Competency-Based HR Practices
For many years, training and development programs have focused on the development of employee skills and abilities associated with specific
competencies and competency models. Job competencies are the one unifying element from which most every aspect of one’s job is determined,
including recruitment and testing strategies, internal and market compensation comparisons, professional growth and development plans, and
other related human resources practices. Competency and competency-based models serve as a means to identify behaviors that are essential
to superior job performance.
Whether developed for an eyecare practice, or one specific department, or for specific jobs such as supervisors, managers or front-office staff,
it is clear why competency-based practices have provided the impetus for some ECPs to “raise the bar” of performance excellence.
As well, ECP owners and managers who utilize competency-based practices have found this approach as a good way to motivate and manage employees
in a new environment characterized by:
- Greater focus on patient satisfaction and retention
- Increased demands on staff to acquire and demonstrate new skills and abilities
- Increased focus on teamwork
- Greater focus on the entire ECP staff as a source of competitive advantage
For many owners and managers who utilize competencies and competency-based practices, the following improvements have been highlighted:
- They have clearly improved individual and group performance. Because competencies are based on the behaviors that distinguish excellent
performers, the goals set for individuals are higher than before. This, in turn, has the effect of increasing everyone’s performance level.
- It has helped better align individual behavior with identified ECP business objectives. Equally important, this linkage is viewed by
staff as valuable to their role within the practice and their professional growth.
- A new, clearer measure of success has been defined. Competencies now provide a new way to measure success for the practice, stepping away
from job title inflation and multiple job levels. Competencies can more accurately determine individual growth and performance success.
- Competency and competency models have provided a new, fresh employee perspective based on a greater desire to learn and develop.
Competencies help define a path for success, provide a clearer idea of requirements for development, and provide a linkage between competency
acquisition, job performance, and pay determination.
Given the initial successes experienced by ECPs using competency and competency-based models, it is clear this is one program which has added
value to the entire practice. And in an increasingly competitive business environment, it has provided a new dimension for ECPs and their staff
to understand patient requirements. It may be just the additional competitive advantage you have been looking for—with employees and with patients.
The Turnover-Pay Connection
has been losing staff due to our low pay. We do not have the budget now to alleviate this problem. Our owner requires that I come up with
creative ways to improve our retention. Should I start by conducting a survey of employees to find out which strategies might work?
Or should I just hang in there and hope the situation improves?
is an overused excuse for turnover. It is rare that money alone causes the typical employee to leave. Most employees would willingly take a little
less money than they could make somewhere else if they find other things they value more in their work environment—challenge, developmental
opportunities, friendships with peers and supervisors, respect, flexibility, appreciation and other real benefits.
Even in cases where employees are happy with the job, knowing that they are paid significantly below market can cause hard feelings and lead
to turnover. Money is a natural and fundamental concern. As such, it often deserves serious, albeit painful, consideration and action by even the
most cash-strapped organization.
Before you spend a penny on additional salary, benefits or other programs, it is important to find out specifically what is broken in your
relationship with employees. If you don’t do this, you risk fixing the wrong things and wasting precious money, time, effort and goodwill.
Here are a few data-gathering techniques that have worked well:
- Exit interviews
Find out what leads your employees to read want ads or accept a call from a recruiter in the first place. Another is “What things,
if changed, would have prevented you from considering another job?”
An active and patient listener will glean a lot of good information
from these questions.
- Focus groups and surveys
There are a number of employee-opinion survey products commercially available. Employees often feel that outsiders will keep their input
more confidential and are less likely to have their feelings hurt by the results of focus groups than will company personnel. Focus groups
and surveys done by outside consultants tend to get more forthright answers than those done by practice staff.
- Retention interviews
Identify the employees you really need to keep. Sit down with them and discuss the practice, their personal satisfaction, ideas to make their
job even better than it is, and related topics.
Showing your interest is often rewarded with additional commitment and longevity.
One word of caution for all of these techniques: Don’t use them if you aren’t willing to listen to what people think. More importantly, if you
are not willing to consider making changes, you are well advised not to ask.
Richard D. Galbreath, Performance Growth Partners Inc., Bloomington, Ill.
For over 10 years, Hedley lawson has been a contributing editor to VM, most recently as writer of the monthly column “Business Essentials.”
He is the Contributing Editor of VM's E-Newsletter Business Essentials. Contact
Business Essentials with questions or comments.
Easy-reference to Web resources about human resource policies and rules
The Healthy Families Act
Emergency Influenza Containment Act (H.R. 3991)
Richard D. Galbreath, Performance Growth Partners Inc., Bloomington, Ill.
Starting the New Year Out Right
With the start of a New Year,
it’s an opportune time to take a moment to revisit your personal commitment and management style by looking to a few time-tested management principals to improve the success of your practice:
- Create buy-in for change.
Change is fundamental to sustaining and growing your practice. It requires a transition from status quo to open-mindedness.
- Drive out resistance to change while building trust.
Today’s owners and managers are charged with the delicate task of creating work environments that promote trust, and open and honest communication.
Trust is an essential ingredient to any healthy organization.
- Lift the attitudes of your team.
Successful management styles always seek to motivate and elevate the attitude of the team. Expressing gratitude for exceptional customer service, efforts that build the practice, and improve teamwork all serve to create a work environment of enthusiasm, ‘can-do’ behavior, and employee retention in your practice.
- Unleash people’s energy, creativity and spirit.
This simple “back to basics” approach builds trust quickly, and builds job satisfaction at the same time.
- Instill continuous improvement as a way of life.
Every patient visit, every purchase, and daily business transaction should be reviewed with one key question: How can I
improve upon my skills, abilities and customer service? And finally, how can I improve myself and, in turn, upgrade our practice.
Ten Commandments of Recognition
Bob Nelson, PhD and president of Nelson Motivation, believes that today’s workforce may be more motivated by a personal thank-you than a pay
raise. Here, he shares his top 10 ways (in order of priority) to motivate employees:
- Personally thank employees for doing a good job. Thank them face-to-face, in writing, or both. Do it early, often, and sincerely.
- Take the time to meet with and listen to employees—as much as they need or want.
- Provide specific feedback about performance of the person, the department, and the organization.
- Strive to create a work environment that is open, trusting, and fun. Encourage new ideas and initiative.
- Provide information on how the company makes and loses money, upcoming products and strategies for competing in the marketplace,
and how the person fits into the overall plan.
- Involve employees in decisions, especially as those decisions affect them.
- Provide employees with a sense of ownership in their work and work environment.
- Recognize, reward, and promote people according to their performance; deal with low and marginal performers so that they either improve or
- Give people a chance to grow and learn new skills; show them how you can help them meet their goals within the context of the
organization’s goals. Create partnerships with employees.
- Celebrate successes of the company, of the department, and of individuals. Take time for team- and morale-building meetings and
Paid Sick Leave Discussion Continues on Capitol Hill
Congress continued gathering information on proposals for mandatory paid sick leave, hearing more testimony from an employer arguing against
federally required paid leave and public health and family-oriented organizations urging Congress to pass legislation quickly.
are two pieces of proposed legislation before Congress:
The Healthy Families Act
(S.1152), which would require businesses with more than 15 employees
to provide workers with up to seven paid sick days a year to care for themselves or a sick child or spouse, and the Emergency Influenza Containment
(H.R. 3991), temporary legislation that would guarantee up to five paid sick days for a worker sent home or directed to stay home by an employer
for a contagious illness, such as the H1N1 flu virus.
CAI, a nonprofit association of 1,000 North Carolina employers surveyed their association’s membership. They found that employers are finding
creative and effective ways to help sick employees stay home and still earn their day’s wage. Paid-time-off banks are popular as is allowing employees
to use vacation days as sick days or allowing them to make up the hours with additional shifts. To fight the spread of H1N1 influenza, employers are
using telecommuting and job sharing and they are waiving notice requirements and forgiving absences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (
CDC) estimates that more than 60 million Americans will be affected by H1N1 flu by the end of 2009.
“These types of creative approaches are the result of flexibility that employers have to develop policies that best fit their workforce needs.
Any proposal that mandates the type of leave that employers must provide will ultimately threaten overall levels and types of responses employers
are engaged in,” said A. Bruce Clarke, president and CEO of CAI.
However, another witness before the committee, Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said that the Healthy
Families Act was crafted so that businesses that already have a policy that allows employees to take sick leave would not be mandated to provide
more sick leave.
CAI said that an incentive-based system, rather than a mandatory system, would be more preferable to employers.
Rep. John Kline, (R-Minn.), senior Republican on the committee said,“We should know that in 2008, nearly all full-time employees in the U.S.—
fully 93 percent—had access to paid sick leave. A majority of part-time workers have paid sick leave as well,” Kline said.
However, Rep. George Miller, (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee, pointed out that the CDC estimates that an employee infected with the flu
virus who reports to work will infect 10 percent of his co-workers. The CDC’s advice to employees is to stay home when sick, and to employers, allow
workers to be absent without fear of losing their jobs, he reiterated. However, he pointed out, more than 50 million workers do not have paid sick
Beth Mirza is senior editor for HR News. She can be reached at
How to Derive a Value Proposition
What do you do better than anyone does? What does your company offer that competitors can’t match? Why would customers buy one company’s product
or service as opposed to another’s? What is your competitive differentiation? These are all definitions of a critical business concept called
Deriving a company’s value proposition is similar to a strategic planning process. Here’s an effective process
- SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).
Start with a brutally honest and objective SWOT analysis—a process in itself, but a critical one. If you don’t know where
you stand versus the competition or you’re breathing your own fumes.
- Brainstorm. Brainstorm what you do better than the competition. No boundaries or consensus, just put them all up on a white board. When that’s done, discuss each one in terms of the SWOT analysis. Erase whatever doesn’t hold up.
- Coalesce. Then have each person independently, without discussion, put a stick-em next to their first (weight 3), second (weight 2),
and third (weight 1) choices. Tally it up. The highest scorers are presumably your true competitive advantages. How many do you pick?
That depends. Just look for a natural breakpoint that demonstrates consensus and use your honest judgment.
- Feedback. Then do a couple of focus groups with 1) a diverse group—meaning from different disciplines—of insiders: top
performers and opinion leaders from within the ranks, and 2) a group of outsiders: consultants, customers, folks who know your company.
Discuss your conclusions with them and pay attention to consensus feedback—what resonates and what doesn’t.
- Iterate. With that input, you should have a validated set of true competitive advantages. Converting that into a statement of your
value proposition is a function of your specific business and some careful wording.
Now that you have a value proposition, what do you do with it? Use it as a basis for company or product positioning, branding, strategy, marketing,
communications, all kinds of content.
Steve Tobak is a marketing and strategy consultant based in Silicon Valley. He's a 20-plus year high-tech industry veteran and former senior
executive of a number of public and private companies. Steve can be reached at
The Book Shelf
Best Business Books in 2009
A Wealth of Explanations
By Clive Crook, Financial Times commentator
Means to a Greater End
By Charles Handy, Economist, Consultant and Professor, London Business School
The Capable and the Failed
By Phil Rosenzweig, IMD professor
Western Dominance in Decline
By Ayesha Khanna, managing director of Hybrid Realities and
Parag Khanna, New America Foundation senior research fellow
In Search of the Silver Lining
By Judith F. Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program
Branding Goes Viral
By Catharine P. Taylor, digital media journalist
By Steven Levy, President, Canadian Market Research
By James O’Toole, University of Denver, Daniels College of Business professor