.

    As you imply, in few circumstances are HR practitioners the best judge of skills in the workplace. Your repeated responses are really saying “we look at the evidence”.

    PS I think there’s a missing “not” in the auditors first question.

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