Building on vision and values

Siemens Shared Services has developed a competency framework as the basis for staff development. Here we look at how job families and some 150 job descriptions, were refined and implemented

1999, several disparate Siemens corporate functions were amalgamated to form Siemens Shared Services. SSS operates as a profit centre and provides a wide portfolio of non-core services, including HR, accounting and logistics. By continually focusing on improving efficiency, quality of service and cost minimisation, SSS delivers world-class solutions to both internal and external customers, allowing them to focus on their core services.

When it united more than 150 very different job descriptions under the umbrella of a ‘competency framework’, the HR department at SSS faced a major challenge. HR officer Claire Bray explains: “There was no existing culture to bring the different and previously autonomous components of SSS together. However, we did have a foundation, in the form of the newly-created Vision and Values, so we took the keywords from that and developed a series of competencies.”

These are:

  • continuous improvement

  • enthusiasm and self-motivation

  • flexibility

  • creativity and innovation

  • customer focus

  • empowerment, delegation and coaching

  • decision-making and problem-solving

  • communication.

SSS uses an employee appraisal process called the ‘staff dialogue’ to evaluate individual performance. The results of the 2001 Employee Opinion Survey clearly indicated that many employees didn’t find the process worthwhile and even revealed that some employees had never been appraised before.

As in many organisations, objectives set at the time of appraisal might not be looked at until reviews began the following year. In addition, the objectives set were not always properly defined. Feedback also highlighted that employees felt the process was rather one-sided.

Bray points out that the appraisal process had deliberately been called a ‘dialogue’ to indicate that it should involve genuine two-way communication.

“It is actually the individual who owns the staff dialogue, not the manager, who is there primarily to facilitate it, and coach and mentor the employees for whom he or she is responsible. We wanted to give both managers and employees the tools they needed to prepare themselves for the staff dialogues, and therefore get the most out of them, as objectively as possible.”


With the competencies now defined, it was possible to link them to jobs. To simplify the task, the jobs were allocated to job families, within which most jobholders could see a career development path upwards and thence across into other families, if the right competency levels were in place.

Five job families were created:

  • Secretarial – supporting the work of one or more managers or specialists

  • Operative – dealing with physical resources, such as inventory

  • Administration – processing paper and/or electronic transactions

  • Managerial – managing the resources of the organisation to achieve business goals

  • Specialist – providing advice and/or a service that draws upon expertise in a professional field.

“We involved jobholders in the process of defining the job families, because we wanted to ensure that introducing a competency framework got their buy-in and made sense to them,” says Bray. “Each job family contains a career development path, with differing levels for each of the behavioural competencies. Thus an assistant controller only requires to achieve level 2 in communication, for instance, while a manager must reach level 4.

The career progression diagram shows how jobholders can see a career development route.

When it came to the actual job descriptions, Bray and her colleagues faced another challenge.

“We had a look at all the draft job descriptions and realised not everybody had one,” she says. “If they did, sometimes there were several for the same job; or there was no consistency in the way they were written and formatted – and consistency is one of our core values. So, while tidying up the job descriptions, we incorporated the various technical and behavioural competencies into them.”

At this point, Bray and her colleagues started to realise just how much work was going to be involved and, more importantly, that they didn’t have the necessary expertise within their department. She chose to work with training and recruitment consultancy Masterclass.

A designated consultant began her role in the project began with running some of the employee workshops, to agree the job families and link the competency framework levels to them.

“As the workshops progressed, I was able to take over and run them myself,” says Bray. “This was fortunate, because we felt the original competency framework, devised before the consultant joined the project, wasn’t really working.

“Given the consultant’s expertise, it made sense for her to spend time reviewing and redrafting the competency framework. We’ve always had the eight competencies and we’ve always had five levels, but the way in which the levels are defined has changed.

“The consultant did an excellent job and made it look very easy,” says Bray, “turning the whole thing around within a day and a half – something that would have taken us far longer. And being an outsider she took the politics out of it.”

The consultant made several other major contributions to the project, particularly the massive job of reworking the 150 job descriptions to harmonise them across the company. She also put together an online tool for managers – a ‘build-a-job description kit’ – that provides templates from which to work, and access to similar job descriptions. This allows new jobs, that are not directly comparable, to be accommodated within the job families and the competency framework.

Bray emphasises the importance of the buy-in and support of SSS managing director Juergen Maier, and the senior management, to the success of the staff dialogue process:

“If we developed something that didn’t have the support of our managing director or heads of business, it would not ultimately succeed. Juergen Maier therefore tasks the heads of business to put certain metrics on their own balance scorecards. He will then have regular operational review meetings to see how the businesses are performing against the scorecards.

“The scorecards are broken down into the four quadrants of customers, process, finance and employees. Within the employees’ quadrant, heads of business have to report on how many staff dialogues have been completed and how many actions have been completed against set objectives,” she says. “This is powerful, because it ensures that the staff dialogues are living documents and not just pulled out once a year.

“If a head of business can only report 40 per cent completion of the staff dialogues, then it’s going be very visible, both to peers and to the MD.”

“We have put together a list of in-house and e-learning courses, books and activities that employees can use to develop themselves in a specific competency, which is an element of the balance scorecard,” says Bray. “It’s been received very well, and from the completed staff dialogues I’ve seen, it is a vast improvement. This is because the dialogue has incorporated not only the behavioural competencies, but also the employee’s own evaluation of which levels have been achieved, together with supporting evidence.”

Staff dialogue

Completed staff dialogue forms are now automatically uploaded into the HR database, eliminating manual input.

A management report to which the staff dialogues upload has also been created, so all a manager has to do is press an upload button and select the required dialogues. The report clearly shows where people are performing, where are the biggest gaps, who’s exceeding required performance and what can be done to develop them further and help retain them.

It also provides a training needs analysis, highlighting any areas of concern, particularly which employees have the biggest gaps in their performance and why, and what can be done to help them.

“I’m looking forward to the next employee opinion survey in August 2004, particularly to find out whether people now feel, as a result of taking part in the new staff dialogues, that it is a more worthwhile process,” says Bray. “Feedback already suggests that they do, so we’re confident the project has been a great success.”

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