Competency Management

Pushback Against Competencies  

Avoid the typical cultural minefield faced when implementing a competency-based talent strategy in your organization.

Without implementing competency-based talent management with the right approach, managers and frontline employees may see you as someone who is: 

  1. Coming from the outside to tell them how to do their job
  2. Defining the job to make it easier to micromanage them 
  3. Defining the job to make it is easier to replace them (scarcity mindset)
  4. Trying to implement just one more HR / TD initiative of the month 

The last one is my favorite because we have all been there.  Most of us have probably been on both sides of the equation too - excitedly starting a new initiative as a leader, only to move onto the next shiny penny a month later (likely in the name of “innovation”), or the poor sap being told by leadership how a new process or tool will “take us to the next level”, only to have it fall flat.

Unfortunately this article is not meant to be a discussion in managing corporate initiatives, so I’ll leave it at: 

  • Use an incremental approach
  • Find some experts to help (like us)
  • Use a good software to make it easy to execute (ATLAS software)  

The other concerns, however, directly relate to using competencies and deserve some contemplation.  

communication 1

Concern #1 - Coming from the outside to tell them how to do their job. 

Let’s face it, you don’t know how to do their job.  Even if you think you do, unless you live in their shoes every day, you don’t.  The solution is to build the competencies in collaboration with those that are actually in the role and / or incorporate them in the review process.  

Do you have to include everyone?  Certainly not.  But select a handful of employees in the role that you’re building competencies for that are well respected by their peers. Include them and they will become your champions.  

Concern #2 - Defining the job to make it easier to micromanage them 

While competencies could make micromanagement easier, the purpose is actually the opposite.  The goal is to define and replicate the behaviors of the very best employees in a particular role so that they can be successful with less oversight.

To do this, “clarity” around expectations and “development” of their skills need to become the central themes in the narrative.  Depending on the current culture and quality of leadership, many employees will still have to see it to believe it.  That’s ok.  Just don’t give them more of a reason to doubt.   

Concern #3 - Defining the job so that it is easier to replace them

This one is probably the hardest concern to debunk, only because competencies do make it easier to replace poor performing employees.  This is because a well crafted competency model will accelerate the development of new or low skill employees.  

High performing employees will prefer to work with higher skilled team members and will often become much better at developing others through their use of the competency model.  Employees that don’t value higher skilled teammates or do not want to support the development of others, probably aren’t a good fit for your organization in the first place.  


To summarize, don’t dismiss the concerns of the rank and file of your workforce when implementing competencies.  Instead, address these concerns head on and use the opportunity to better explain the real value of this tool. 

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