Competency frameworks are bunkum

I mean, if you read no further, you would still understand the gist of this post.

In the interest of fairness, and for a bit of a debate, here’s all the good things about competency frameworks.

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4. They help establish consistent behaviours for everyone to be measured against.
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I’ve developed competency frameworks in my time. Spent months of my life that I’m never going to get back understanding corporate behaviours, job based behaviours, and how these might be translated into identifiable measurable things. Rolled out these frameworks to the workforce and spent time with managers helping them to understand how to use them.

You know who loved them? Technical experts. Why? Because it gave them a tool to be able to have those conversations which didn’t focus on a persons craft and were about their behaviours, or their attitude or their knowledge. It gave them a way to have good conversations because they didn’t know how to do that well.

You know who else loved them? All the suppliers and vendors who built their business on a competency framework that identifies x and helps improve performance by doing these sets of interventions. They’re a tangible product, some even have norm groups for some reason, and some are actually quite good.

But they’re the wrong solution to the problem.

The problem has always been how to help people at work talk well with each other. The biggest challenge and biggest opportunity for every team, for every manager, for every senior executive, for every comms team is how to communicate well.

No competency framework will fix that.

When you put a competency framework in place, you’re effectively restricting the clever people to conform to a set of agreed principles. You’re telling people they’re not allowed to think about their own behaviour at work because you’ve produced a manuscript of what that looks like. You’re reducing the whole of a persons being into a neat framework that everyone must and will conform to otherwise they’ll be in disciplinary procedures.

As L&Ders we need to be focused on improving dialogic skills. That’s how organisation development happens. That’s how engagement scores improve. That’s how retention happens. That’s how good recruitment happens. That’s how dealing with difficult behaviour happens. That’s how the world turns round.

L&D, Credibility and Knowledge

We have a tough old battle in L&D when it comes to establishing credibility. If you’re an internal practitioner, are you meant to be credible in L&D management, delivery, design, evaluation, or procurement? If you’re an external practitioner are you meant to be expert in certain topics, jack of all trades, or have had internal experience gone external? Mix into both of those, and what about skillsets around technology for learning, facilitation methodologies, creative thinking and other theories and models of personal development.

Sure there’s context wrapped around all of that too. What does the business need? Is the time right for it now? is L&D best placed to provide the solution? Does that person have the right skills?

For me, a constant challenge I place on myself is to be knowledgeable about a lot. I don’t want to be caught out with not knowing about certain parts of L&D because I didn’t bother taking the time to learn about them. There’s a lot to learn about the human condition, and it offers massive insight into human behaviour.

The fundamentals don’t change in the workplace. People are there to do a job. They want to be paid well. They want to feel good about what they do. They want to have some influence as to the outcome of what they’re doing. It’s the nuances that slide and slip between those factors that fascinate me.

But I have a belief, and one that I am very careful not to impose on others, that in order for me to have credibility I need to know what’s being said in this space. It means I come across information which resonates with me, that I am indifferent to, or that I have a firm view against.

Personally, I find doing this has made me fundamentally more liberal and inclusive in my thoughts and my practice. As I learn more about various models of human development, I learn that there is so very little that makes us different and yet so much that makes us unique. That’s truly humbling.

So we’re back at that challenge up above. What does it mean to be credible? Big question.

What is it that you think helps you be credible in your practice?

Is blogging a convenient distraction?

I’m troubled my friends. I’m troubled by the aspirations and ambitions of all us in the HR space writing about all these important things to make work better.

I’m troubled because I wonder if this is a convenience of distraction to life outside of our worlds.

Events in the Middle East are continuing to be troubled with violence on a scale many of us in the West will never comprehend. I am so ignorant of a lot of that, mostly because there is so much to understand about it all.

Big important issues like having a society where different walks of life are accepted and included remain one of the biggest challenges facing modern existence.

Yesterday, the NASA Twitter account tweeted the actual timeline of the Apollo 11 space flight to the Moon. Only 9 human beings have seen the Earth from that perspective. And we’re not likely to do that again until it becomes a commercial venture.

Children across the world continue to be victims of violence, abuse and all manners of manipulation. That continues to make me sad and helpless.

And maybe I’m talking about things so far out of my and our control that it doesn’t matter.

Maybe all we have the capacity for is to write about our working lives and organisational life.

Maybe we want to do more but don’t know how to support that.

Maybe all these things would be better if more people paid attention.

And maybe we’re all happy to just carry on with our lot and feel lucky of the life we lead away from all that.

I’m troubled. Yet here I go, about my day, about my life, resigned to what is.

Cultivating Positive Language

Last week at the Strategic HR Network OD Conference I had a good time delivering a workshop session on Positive Psychology at Work. I take the time to craft these sessions carefully and have fun with them. It’s important to me that in a setting like this, it’s not just the sage on the stage spouting wisdom after wisdom. I believe that I have some knowledge, but the learning happens at an individual level, so I need to build that in to the session.

I made a connection afterwards where someone asked me – how do I create a positive language about the work I do?

Man. That’s a hard question.

I have no secret to this, or even thought about what that development might look like. All I can do is reflect on my practise and what I do with it.

I guess the first thing for me is being self-aware of the language I’m currently using. It’s not just that I’m generally a positive person, or always willing to help someone see the best of a situation. There’s something more for me about expressing and articulating myself in a way which remains true to my belief. I believe everyone can be their best self, so I have to use a language which supports that belief. If I don’t then I am not being true to my own belief.

Which then means I need to slow down in my speech. Articulating my thoughts into a positive experience means I need to be mindful about the words I’m using, and mindful about what I want to express. So I take my time. There’s no rush. If I want this dialogue to be meaningful then I need to let my thoughts catch up to my mouth.

I don’t not say negative things, I just say more positive things. This isn’t some weird ass ratio thing I’ve got going on. I just don’t like saying negative things. I will when I need to. I’ll happily call a spade a spade if that’s what it is. I don’t deny reality, and I don’t shy away from difficult conversations. I’ll call out bad things when I see/hear them, and I’ll be right in there defending people if it’s appropriate to do so. And sometimes there’s a real need to explore something fully before you can move past it. Even in these moments, I’ll use words which may have a different focus if I think it’s useful. I get that wrong a lot, but I won’t stop trying.

It’s hard work talking positively. So sometimes I switch off. It doesn’t happen a lot in truth, but I can’t sustain talking positively all the time. Instead I’ll just choose to keep neutral. If I have nothing positive to say, I won’t be negative. I’ll just voice where I’m at, and let it be known that there’s no judgement to what I’m saying, but that’s where I’m thinking.

I didn’t start cultivating positive language because I am a student of positive psychology. I’ve been cultivating it for years. It’s partly why I enjoy corporate communications. Most messages can be written well, and written to have effect, while not being boring or staid. If that’s true, why not focus on that? So I find excuses to cultivate positive language in most areas of work I do. I was reflecting on my blog from the early days. It used to be a ranty blog, and although an outlet, didn’t help me be my best. When I started focusing on writing well, and writing for a variety of personal purposes, that’s when I started to enjoy it more.

So there you have it, I think.

Creativity is in the mind

Over the last few months I’ve been working with a colleague designing a document. The document, in and of itself, is boring. It’s going to essentially be a capability framework. It’s not exciting, and it’s not ground-breaking.

I am loving the project though. Not because of the time invested into the project, but because of the creative process we’ve been going through with the document.

See, it didn’t start off as a document. It started off as an idea.

We were given a brief on what needed to be done. That brief was clear, and the expected outcomes were clear too.

What we did when we came together was to bash around the brief together to see what we thought it needed to be. That’s where the fun started.

We didn’t just sit at a table and brainstorm ideas in a bullet point fashion on a sheet of A4.

We were walking around the room and being all animated with one another.

I was scribbling things on the whiteboard and illustrating things.

He was commenting and providing context and developing his thinking. He was getting all visual in his head about what it could be.

Then we went away and left it alone.

When we came back together, he showed me this document and said that’s what our session produced for him.

We started getting all excited about things again. More things were being drawn, graphs being created and ideas being had.

We’ve been steadily, and surely, iterating each round of the document, and it’s looking fab.

It’s going to be a capability framework. It’s boring. It’s mundane.

But it’s been fab fun.

The Curious Case of the Anonymous Tweeter

I am intrigued by Twitter users who choose to keep themselves anonymous, yet at the same time choose to interact with the community they affiliate with.

It’s an odd one in my mind.

You want to remain anonymous, yet take part in discussions with others.

You want to remain anonymous, yet write a blog and publish this in the social space.

You want to remain anonymous, yet follow others to see what they have to say.

These people are connecting, and they’re interacting, and they’re doing all these social things, but they’re just hiding behind a veil.

I understand the purpose of hiding if you’re afraid to out yourself. There’s something about self-preservation which many of us don’t want to jeopardise.

I understand literal veils. They have strong religious and cultural norms attached to them. They are meaningful and help people find self-identity.

I understand masks. They help people be someone they normally aren’t. Or they help people have fun.

Most of all, though, I’ve seen that eventually the veil gets removed and people out themselves. I’ve seen lots of people choose to keep ‘protected’ and then ‘out’ themselves.

So, I have some questions:

If you’re hiding, why are you hiding?

If you came out from hiding, what prompted that?

If you want to continue hiding, what’s driving that?

What makes a good pitch?

We’re about to hold an internal Dragon’s Den event at the organisation I’m currently working for and I’m seriously excited by what the prospect holds. It’s been a great exercise in seeking a different way to gain ideas from anyone in the organisation. The brief was simple enough – it needs to support one of our corporate goals. From a selection of ideas, 10 were selected and divvy’d up to work with a senior leader to help craft their idea to something worthy of investment.

I’ve been supporting the teams as they prepare for the pitch so that they can have a good chance of being successful. They were given some early parameters that they needed to bear in mind, prime being the pitch must be delivered in five minutes.

This was a great challenge for me. I want each of these ideas to be successful, and the ideas are all worthy of investment. This performance support has been all about the structure of the pitch. It’s different to presentation training as the focus isn’t on the personal delivery style of the teams. Sure it will make a difference to how engaged the Dragon’s are, but this is less about the presentation and more about the idea.

For a pitch to be successful the following has to be true.

The time is the most important factor

This is indisputable. You don’t go over the time. If you do, your whole pitch was a problem at the start. The time drives the pitch. This is singly the hardest and most important thing to get right.

The idea has to be conveyed in one statement

This has been one of the consistent bits of feedback I’ve been making every team work on. Where the pitch is only 5 mins long, the idea has to be captured in one statement. If you can’t explain the idea in that way, the whole pitch will be a ramble.

I’ve been ruthless about this with the teams. If I can’t clearly understand what the idea is in that one statement I’ve been relentless about getting it to that state.

Keep the numbers simple

A lot of the teams I worked with thought they need to get into the details of the investment they’re seeking, or showing ROI, or be clever about how it will be spent.

I’ve been telling everyone the details don’t matter. The numbers have to be as accurate as they can be, but all you need them to do is help tell the story. If the idea makes sense, then the investment makes sense. Simples.

Context and market research matter

Not as obvious as you might think. The context for the idea is hugely important. What else is happening in the marketplace? What are other organisations doing? What technology is available? What data is available? Why is that data relevant? Who wants the idea? What feedback have you had?

This can easily swallow up time. It’s a hard balance to strike between harping on about the need to make this happen, and giving brief information on relevance in the external market.

Timelines for delivery

Quite a few teams just hadn’t considered that this was important. Yes, the idea might be fabulous, and the investment makes sense, but are you realistic about the timescale of making this happen? Too soon and you’ll fail based on lack of planning. Too far and you’ll be told to come back when you have a clear plan of action.

Props help but not necessary

It’s a pitch and it’s all about the idea. Anything not part of the pitch is potentially a distraction. Clearly if the idea hinges on a product or demonstration, then this has to be well thought through in terms of the time that takes.

Demonstrating a product means the pitch hinges on the success of the product working. If it works, job done. If it doesn’t or if it delays the pitch, you’re eating into your own time.

The structure of the pitch will help you win

I’ve had all sorts of anxieties and nerves that people have been sharing and commenting on. My single piece of feedback to them all has been the same thing. Stick to the structure. Don’t detract from it. It’s only 5 mins and they’re the most precious 5 mins of your life at that moment. Let nothing else come into play. Keep to the script.

I’ve purposefully not included various other factors of successful pitching such as story-telling, such as delivery style, such as using visual aids because those things, although important, are unlikely to determine the success of the pitch.