Competencies: Management Funda; V4 Issue 4


Your HR department has published a competency manual comprising of competencies for various roles for your company. You have seen it. It looks nice and sounds ‘very important’. But you just cannot imagine how you are going to use it. Before you dismiss ‘Competencies’ as HR mumbo jumbo with no conceivable value to you do read this article. In this article an attempt has been made to familiarize you with some basic concepts related to ‘Competencies’.

What are Competencies?

A competency is an underlying characteristic of an individual ie., it is a fairly deep and enduring part of a person’s personality. It can predict behavior in a wide variety of situations and job tasks. What is important for you to understand is that a competency is related to effective/superior performance in a job.  This means if you know the competencies required for a role, you can select, develop and manage people based on an understanding of these competencies. Following are the 5 types of competency-characteristics:

  1. Motives: they “drive, direct and select” behavior toward certain actions or goals and away from others. E.g. Achievement-oriented people consistently set challenging goals for themselves.
  2. Traits: are physical characteristics and consistent responses to situations or information.  E.g. Good eyesight is a physical trait competency of combat pilots.
  3. Self-concept: a person’s attitudes, values, or self-image E.g. Self-confidence, a person’s belief that he/she can be effective in almost any situation is part of that person’s concept of self.
  4. Knowledge: information that a person has in specific content areas.  However, knowledge at best predicts what someone “can” do not what he/she “will” do E.g. A surgeon’s knowledge of nerves in the human body.
  5. Skill: the ability to perform a certain physical or mental task.  Mental or cognitive skill-competencies include analytical thinking (processing knowledge and data, determining cause and effect, organizing data and plans) and conceptual thinking (recognizing patterns in complex data).

As the figure above illustrates knowledge and skill competencies tend to be visible and relatively surface characteristics of people whereas self-concept, trait and motive competencies are more hidden, “deeper” and central in the personality. 

Competencies are contextual. They are related to the organization, the function, the role, the level and the timing. Hence competencies developed in one context cannot be generalized to another. A competency with the same name can mean different things in two different companies. 

Example of a Competency
Each Competency has a narrative definition with a few behavioural indicators ie., ways of demonstrating the competency in the job. Behavioural indicators indicate the existence of a competency in a person.

A competency manual contains the definitions of several competencies applicable to different roles in the organization. These competencies could be of different types. The combination of these types of competencies is called a competency framework. For instance in one of the companies in the auto sector there are 7 common competencies called leadership competencies applicable to all employee for e.g., Customer Focus, 1 competency applicable to auto sector viz., Auto Passion and 3 to 4 functional competencies applicable to each unique role for e.g., Business Planning. Thus a person has 11 to 12 competencies to focus on.

Utilizing Competencies

For starters you need to have a thorough understanding of the Competency framework in your company. Then understand the competencies relevant for your role and if relevant, for the roles that report into you. Based on this understanding you can be more effective in the following:-

  • Self Development: You can follow these steps for developing yourself using competencies.
    a. Recognize competency exists and is important to do job well
    b. Understand what the competency is and how to use it/ do it
    c. Get feedback on own level of competence vis-à-vis superior performer
    d. Practice in realistic simulations and get coaching feedback
    e. Set goals and develop action plans for how you are going to use new competency behaviors in real jobs.
    f. Get follow up support from mentors, managers, trainers.

  • Career Growth: Competencies can help you chart your career growth. Look at the competencies for the next level of role or roles that you are interested in taking up. Plan to demonstrate those competencies. Also work on developing those competencies.

  • Selection: When hiring, assess the competencies of the candidates vis-à-vis the competencies required by the role. Surface knowledge and skill competencies are relatively easy to develop. Hence it is more cost-effective to train employees in these and recruit people with the required core motive and trait competencies.

  • Performance Management: Competencies differentiate a superior performer from an average one especially in complex jobs and in higher level technical, managerial, professional jobs. So when trying to determine midyear course corrections during a performance cycle, consider assessing whether the lack of competencies is hampering performance.

  • Training/Development: You can facilitate the development of your subordinates by helping them follow the steps given for “Self Development”.


Competencies are not very easy to understand. But once we do understand them, it gives clarity on a lot of people issues and provides some very effective solutions to the challenges encountered in selecting, developing, and managing people. All the best for building competencies for yourself and your team members!


  • Spencer, L M and Spencer, S M , 1993, ‘Competency at Work, Models for Superior Performance’, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  • Rao, T.V, ‘Certificate Program in Competency Mapping’, T V Rao Learning Systems Pvt. Ltd.
  • ‘Workitect’s Competency Dictionary’

What is a Talent? : Activity Corner; V4 Issue 4

What is a Talent?

Any recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied is a talent. It is impossible to build strength without any underlying talent. Being able to identify your team member’s talent is critical to nurturing it. Read the statements given below that are related to “talent identification and management” and mark them as “True” or “False”.

  1. Nervousness cannot be really a talent for anybody.

  2. Spontaneous top-of-mind reactions to situations provide the best trace of a person’s talents.

  3. Yearnings (being drawn to some activity time and again) reveal the presence of a talent particularly when they are felt early in life.

  4. Sometimes a talent does not signal itself through yearning. Instead ‘Rapid learning’ offers the clue to the existence of a talent.

  5. Satisfactions (when he/she uses them he/she feels good) also provide a clue to a person’s talent. So if you feel good after shirking responsibility it is a talent.

  6. As a manager you need to treat each of your subordinate the same way when you are managing them.

  7. A weakness is an area where one lacks proficiency.

  8. One way to manage a team member’s weakness is by finding another person who is good at it who can give the required support in that area to the team member.


Score your responses by giving a point to every right response.

Spontaneous reactions, yearnings, rapid learning, and satisfactions will all help you detect the traces of your team members’ talents. All the best in identifying their talents and managing them for greater performance! To understand more about talents, read ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’.

Nurturing High Potential: Feature Article; 4 Issue 4

One thing was very clear to Narendra the HR head of an MNC, early in the induction training of the new batch of campus recruits. The energetic Simmy was different from the rest of her batch. Her questions to her trainers were never ending, she had a perfect score on all her training assessments and she had started quizzing Narendra on the interesting assignments that she could work on. Narendra wondered whether he had stumbled into a high potential employee and if yes how was he going to develop her talents. Today, most HR heads and CEOs are grappling with similar questions. Who are the high potentials in my organization? How do I nurture them to become the future leaders of the company? They realize that unless they answer these questions the very success of the organization in future could be at risk.

Who are High Potential Employees?

They are the “fast-track” employees, those who expect, and are expected to progress, speedily through the ranks. You would naturally assume that the high performing employees are also the high potential employees. But, an article in Harvard Business Review called “How to Keep Your Top Talent” (May 2010) states that “only about 30% of today’s high performers are, in fact, high potentials. The remaining 70% may have what it takes to win now, but lack some critical component for future success.” And the litmus tests for discerning which high performers are also your high potential employees, are as follows:

  1. Ability – They need to have the ability to not only do what they are doing now, but to take it to the next level.

  2. Engagement – They must have “commitment to the organization to be prudent bets for long-term success.”

  3. Aspiration – They must aspire to more senior-level roles and “choose to make the sacrifices required to attain and perform those high-level jobs”.

Gritzmacher (1989) outlined the following key characteristics of fast-trackers:

  1. A unique perception of their occupation: seeing their role as making their organization into a global leader in its field (and playing an active leadership role in that).

  2. A broad-thinking style: seeing wholes rather than job-bounded parts.

  3. Time-consciousness: a drive to achieve the most as soon as possible.

  4. Independence: a creative urge to add value to guidelines.

  5. High commitment: a belief that the organization would be diminished without them and a drive to enact that self-perceived importance constructively.

  6. High energy: the ability to get supranormal amounts of work done and cheerfully come back for more.

  7. A need for creativity and variety: need for new and testing challenges.

  8. A varying interest in teamwork: the labeling of fast-trackers as the favoured can make team interplay difficult; also the need to move ahead faster than the pack can make them impatient with others.

  9. Continual improvement: a hunger to challenge and improve whatever they are involved in.

Considering that the High potential employees are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, it is very important to ensure they are given effective development opportunities. 

Developing the High Potential

The process of developing high potentials in an organization starts with the identification of the high potential and then assessing them on their leadership talents. Once this is done most organizations develop their high potential employees by putting them on a development program and periodically reviewing their performance and development. Potential Development programs have a set of interventions and practices which enable organizations to identify high potential employees and help them achieve leadership positions in organizations.

Some Examples of Potential Development programs

The Tata Administrative Services (TAS)

To build a cadre of future leaders, Tata Sons, the group holding company has institutionalized The Tata Administrative Service program. TAS selects and trains talented postgraduates from India’s leading business schools and institutions to grow leaders who can lead the various group companies in the future. TAS trainees grow through a rigorous process of learning across group companies and have individual career maps charted out. The first year is dedicated towards group orientation and learning, termed as “GOAL”. It includes two weeks of intensive orientation about the group and opportunities to interact with the senior management of the Tata Group. Training provides exposure to various initiatives, various facilities and future plans of TATA. Challenging projects are assigned to each Trainee. Exceptional candidates are recognized for merit. After completing the GOAL, the recruit is given a posting which matches his/her choice and organizational requirements. TAS gives the recruits exposure across various functions, group companies and responsibilities. Management expects the TAS recruit to be in a senior management position within 10 to 12 years, where he/she will be having a strategic role and considerable external contacts.

Infosys Technologies Ltd

Infosys has set up the Infosys Leadership Institute (ILI) for identifying high performers and giving them opportunity in improving the performance of the organization as potential leaders of the organization. Candidates for the 3 year leadership program are chosen based on past performance and assessment of leadership potential. ILI interventions are based on a “Nine Pillar” leadership development model. The Nine interventions are as follows:-

  1. 360 degree feedbacks: Aligned towards leadership competencies, they help to evaluate employee on critical leadership competencies and in making the personal developmental plan.
  2. Developmental assignments: They help in gaining cross functional experience and developing practical leadership skills.
  3. Culture workshops: They make sure that the culture and values of the organization is well ingrained in the developing leaders.
  4. Developmental relationships: These are basically mentoring programs, which provide the candidate with a mentor viz., a leader of the organization. This helps in gaining considerable knowledge and experience sharing.
  5. Leadership skills training: This focuses on imparting organizationally relevant leadership skills by veteran leaders of the organization. This also ensures top management commitment for developing future leaders.
  6. Feedback intensive programs: They are behavioural interventions based on informal and formal feedbacks from the experiences that the candidate has from the individuals with whom he/she interfaces.
  7. System process learning: This aims at giving a holistic picture about the organization as one system and sensitises about improving the system as a whole.
  8. Action learning: This provides opportunities for hands on experience in improving relevant and live organizational problems.
  9. Community empathy: In tune with the basic organizational value of giving it’s due to the society, the leadership program needs candidates to enroll for community development programs.


In Wipro’s “Life Cycle Stage Development Program” employees identified as potential leaders are given training according to their level in the organization.

  1. The Entry level program aims at building leadership capabilities in entry level employees with high potential.
  2. The New Leader’s program is for building young professionals into people leaders of the future.
  3. Wipro Leaders program targets high performers in the middle level of the organization. They also have the added responsibility of building leaders from the bottom.
  4. The Business Leader’s program aims at building competencies of the employees who have potential of building/ managing business units. Here the impetus is on providing competencies for revenue generation and business management.
  5. The Strategic Leader’s program’ aims at building top management leaders for future.

Wipro ties up with best known business schools to impart some of the critical skills. The focus is on strategic thinking, global focus, vision and building star performers. Wipro’s leadership development is based on their vision of having leadership in terms of business, customer, people and brand. Wipro has identified competency based leadership qualities. The critical competencies have been identified based on rigorous interviews, focused groups and critical incidents. The competencies required for top management, senior management and middle management are continuously identified and assessed across teams. 360 degree feedback is used to assess the leaders on the basis of Wipro Leadership Qualities. Based on the feedback, Wipro identifies the areas for development in each of the individuals. Training programs are organized and the leader is asked to formulate his/her plan for development. Leadership development at Wipro has high degree of support from the top management. Even the CEO, Mr Azim Premji participates in the leadership development activities.

Features of Potential Development Programs

There are some common features of organizations with best practices in nurturing high potential employees. They are listed below.

  1. Top management support: At ‘best practices’ organizations namely General Electric, Motorola, Pepsico, Federal Express and Johnson & Johnson, there is high degree of top management commitment especially the CEO, for leadership development.

  2. Linkage with the strategic necessity of the company: This factor determines how much leadership development is in tune with the organizational needs.

  3. Established processes for selecting the best talent as future leaders: A combination of past performance, credentials in terms of qualification and assessment of competencies through various methods like 360 degree feedback or assessment centers are used for a fair selection of high potential team members.

  4. Regular Talent Reviews are conducted: CEOs drive Talent reviews with the same rigour as Business reviews. In Talent reviews high potential performers are tracked and succession plans built around them. CEOs consider this as their key responsibility and personally execute the plans.

  5. Direct linkage of Leadership development with the values and culture of the organization: Leadership development programs consider the imbibing of culture and value as an important element.

  6. Use of internal resources: For instance senior leaders of the organization participate as mentors/coaches for the new candidates.

  7. Periodic educational experiences for candidates: There is institutionalization of a program of educational courses through colleges, management institutes and trade organizations. The chosen candidates for leadership development are given higher developmental opportunities and career enhancement advice. Executive coaching has proven to be a powerful tool in developing leadership competencies for the future. Recent studies indicate an ROI on executive coaching to be six times the cost of the coaching costs.

  8. Defined leadership competencies: Organizations have their own established leadership competencies which are linked to the culture and business environment. For example, the competencies identified for top management at Wipro are customer orientation, strategic thinking, problem solving, self confidence, global thinking and acting, commitment to excellence, aggressive commitments and building star performers and teams.

  9. Establishment of corporate universities (CUs) or leadership institutes: CUs like the Crontonville of GE have institutionalized processes which help in identifying the organizational leadership talent, which conforms to the needs and culture of the organization. CUs deliver training and interventions, which align leadership talent closely with the organizational strategic initiatives. CUs are utilized to have a focused approached towards identifying leaders and giving them specialized and customized training.

  10. Personalized and formal development plans and defined career paths for the candidates: Specific strengths and weaknesses of each of the candidates are identified and development plans are made. Identified high performers are tracked and reviewed even after the specific programs to understand their advancement in terms of career. Candidates typically are provided with a career path which include:-
    1. Exposure to experiential learning: This teaches them the much needed organizationally relevant business skills.

    2. Cross functional Training: Experience in more than one specialization is ensured through job rotation etc.

    3. Opportunities to take significant risks and full responsibility: Many organizations test their high potentials by identifying risky and challenging positions and putting their rising stars in these positions to see who can meet the challenge. Candidates are given real opportunities to contribute to the really significant heartbeat issues of the organization including the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.



One of the challenges that have to be dealt with while managing the development of future leaders is the possible dip in motivation of employees who are not high potential employees. While some of them may leave on account of this, most can be retained by ensuring fairness. Transparency in the process of identification of high potentials and communication of the same is essential for establishing this fairness. It is also important that there are adequate development opportunities for all employees so that every employee can develop and reach their potential.


The Greatness Guide: Book Review; Jun'07

Title: The Greatness Guide
Author: Robin Sharma
Publication details: Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai, April 2006
Number of pages: 240 pages

Do you want to craft an extraordinary life for yourself? Then ‘The Greatness Guide’ is what you maybe looking for. Robin Sharma, the author of international bestseller ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ and one of the world’s top success coaches, in his book ‘The Greatness Guide’ brings together 101 powerful ideas for meeting your highest potential and living a great life.  If you liked Robin Sharma’s other best sellers you will like this book too. I did.

The Greatness Guide has something for everybody - salesmen, CEOs, managers, professionals and even parents. There are several relevant chapters for achieving success at today’s workplaces that will appeal to readers at every level of their careers. There are tactics for achieving peak performance, potent ideas for motivating employees and growing leaders, specific strategies for customer satisfaction and for turning setbacks into opportunities and a whole lot of other stuff. For example in his chapter ‘Sell Your Desk’, he advocates getting out of the office to become a better performer in business.

It is packed with unique suggestions for improving personal effectiveness, being happy and getting more from life. For instance in his chapter ‘Speak like a Superstar’, he says, “Articulate a series of spectacularly positive words…words that you imagine a superstar in your field using…You will discover that speaking these words will make you feel…more passionate. And when you feel great feelings, guess what? You will do great things.”   

Robin Sharma provides several practical suggestions - create personal best practices like repeating success statements throughout the day; commit to surroundings being first class thus feeling like extraordinary before becoming extraordinary; use positive reference points to pull you into new way of seeing things; read books by people you respect to allow some of their brilliance to rub off on you etc.

While a lot of Robin Sharma’s ideas like celebrating one’s blessings or listening twice as much as speaking, are not new, he breathes certain freshness into them. While talking about life’s best pleasures being simple ones he says “Enrich your life with more of them and your heart will be happy. And you can start with sweet breezes.” Or look at the way he highlights the need to schedule things you really want to do in your life. He says, “You can argue that self-development is an essential pursuit to you…Show me your schedule and I’ll discover the truth. Because your schedule doesn't lie.”

From his opening disclaimer “I am no guru” to the very end, challenging us to claim our greatness, Robin speaks from the heart and does not fail to inspire. In the chapter ‘Be wildly enthusiastic’ he says, “I’ll be the first one to agree what you can’t control what happens to you each day. But with abundance of enthusiasm, I have no doubt that whatever the coming hours bring, you will handle them with grace, strength and a smile.” The book makes me want to be first class in my work as well as my personal life and more importantly Robin gives me the confidence that I can.

His use of simple language, catchy titles, short (2 page) chapters and anecdotal style makes it easy and enjoyable reading. Sure, one can finish it in one sitting. But to get the most from the book, read it slowly, taking the time to savor and reflect upon each idea. And like all self help books unless the chapters are reread and the ideas refreshed regularly and applied, the insights may be forgotten. All in all ‘The Greatness Guide’ is an excellent resource for achieving personal and professional mastery!