Why have a competency framework

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We are supporting the introduction of a competency framework into one of our clients.  The HR department of the client is looking to us to assist them in explaing the benefits of a framework to the two MDs of the organisation.  Bowland Solutions‘ project with the client involves us in designing the framework before a likely implementation in a performance review.

I felt it would be beneficial to start with a discussion on where competency frameworks are used – as I begin to build the client presentation I will add more information in other posts.

Competency frameworks are an essential element of 360 degree appraisal and a regular part of a performance appraisal form.   In both cases they ensure the assessment is placed against a set of behaviours that are appropriate for that organisation.

Competeny framework’s are used less often, but just as effectively, as part of recruitment and promotion activity.  Indeed for one of our clients the competency assessment that is part of their performance appraisal system forms an essential part of the internal recruitment reports and training needs analysis that we run for them.

I also believe that the process of creating the framework has merit in itself.  To have an organisation discuss amongst itself the behaviours that are relevant to its success and the values that drive those behaviours is highly valuable.  Translating that framework into 360 degreee appraisals or performance reviews allows this conversation to be embedded within the organisation.


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Performance Reviews kept simple

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I recently read an article in ‘Human Resources’ magazine which highlighted the need for simplicity in creating HR processes, and most notably for myself, a simple employee performance review process.

Very often, we see unwieldy and lengthy performance appraisal forms which obscure what should be a valuable process for an employee, and a bearable one for the line manager.

Keeping the form simple in way which captures the key messages, rather than detailing every last comment on performance, will save the line manager’s energy for the important face-to-face appraisal meeting and the meaningful conversation that needs to happen.

Staying focused on acheivements, objectives going forward and any training needs will often suffice and ensure that the appraisal discussion has some latitude to explore these areas rather than have a series of sections with a granular level of detail simply agreed upon quickly in order to get through it all.


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360 degree appraisal and training

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Some articles appear to gain an odd level of prominence on the web.  A recent article in Personnel Today is a prime example.  The article has the rather long title “Introducing 360 degree appraisals requires HR to invest time and effort in training the right people to run it“.

Almost every blog or news alert I subscribe to refers to this article at present and it even appears at the top of google searches for “360 degree appraisal”!  I am of course contributing to this prominence now.

The article initially caught my eye because it refers to the ridler & co survey of trends in buying Executive Coaching 2007 that I referred to in my last post on Using 360 degree feedback to measure ROI in coaching.  The article is an excellent summary of the basics of training requirements around conducting 360 degree appraisal.  Although an advert (almost) for one of our competitors’  the article rightly emphasises the need for the people giving feedback to have training and support in how to deliver the feedback.

The article, as ever, skips lightly over budgetary considerations.  Having Bowland Solutions train your managers in how to give feedback comes at a cost. While we would argue that training the managers (or even better, having external coaches handle the debriefs) is the best method of ensuring the 360 is effective, we do offer alternative suggestions when the budget is tight.

Effective communication – through email, notices, intra-nets – works well.  Running large scale workshops for managers works very well at one of our clients.  The key message is “do something” to ensure that the manager has the best chance of giving effective feedback.


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Repeating a 360 degree appraisal

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About a year ago I wrote advising that my wife had recently used our self-administered 360 degree appraisal tool.  My wife own a nursery in Endon Staffordshire. She uses 360 degree feedback as a method of developing the management team at the nursery.

Having used the system last year, she was looking at a repeat 360 for the senior team.  She asked two excellent questions.

First, should she use the same competency set as last time (our 360 degree appraisal system lets you select the competency framework you want to use).  The second was should she select the same respondents this year.

For both questions there was a balance to be struck between consistency and appropriateness.  By selecting the same set of questions and the same set of respondents, she would get an excellent set of feedback to compare with last time.  Contrasting improvements would be easy.  However,  whether the same respondents were the most appropriate to give feedback and whether the same sets of competencies were most relevant was harder to assess.

She was looking to Bowland Solutions (through me!) to give their expertise.  Her question was framed as “what is best practice”.  Not for the first time when looking at 360 degree appraisal I found myself leaning harder on common sense than I was on a formulaic solution.  My response was a version of “do what feels right”.  And don’t feel obliged to have the same solution for all of the managers.

Changing competencies proved unnecessary – there was a very consistent requirement over the time period.  But some, not all, of the respondents did change.  It was better to get great feedback this time than it was to have a perfect comparison group.

Her team are now completing their 360 degree feedback for the second time.  I’ll be interested when the reports come through on whether the decisions reached were the correct ones.


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Using 360 degree feedback to measure ROI on coaching

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Nigel McEwen of Ridler & Co kindly provided us with a paper they had written and researched on Trends in Buying Executive Coaching.  The paper is excellently presented and contains many great insights into how people purchase coaching.

Toward the end of the paper they turn their attention to return on investment (ROI) in coaching.  The findings were that many clients were not measuring the return – trusting that not everything can be measured.  Of those that were measuring ROI, over 70% were using 360 degree appraisals as their chosen methodology.

We have used 360 appraisal ourselves as a method of considering the return on investment in training and coaching.  Indeed a 360 before training and then a further 360 after a 6 month period is an excellent way of determining how training has been embedded in an organisation or individual.

Bowland Solutions works with a number of coaches – independently or as associates – working with our own competency framework or theirs.  We would endorse the view that coaching is in general a good thing but we would also suggest that an objective measurement of its success makes both financial sense and allows the coachee to gain an excellent insight into their behavioural change.

Other measures of ROI?

  • Feedback from the coaches
  • Subjective analysis from the HR/Training department
  • Evaluation through provable financial measures

Finally, 2% of respondents said that return on investment – whether measured through 360 degree feedback or any other measure was irrelevant.

We have to thank Nigel and colleagues for producing this excellent report and we wholeheartedly recommend Nigel as a coach and person we can work with.

Brendan Walsh

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Competency assessment within the annual performance review

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I have referred previously to a number of Bowland Solutions‘ clients starting to introduce  competency assessments as part of their performance appraisal form. To support this trend we are currently looking to integrate a 360 degree view within our performance review software.

That allows the individual – or their manager – to gain a wider view of performance as part of the employee performance review.

I would be cautious though in describing this as a true 360 degree appraisal as its purpose is much narrower than that sort of feedback can deliver.  It does though offer a useful method of improving the effectiveness of the review.


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Elearning and On-line Feedback

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I attended the latest ‘Elearning Network’ conference on Friday (http://www.elearningnetwork.org) and it proved to be both enjoyable and very informative on the latest thinkings behind what is the state-of-play for web-based training & development.

What quickly became apparent were the parallels between solution providers in this sector of ‘Elearning’ and our own – most notable was their desire to engage with their prospective clients in a discussion that went beyond the simple provision of an on-line tool to provide a cost-effective way of training employees.

They wished to discuss the real business benefits with their client, to illustrate how elearning was a strategic decision for the client, not just an economic one.

We consistently say that it is the ‘human element’ of the performance appraisal process or 360 degree feedback process which is the most important – really understanding what it is you wish to achieve for the individual (which hopefully is better performance and targeted development) is crucial.

As soon as ‘doing’ elearning or appraisals is an exercise in utilising the latest software application, then we lose our ability to control IT as an ‘enabler’.


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What to look out for when setting up a 360 degree appraisal system

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The latter part of an article I read on 360 degree feedback draws out the potential pitfalls when setting up this form of performance appraisal.

It is a well written article and one that reflects our standard project process.  The key point I wanted to draw out was the use of training.

We recommend that a 360 degree appraisal is supported by trained people.  This may sound obvious and trite but there a lot of areas where training can assist.  Bowland Solutions‘  must successful implementations are where the raters, recipients, and debriefers all receive training on the role they have to play.  It is rare though that an organisation looks to train all of the 360 degree appraisal participants

With this training many of the classic concerns around 360 degree feedback are lost – and frankly this applies to performance review system implementations also.


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What is a performance appraisal?

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As we speak to many of our clients, there is very often a discussion around their current performance review form and whether it if ‘fit for purpose’.

They will sometimes be unsure of the form because they feel it doesn’t capture the information they need it to and ask if we have examples of other forms to show them.

However, it is very rare that we have to provide alternative examples, because instinctively they do know what their form should contain; they just need to remind themselves of the purpose of the appraisal.

It should review the current year objectives, because we need to ‘appraise’ performance against these objectives…did they complete the objective and to what degree?

It should reflect on whether they were any obstacles that may have contributed to a failure to meet objectives; systems, processes, organisational factors, etc

It should set the forthcoming year objectives, to provide clear direction going forward. These should be set against the usual criteria of being SMART where appropriate.

It should capture the agree training & development needs for the individual; this might be structured training programmes, coaching or on-the-job mentoring.

These are the key sections of a performance appraisal; it may be that career aspirations, competency assessment (as with 360 degree appraisal) and an overall performance grade are also added as the form evolves.

Notwithstanding all of this, it should be remembered that the form is a means to an end – it stimulates a meaningful conversation between an individual and their line manager.

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