Tag Archives: competence

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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The one with reputational competence

We all know what it takes to lead an organisation, right? Of course its easy to spot and very clear-cut as to what will lead to success in a Chief Exec role within a given organisation at a given time. Where’s the sarcasm button on this thing???!

If you think back to your first job/jobs especially those of you who indulged in graduate degradement assessment centres, what do you remember? A battery of tests, exercises, group work, presentations, ad nauseam, etc. The organisation hiring you got as complete a picture of your ability, personality and potential against a job role that was very clearly understood (well at least the HR team thought so) and then made a decision against those criteria.

Now let’s go back to the Chief Executive bit. So the role is in broad brush very clearly understood – big cheese, buck stopper, le grand fromage. But the reality is that leading a modern organisation is FAR more nuanced than that – what stage of the life cycle is the business in? What kind of market is it and what is that market doing? What are the focusses for the business? What kind of functional expertise are required and are they present? What role does the Chairman have and what relationship do they want with you? The complexity of success and failure is 100 (to the power N where N is a whole number between OMG and WTF) times more than the graduate gig.

So what do we do? We pay a very large fee to a third-party who does a) most of the work but b) has most of the contact and communication, to hire someone largely on their reputation. Yes, that’s right…what they have done in the past. Now I know the heart of the competency based interview argument is about being able to demonstrate competence from work already completed but given this person is going to need to create the strategy and inspire the delivery of said strategy maybe, just maybe it’s worth doing a little bit more?

What’s sparked this rantette, you may ask?

Well…it’s been brewing for a few weeks since myriad news outlets were getting stirred up, at the governments bidding around the fate of the HBOS 3 – James Crosby (formerly Knight of this parish), Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson. There was talk that Vince Cable was all set to have them banished forever from Christendom (or struck off as being directors) for their role in the demise of HBOS and the impacts that’s had on the financial sector and the economy as a whole. It has since gone quiet but at the time and at intervals since the thought has struck me – why does the government need to intervene? Why not just trust organisations to hire competence Chief Cheeses?

That said Crosby has gone on to be a Non-Exec of several respected firms, although the list is shrinking by the day, Hornby hightailed out of HBOS HQ and headed to Boots before landing at Coral (who’d have bet on that…geddit?) where apparently they are loving him and Stevenson has several high-profile NED-ships including (who’d have thunk it) ‘The Economist’…

Most people seemingly don’t want an over regulated state meddling in everything…but… in order to achieve that people need to discharge their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. So firstly, if you are in a very senior role in a financial institution think twice about hiring these 3, you’ll save us a whole load of proceedings. Secondly, if you are in the position to hire (or facilitate the hire) of a CEO, stop and think about the role, your company, it’s life stage, your market, it’s need, your people, your accountability and the fact that you are linking your short-term future to whatever you hire – so hire well!

P.S. The person who thinks this is all hysterical? Fred Goodwin – although his laughter does make him lose count of the millions of pounds in his pension pot

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