Creating a high performance organisation

Building
successful employee profiles is a skill, Keith Rodgers reports

Even
HR directors at high-performing, leading-edge organisations tend to take a deep
breath when the subject of competency profiling crops up.

Widely
acknowledged as an effective tool both for individual employee appraisals and
enterprise-wide skills and gap analysis, competency management has one big
downside – it requires a large amount of relatively tedious preparation.
Although there are shortcuts, partly dictated by the kind of technology
platform users adopt, it does drain resources.

In
some respects, HR practitioners have only themselves to blame for the negative
image of competency profiling. There’s been a tendency in many organizations to
make the process over-complicated, losing the goodwill and much-needed support
of both managers and employees. Companies that have gone down the profiling
route, including US-based computer and services company Hewlett-Packard, insist
that simplicity is the key to success.

Core
capabilities

There
are several core requirements that underpin successful profiling:


Organisations need to build definitions of the skills required to fill key
roles. Generic in nature, these templates can subsequently be adjusted by line
managers to meet the specific requirements of the jobs within their division


Employees, working with their managers, need to build individual profiles
listing their own skillsets. These can be used both for immediate comparison
against the role profile, and also for mapping career development


The data should be stored centrally, allowing senior managers both to drill
down to specific cases, but also to aggregate information for strategic
planning purposes. An enterprise-wide set of competency profiles gives senior
management a deep insight into their human capital assets, the way those assets
are being deployed, urgent recruitment needs, and the organisation’s ability to
expand. As such, competency profiling should be seen in the context of the
overall business plan rather than purely as an HR exercise – it’s greatest
value is in the insight it gives into human capital management


The profiling system cannot be standalone – competency data is only valid if
it’s up-to-date, and the easiest way to keep it ‘live’ is to ensure that
relevant data automatically feeds into the core systems. That means that the
central database should be linked to other relevant applications, including
Learning Management Systems, which provide data on what training courses have
been completed by individuals


Competency profiling is closely connected to succession planning. If your
organisation plans to invest in one application, it makes a lot of sense to do
the second and integrate the two

Hewlett
Packard’s Competency Profiling

Although
competency profiling is still in its infancy at many organisations, Hewlett
Packard introduced its first exercise in the 1990s.

Driven
by the finance department, the objectives were slightly different from the
HR-led initiatives favoured today. In essence, the company was seeking to
establish where its headcount was deployed.

Each
employee was tagged in relation to their job function – such as engineering –
and their seniority within the organisational model. That allows the company to
carry out cost-based analysis in a number of different ways – ‘how many people
does it take for HP to build a PC?, ‘how many HR employees are assigned to that
business?, and so forth. From an analytical perspective, the company can look
at both high-level data, and target specific areas.

HP
more recently embarked on an HR-driven competency initiative, designed as both
an appraisal tool and an analytical platform to help business planning in areas
such as recruitment.

Taking
the top 10 per cent of the company by seniority, HP developed a set of broad,
generic profiles, designed to be applicable to every role within the
organisation. These macro templates were then adapted by managers to match
specific roles within their department.

The
aim was to develop a data set on each individual employee, drawn up by the
individual in conjunction with their manager, that lists their competency
strengths as well as areas that require development. In addition, managers are
asked to assess the next job opportunity for each employee, formalising the
career development process and helping with succession planning.

As
Steve Rice, director of HP’s HR Global Enterprise Programs and Technology
division, points out, the data can then be analysed from numerous perspectives,
giving the company an insight into the skills it has on board, its growth
potential and the career paths of its top performers.

“I’ve
seen data used as a way to drive faster decision-making,” he says. “It’s got
issues squarely on the table much faster than in the past, and people are much
more confident about the data. Years ago they would have said the data’s wrong
– now they take it at face value.”

Two
other developments at HP are relevant to the competency-profiling project.

First,
the company is looking at ways to link the profiling to its Learning Management
System, supplied by specialist e-learning provider Docent. Rice’s aim is to
build a single development platform for the company, and to customise the
application so it can analyse existing profiles and automatically recommend
specific development programmes. Many e-learning providers are now building
competency management functionality into their applications, and while take-up
is currently relatively low, organisations will increasingly look to blend
learning data with other skills profiling data.

Second,
HP’s competency project is part of a broader HRIT initiative, introduced two
years ago to web-enable the HR function and standardise its back-end
applications. It is now on the brink of completing the implementation of
Peoplesoft version 8, the latest release of the software supplier’s application
built on pure internet architecture. The roll-out, serving 90,000 employees, is
designed to give HR a single, consolidated view of its employee base, and to
have one standard means of interacting with employees.

“Our
strategy is that the HR function will deliver exclusively through the employee
portal,” says Rice. This web-based approach is critical to easing employee
involvement in areas such as competency management, allowing individual’s to
access relevant parts of the HR database and input their own information.

According
to Rice, some managers initially reacted negatively to the competency
programme, viewing it as yet more HR bureaucracy. Other business heads, by
contrast, have begun to drive the process through their entire organisation.
Acceptance is now widespread, influenced in part by the HR department’s
philosophy.

“Our
approach has been as simplistic and practical as possible – talking a common
language, not HR-ese,” says Rice.

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