In depth

Revising your leadership framework for the new normal

Kiddy & Partners

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With the world having been turned upside down and most business strategies ripped up and redrawn, leaders are seeking clarity. For HR and Talent practitioners, there’s an urgent need to provide leaders with clarity on one fundamental question: How do I lead now for the future?

Without clarity on this, many businesses won’t succeed. The question HR and Talent practitioners must ask themselves is: do we know what type of leaders and leadership capabilities we need to take us into our tomorrow?  If you gain clarity on anything in the next quarter, make it this.

A Leadership Framework provides greater clarity

Even in the pre-COVID world, two of the top five biggest challenges for organisations were aligning people strategies to business objectives and driving culture change1, both of which you’d struggle to achieve without an effective leadership framework.  COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have triggered many HRDs to review their frameworks, asking themselves whether they are still fit for purpose.  Are these still the right key leadership competencies to take our business where it needs to go?  With this question ringing in many practitioners’ ears right now, I thought it timely to share some practical tips gleaned from my experience over more decades than I’d dare to mention, having designed more frameworks than I care to recall.     

A Leadership Framework outlines, in a very practical way, what leaders at all levels within your business must know and must do to be effective.  A good framework not only sets consistent standards and expectations but when used in combination with assessment also provides clarity to leaders in terms of their personal development priorities. 

Leadership frameworks, and competency frameworks more generally, are a key tool for selection, development, and performance management, helping to translate your organisation’s strategy and values into expected employee behaviours.  Most (89%) high performing organisations have core competencies defined for all roles, compared to only 48% of lower-performing companies2, which I suspect is down to the ability of a good framework to act as the much needed ‘glue’ to bind people and strategy together.   

As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done; measurement of behaviours against a well-designed competency framework helps to align focus and motivation to the attitudes, skills, and behaviours needed to achieve an organisation’s strategy.  It provides employees with greater clarity over what’s expected from them, reduces subjectivity in performance ratings, and provides transparency in the performance management process. 

How to design an effective Leadership Framework

The downside is that designing an effective competency framework is harder than it might seem.  In our experience, over several decades and reviewing hundreds of our competency frameworks, here are our top ten tips for ensuring that your competency framework delivers value: 
 

  1.  Future-looking 

    Describe the skillset necessary for success now but also for your organisation’s tomorrow.  

    At the start of the COVID crisis in the UK there was a lot of discussion around this being a new opportunity to move leadership forward; the end of command and control leadership, leaders being more humble, showing vulnerability as a way to authentically engage with the people across their business so that they create followership. Are you challenging your leaders enough to take the opportunity to step into a new paradigm or merely letting them slouch back into their old, comfortable style? 
     
  2. User-friendly  

    Make it short, concise, and easy to understand. Avoid language that is too ‘HR-like’, which doesn’t reflect the commercial challenges seen by those in the business. 
     
  3. Specific  

    Avoid descriptors that are generic or too broad.  The framework must capture the essence of what makes your organisation distinct from other organisations and even other parts of your organisation.
     
  4. Differentiating 

    A good competency framework should clearly delineate between levels for each competency. 
     
  5. Objective 

    When designing your framework, ensure it balances behaviours and deliverables so that using it to rate and measure people becomes easier and less subjective. 
     
  6. Stretching 

    Ensure that the described competencies are appropriately challenging at each level. 
     
  7. Comprehensive 

    Cover all the key behaviours and deliverables necessary for success. 
     
  8. Independent

    Limit the overlap between competencies so they can be used to assess an individual’s performance across the different competencies. 
     
  9. Intuitive 

    Ensure the indicators reflect their competency headings or labels; that they seem to ‘make sense.’
     
  10. Inclusive 

    Ensure the content and language avoid discrimination – both explicit and implicit – and promote inclusivity.  

    Once created, give thought to how the competencies are going to be used, consistently, across your talent management systems and processes, and implement a process to evaluate what is working and not working, then revise and re-evaluate. Although these basic principles sound obvious, they’re often overlooked in practice, compromising their value. 

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References  

[1] Human Resource Executive (2014), What’s Keeping HR Up at Night Survey, HRE, http://hrexecutive.com/what-s-keeping-hr-up/  
 
[2] Lombardi, M., & Saba, J. (2010). Talent Assessment Strategies: A Decision Guide for Organizational Performance. Aberdeen Group. 

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