When it comes to core competencies, actions speak louder than words

by Jamie Resker | Posted | Communication

When it comes to core competencies, actions speak louder than words

If you manage people you know you should deliver direct and timely performance feedback. Yet most of us avoid this seemingly basic responsibility especially if the issue relates to behavior.

And if the individual in question gets results in spite of her disruptive behavior it can be even more challenging because technically the job is getting done.

Job responsibilities, skills and goals are easier to talk about and you likely talk about these things day-in and-day-out.

The real challenge for managers is in the effective handling of behavior issues that don't align to your organization's core competencies and values. These issues can include things like:

  • Chronic complaining
  • Negative body language such as eye-rolling
  • Sighing and other audible signs that show annoyance
  • Stealing credit from others
  • Interrupting others
  • Making disparaging remarks about others, the company or just in general being negative
  • Handing off incomplete work and expecting others to finish it
  • Curtly dismissing the ideas of others
  • A tone and approach that communicates, "I'd rather be anywhere but here!"
  • Unwillingness to build on the work of others and instead reinventing everything
  • Has an "I'll try but I know it won't work" tone and approach

And the list goes on... Looking at this list, anyone in your organization coming to mind? Wait, don't answer that question out loud.

Core competencies matter

Do you even have the right to bring up some of the above behaviors your employees may be exhibiting? Will the person on the receiving end of your well-meaning feedback become angry, make excuses, deflect, defend and respond with something such as, "Well, the work is getting done, does it really matter how I interact with the back-office staff?"

Yikes. Now what?

Effectively verbalizing feedback about these kinds of behaviors is difficult...unless your organization has a competency model or some mechanism that spells out values and expectations.

These expectations describe the behaviors the organization believes all employees should walk through the door with. Things like teamwork and collaboration, communication, accountability, results orientation, etc. These are your core competencies. And they matter.

Core competencies should be described in a memorable way

Often these competencies are buried in the performance review and only see the light of day during the annual performance review.

If this is the case then it's likely that most people in your organization can't even name them. Heck, I've met HR folks who, when called upon to name the 6 - 8 core competencies of their organization (as a rule of thumb there should be no more than eight), have to strain their brains to recollect them all.

Competencies should be described in a memorable way, with words that are meaningful; they should be provided in plain-speak versus HR or business jargon.

Here are a few of my favorites because the words paint the picture of expected behavior :

Organization Competency Definition Why I This!
NetScout Systems Inc. "Glad to be here" Employees are expected to "tune in" for work, display enthusiasm and continuously reach higher. Speaks to the person who complains just for the sake of complaining; who sabotages and stirs the pot because he can.Demonstrates an expectation that all employees should actively contribute to a positive work environment.
Innoveer Solutions "We don't hire jerks" We all spend too much time at our jobs to work with unpleasant, rude or obnoxious people. That's one of the reasons why Inoveer has a 'no jerk' policy. Demeaning and toxic behavior isn't tolerated no matter how impressive your performance is.
Google "Don't be evil" Google's "Don't be Evil" mantra is put into practice with their Code of Conduct which covers everything from insider trading to trust and mutual respect among employees. All Googlers are expected to be guided by both the letter and the spirit of this Code.
Rockland Trust "Where each relationship matters" Building relationships is a promise carried out through the stated values of Teamwork, Inclusion, Responsibility, Ethical Behavior and Building Enduring Relationships. Communicates that relationships with colleagues, customers, managers, vendors, etc. are all deserving and valued.

Developing your core competencies and values is the easy part

The key to ensuring that your core competencies help align your workforce and develop a strong culture lies in communicating their meaning and importance (over and over again), reinforcing them through training and coaching, and most importantly by holding your employees accountable.

Take Rockland Trust. According to Michael Shipman, the organization's VP of Talent and Organizational Development, cultivating a culture "where each relationship matters" hasn't been accidental.

"With over 77 locations and a steady stream of acquisitions, we use every opportunity to get everyone to really live by this promise."

Shipman chalks up Rockland Trust's success to some key ingredients:

1. Clear Communication: Put the expectations in front of people. As Shipman says, "You can't go to a meeting with Chris Oddleifson, President and Chief Executive Officer, without hearing about the Rockland Trust promise."

2. Hire and Retain Motivated Team Members: The people who are successful in your organization have to want to live the promises versus grudgingly comply with it.

3. Provide Support and Resources: This includes coaching, training, performance feedback and thoughtful performance evaluations that provide context about these competencies.

4. Hold People Accountable:

  • Recognize and reward great performance.
  • Identify when coaching conversations and training support is required.
  • Isolate cases where someone shows a lack of drive and unwillingness to "live the promise." As Shipman says, "We get that some people aren't committed to living the promise and we wholeheartedly invite them to take their talents elsewhere."

Support the success of your organization

This is powerful stuff. Competencies help define your culture and establish your competitive differentiators. A thoughtful and clearly defined short-list of core competencies allows everyone to show appreciation for performance and behaviors that support the success of the organization.

When a conversation about off-target performance needs to be initiated consider whether the issue at hand ties into a core competency or value, and what guidance and training can be used to steer the employee back on track.

Example: It can be powerful to anchor your feedback alongside one of your organization's competencies. At Rockland Trust, feedback from a manager to an employee might sound something like:

"We're a place where each relationship matters and you've built solid relationships with your clients. Your next focus is to build positive and respectful work relationships with the back office staff. Let's discuss strategies around this."

Your turn: What core competencies does your organization value? How do you communicate and reinforce their importance to employees?

Related reading:
For more on creating a high-performance workforce read How leaders can impact organizational cultures with their actions and behaviors.

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