Using the CPP to go Beyond Competency Frameworks

Have competency frameworks passed their sell by date? The past success of competency frameworks has derived from the simple and efficient way they translate business strategy into processes for selection, development and performance management. However, today most organisations operate in a far more complex, dynamic and uncertain environment than can be adequately addressed by a set of competencies. Instead organisations need people with a diverse range of talents, who are encouraged to behave authentically, and who can value and draw on the difference in others. Growth In 1973 McClelland published his seminal paper in the American Psychologist and started a powerful ‘competency movement’ which spread quickly through all industrial nations. Since then competency frameworks have played a crucial role in recruiting, managing and developing employees. Most frameworks include competencies such as creativity, strategic thinking, communication, influencing, enabling action, team working, delivering results, etc. In the late 1980’s there was a view that in order to respond to the increasing rate of change businesses could no longer select people based on static job descriptions, instead a more flexible and generic approach was needed. To enable this, a number of generic competency frameworks were created to ensure managers could develop the skills that could be transferred between jobs, departments and organisations. In the early 1990’s strategically aligned competencies became a foundation for selection, performance management, development, promotion and career management. This remains the most prevalent approach to talent management in use today. Decline In 2005 Hewitt Associates found that 73% of large companies used competency frameworks but many found that they failed to deliver their objectives. Further research has identified a number of key reasons for this failure including:     

Once created, competencies become out of date, misaligned with strategic needs, and restrict organisational learning. The competency approach is overly reductionist (breaking down the role into discrete components rather than representing it as an integrated whole). Competencies oversimplify the complexity of human personality, management and leadership. The competency approach overly assumes a generic set of capabilities no matter the situation, individuals, or task. Competency frameworks are viewed as unrealistic, requiring managers to be ‘ideal’ and demonstrate ability across a range of areas. This often results in managers feeling that they are unable to be authentic at work.

It is evident that whilst competency frameworks have been successful in the past they are not sufficiently meeting the needs of business today.

New Frontiers Clearly there is case to now look beyond competency frameworks to a new frontier that embraces diversity of talent, authenticity, and teamwork allowing the organisation to develop the agility and responsiveness required to be successful today. One such approach draws heavily on systems theory to identify different ‘work environments’. A pioneer in this new approach, Maretha Prinsloo, has built on the work of Elliot Jaques (Stratified Systems Theory) and Stafford Beer (Viable Systems Model) to identify five Work Environments, shown below, which each represent a link in the value chain from strategic idea through to the delivery to the customer. The strategic idea gains value as it progresses through the chain. This value is realised when the idea is delivered to the customers and meets their needs. Very different ways of thinking are required to be successful in each of the work environments.

When leaders operate in the environment most suited to their cognitive capabilities they are able to perform at their best and deliver the highest results. Prinsloo has developed a computerised simulation that profiles people’s cognitive capability. The ‘Cognitive Process Profile’ (CPP) matches people to their most suitable work environment. The tool essentially profiles people’s thinking processes as they use their judgement to solve problems in complex and unfamiliar environments. Through using the CPP businesses are able to select and develop people into roles according to their diverse individual capabilities. This enables diversity, authenticity and teamwork across the entire value chain, thus giving the business the agility required for sustainable success. Aligning leaders to their most suitable work environment is not the end of the story. Most leaders do not access their full cognitive abilities. This can be due to not trusting their own judgement, to past conditioning, or to becoming trapped by their habitual ways of behaving, etc. For more information on how leaders can be developed beyond a competency framework to enable them to realise their full potential please read our previous blogs ‘How Leaders Can Avoid the Expertise Trap’, ‘A Leader’s Journey’, ‘Mapping the Terrain for Leader Development’, and ‘Developing Leaders in the Workplace’. By Terry Sexton, business psychologist and founder of Creative Edge Consulting Ltd