Competencies are like Eggs

These are exciting times, competencies are coming back into fashion just like eggs did a few years ago. There was a time when eggs were seen as a very nutritious and useful ingredient and a must have for every kitchen. Competencies in the 80’s were like that. There were a range of models you could purchase, Psychologists would write you a competency framework specifically for your organisation and some companies created their own in house. Then eggs were supposedly found to cause cholestrol and were not good for you. Intake needed to be limited. Competencies seem to have gone that way with some people suggesting they have had their day and no-one uses them much these days.

Like eggs, competencies can be used on their own as the main ingredient and with a few herbs can be very delicious and filling. Competencies can be used for self-assessment and the behavioural understandings can increase self-awareness (known to be important for personal success) and good quality development plans.

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However, the real power of eggs, is that they bind other ingredients together, which is why even when they were vilified as bad for your health, no one could quite give them up. We can bake cakes without eggs, we can also do burgers without eggs, but they are not quite the same. Like eggs, competencies bind the people processes together powerfully. They create a common language of behaviour which connect the strategic capabilities of the organisation, to the acquisition plan, to the talent management plan, to learning and development, to recruitment, to onboarding, to succession planning and so on. If you need someone with capabilities in how to be creative then you have a standard way to describe creativity which goes through all processes. In many organisations it’s so embedded that people do not even know they are there. Where competencies are not used there is an opportunity to help bind and blend your people processes into a more coherent and consistent whole. It’s a single language for people to navigate through the organisation.

Beware though, just like eggs you need to know where your eggs come from, not all eggs are equal. And that is the same with competency frameworks. The best eggs are those from farms which are well established and consider the whole hens welfare – physical, mental and natural components. This is true of competencies – use well researched and maintained competencies with a full suite of support materials for development, recruitment and so on. My favourite is the Korn Ferry Leadership Architect™ Global Competencies Framework and for Eggs try the British Blacktail Eggs!

The ‘Spirit of Feedback’ Mindset

I read recently that most of us would like more feedback. According to Korn Ferry we do not believe we get enough feedback to support improvement in our job performance and our development. There is dissatisfaction with performance review processes which formalise the feedback process, in some cases to a tick box exercise.

According to Jennifer Garvey Berger this is not surprising. We are part of an evolutionary world which requires feedback to adapt to our new environments albeit very slowly, even millennia. So how can we get the feedback we want and need? How can we deliver the feedback our direct reports and colleagues want and need?

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It’s part of our DNA to seek out and learn from our environment. We also have an unconscious mind which seeks to protect us, to organise all the information bombarding us so we do not go crazy and to manage our emotions. The mind filters the information so we are not even aware of what we do not know or that there is anything else to know. What has this to do with feedback you ask? We need to consider our Mindset when giving and receiving feedback.

Mindset

There is lots of talk about mindsets at the moment, mainly about having development mindsets. I would suggest that this relates to feedback as well. What is our mindset at the moment we are planning to deliver the feedback? This will have a bearing on the how we deliver it. Also what is our mindset when we consider feedback in general? Many managers are nervous and anxious about giving feedback. This will influence the way in which it is delivered. If you wake up and are stressed and in a rush, then the feedback meeting will have some of that sense in it. How likely is it that we will feel rushed and stressed to complete lots of tasks in December as well as deliver the feedback? How many of you are looking forward to a good exploratory discussion with your direct report, where you will share the facts and discuss situations and impacts?

What is the mindset of the receiver? Do we know? What are they anticipating they will hear? We hear about the “no surprises” at year end and yet they still seem to happen.

We need an open mindset – when we are feeling calm and able to be open is the time to give feedback. We need to use our data, questions and listening.  We need our receivers to be in the same mindset or get them to the same mindset so they can be open to the conversation and information. Under threat our brain narrows down its perspectives. So if the person fears the feedback they are more likely to get defensive and not want to understand it. 

Data

We talk about being objective and yet it will always be a subjective process as the data collected by your brain has been filtered through your own experiences. You may have received input from others and they may have the same view. However, how open were you to other possibilities and explanations? Our brain is good at looking for what it expects to see and hear and very good at eliminating other so called irrelevant information. So it’s easy to find more convincing information. It seems pointless to look for what you did not know was missing. 

The receiver of feedback is also going through the same mental game. So we can understand how it’s easy to give a message which we think is clear and objective and yet it lands in a way we had not anticipated or does not land at all. I have heard managers complain that they have given the feedback multiple times and the receiver just does not hear it or do anything about it. Then when talking to the individual concerned they deny they were ever told such a thing. The data needs to be as specific and objective as possible – as if you were in a court of law or justifying results in a scientific paper.

How

There are various methods suggested for giving quality feedback. These include describing the situation, providing the data, the impact, consequences and results. I would suggest that whatever method you use the key is to use lots of questions and listening. This is not so you question cleverly so the person gives themselves the feedback you wanted them to say. This is questioning to really understand their view of the world and the data you have. Then listen to their answers for what is different and surprising. Explore those avenues and you will have a richer view and more likely get to a better result in working with the individual.

If the purpose of the feedback is to help people perform better and to grow and develop, then the only way to do that is to really communicate with them and to aim to get a better understanding of what constrains them. What is your intent in giving feedback – ah yes start with your own mindset…

For those interested the Simple Habits for Complex Times book by Jennifer Garvey Berger is worth a read.