News and Views

If it's October it must be Harrogate

The annual IPD Conference took place in Harrogate last month. Its proud boast is that it is the largest management conference in Europe. Therein lie both its attractions and its downside. Because of its revenues the conference can attract big name speakers, and has certainly beefed up its coverage of strategic business issues over the years. Recent conferences have included Gary Hamel, Sumantra Ghoshal, Arie de Geus, Dave Ulrich - the very names on the books on the airport bookshelves, the self-same content to be found in leading business school programmes.

For those who view conferences as a means of networking and usually find the coffee break more interesting than the session, IPD can be a disappointment. The conference takes place not just in the conference centre itself, but also in many of the surrounding hotels. Breaks between sessions are 30 minutes, but by the time you have grabbed a coffee and perhaps begun an interesting chat with someone, they, and you, have to scurry off in opposite directions, never to meet again.

For an occasional visitor, it can seem that everything happens in private gatherings. Many HR departments use it as their annual outing. Hotels seem to be booked up even before the conference programme is announced, and any one who thinks they can stroll through Harrogate and just find somewhere to eat could go very hungry. If you want to know what you missed you, there is some Conference news on the People Management site. Training Zone also has a discussion on the conference. But my tip of the month is to visit QED productions where tape recordings of main sessions can be had for just 8 each. (e.g. Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence) Tapes from previous conferences are also available.

Signs of the future for Business Schools?

Growing interest in Asia

I've recently been reviewing business school activities (more of this in next month's newsletter), including visiting Web sites and a couple of days spent at Insead. I was struck by how many schools are now offering programmes in Asia. Insead has gone a step further and has established an Asian campus with resident INSEAD faculty. The school is building on a long-standing interest in the region, evidenced by the foundation of its Euro-Asia Centre in 1980. The new Asian campus will be ready in October 2000, but a temporary campus is already open and offering programmes with a particular focus on Asia e.g. Human Resource Management in Asia.

However, the aim is also to support Insead's global capabilities by becoming 'One school on two campuses'. Already the International Executive Programme is available in modular form with two weeks at INSEAD and one week in Singapore, and from next year MBA students will have the opportunity to split their studies between the two campuses.

We have the technology!

UK Schools such as Herriott Watt and Henley have pioneered distance-learning MBAs. Now Wharton, in Philadelphia - consistently ranked among the leading schools worldwide - has launched Wharton Direct, offering technology-enabled Executive Education. It currently provides four programmes via this channel, each of which is structured in 2-3 hour sessions over several weeks. In 30 cities around the US, participants come together in a classroom, where a PC is available for each person. Interaction takes place with Wharton faculty, between participants locally and between participant groups nation-wide. It responds to the growing difficulty experienced in today's leaner organisations, of releasing executives for long periods. At the same time it gets around the problem of isolation experienced by many distance learners, by providing both electronic and face-to-face interaction, and the sort of networking possibilities offered by residential programmes.

* * * *  

Watch out for HBC's forthcoming article in Learning Buzz
"Learning Styles in Learning Design" (December 1).

The article discusses how learning designs can be successfully adapted to cater for the predominant learning style in an organisation. It draws on examples from two client organisations: a medium-sized disk-drive manufacturer and a global healthcare company.

Devil's Advocate:
Competencies in Selection, Appraisal and Development

In this first section of a two-part article I will review some purposes for which competency frameworks are used. The second part (next month) will discuss how competency frameworks are developed. These continue the 'Devil's Advocate' series begun in the October newsletter: Devil's Advocate: the perils and pitfalls of 360 degree appraisal. The purpose is not to discount or discredit these approaches, but to highlight some of the issues to think about when introducing them.

Competencies have been around since the 1970s, but interest in competency-based approaches has grown in recent years. At their best competency-based approaches provide:

  • A common and consistent language for discussing performance and potential
  • A means of matching people to work requirements and career opportunities
  • A way of mapping learning solutions to identified development needs
  • A framework for integrating Human Resource Development processes - assessment, selection, development centres, coaching, development planning, career development etc.

    Initially competencies were developed as a reliable means of predicting effective performance in a job. Hence, early applications of competencies were in the field of selection.
    However, these methods, especially Assessment Centres, are time consuming and require a considerable degree of skill. In the rush to adopt sophisticated selection processes, it is important not to ignore some basic criteria relating to knowledge and experience that are usually far easier to verify. They can offer a realistic set of pre-requisites for the role.
    In a recent assignment for a global Healthcare company, the task was to design a process to identify potential Country Managers. Although we had researched and developed a competency model, there were also clear requirements in terms of experience.
    For example, it was out of the question to appoint someone to what was fundamentally a Sales and Marketing role, who had no experience in either function, however well they stacked up against the competencies. We established some initial screening criteria, based on length and type of experience regarded as absolutely essential for the role. This narrowed the field of candidates for whom a more time-consuming assessment would be conducted.
    At the same time, the profile, including both the competencies and the pre-requisites, was widely circulated and used to inform career development discussions for those who aspired to a General Manager role.

    In some organisations competency assessment forms the basis for annual appraisal. Sometimes there is a separate Performance Appraisal that reviews performance against objectives. The principle behind this separation is usually the concern that staff will not be as open to feedback about development needs if their review is tied (as many performance reviews are) to pay increases, bonuses or promotion opportunities. Yet it is difficult to see how the two could be separate. If effective performance on the job can be achieved without high ratings against the competencies then either the competencies are irrelevant, the assessment process flawed or the performance criteria are too narrowly defined. For example they may include only the easily identifiable 'hard measures' of profit, sales, costs etc.
    A 'mixed' appraisal must also value the 'how'. This should mean that given two managers with identical bottom line results, the one who has achieved this whilst developing her people, building effective relationships and networks for the future and maintaining high standards of professional integrity should be rated (and rewarded) higher than a manager who has done none of these things. Unless they are linked to performance, and to reward, then competencies are likely to remain a 'wish list' - nice to have, but not critical to job or career success.

    Spencer and Spencer, in their book Competence at Work define a competency as 'a fairly deep and enduring part of a person's personality', which begs the question - if it is enduring, how can it be changed through development? This fairly 'hard-wired' characteristic of competencies is precisely what makes them so useful in selection - if they are hard to develop, then better select them in. 'You can teach a turkey to climb trees, but you're be better off hiring a a squirrel.'
    What has happened in fact is that competency models have strayed from this original behavioural definition, and now often include a mixed bag of behaviours, attitudes, skills, knowledge and even tasks. To my mind it is more helpful to acknowledge that competencies need to be supplemented by knowledge and skills when assessing development needs and solutions. In particular because the development options will be different in each case. Reading a book or attending a short workshop may be a perfectly adequate way of learning to read a balance sheet, but behaviour change is a slower, more organic process, unlikely to be encompassed within the timeframe of the annual development plan or to have a 'one-course-fix.'

    In summary

  • Competencies are a valuable addition to the HR repertoire, but experience, knowledge and skills still have their place. Don't 'force-fit' everything under the competency umbrella.
  • Unless HR professionals can demonstrate how competencies contribute to individual and corporate outcomes that are valued by the organisation, they will remain in the realm of worthy but woolly HR-speak.

    Published on HBC Web-site 11/1999

  • Back to Top

    Feedback on this site is welcome. Whether you have compliments, complaints, ideas or requests, simply type your comments into the feedback box and click SUBMIT. Thank you!

    Copyright (c) 1999-2002 Helen Bouchami Consulting. All rights reserved. Material on this site may be reproduced in any medium for non-commercial purposes provided that it is attributed to HBC, and this web-site address quoted.