A strategic approach to competency assessment - Strategic Management

The Management Charter Initiative (MCI) was established in 1988 as the operating arm of the Council for Management Education and Development (CMED), which itself was later renamed the National Forum for Management Education and Development. CMED had been formed in 1987 following the publication of two key reports on management education, 'The Making of Managers' (Handy et al, 1987) and 'The Making of British Managers' (Constable and McCormick, 1987).

These reports had been preceded by a report, 'Management Training: Context and Practice' (Mangham and Silver, 1986). These reports all pointed to the relatively low level of education and training of UK managers compared with their counterparts in other significant countries. The reports were commissioned by various agencies involved in management education. These included various government agencies (for the

Handy report and Mangham and Silver report), the national employers association and the main professional institute for managers (for the Constable/ McCormick report). The public launch of the Handy and Constable/ McCormick reports was followed by a sequence of activities leading to the establishment of MCI which employers and other organisations (eg providers of management education) could join. The subscriptions of member organisations were matched in the early stages by Government 'pump-priming' finance.

A number of key individuals were instrumental in establishing MCI, and their accounts of how this came about differ to a certain degree. The Trade and Industry Minister, Lord Young, states that the state of affairs described in the Handy and Constable/ McCormick reports prompted him. While the concept of competencies has undoubted value, the generic approach has serious faults. Figure shows in an approximate way how levels of management are affected by the strategic decisions of the firm. While the job of a supervisor may be almost entirely the same, regardless of the vision, values and strategies, it is hard to argue that senior management jobs are equally identical.

In the diagram, the black area shows where generic competencies are likely to be of value: the white area where they have doubtful validity. Exact positions of the boundaries will vary by company, so the argument is not that the generic approach is never appropriate, but that how and where it is appropriate will vary considerably between organisations.

Generalised-diagram

A second disadvantage of the MCI approach is that it does not set out to cover all competencies. It aims to cover the generic rather than the functional skill elements of management jobs. Even if all the generic descriptions were right for a particular organisation, the competencies would still not cover all the things that needed to be done to enable the organisation to achieve strategic success. One example will suffice to question the value of the generic approach.

Two multinational grocery product companies face up to their markets in very different ways. One operates a global strategy, where country differences are subordinate to the overall strategy. The other works on a multicountry basis, with every country operation being an ROI centre, and having a high degree of strategic freedom. The management and business skill competencies for most senior-level jobs would be quite different between the companies. A successful country managing director in the global company has to operate in a different way from his competitor in the multicountry company. A successful career in one company does not guarantee success in the other.

Figure shows a more strategic approach to competency assessment. Like the strategic management development approach, to which it is related, it begins with a strategic review (step 1). This is fundamentally the process described earlier in this chapter. In step 2 the competencies the company requires at each level, in order to implement the strategy successfully are defined. These are blended in step 3 with the assessment of required competencies at the level of the key jobs.

There is a recycling loop at this point to ensure that the individual competency assessments are properly related to the corporate needs. The most likely issue is that a change of strategy could bring a requirement for new strategic areas of competence which are not seen by those who should be affected, because either they are unaware of the strategy or of its implications for them. The approach, with case histories illustrating different aspects of its implementation, has been fully documented.

A strategic approach to competency assessment

Figure shows a method we have used which is related to our research into leadership. The core of the model is flexibility, because it is believed that this is a prerequisite for success in modern competitive conditions. The inner ring consists of the individual skills and attributes each manager should have in order to perform effectively in the particular company situation. The outer ring shows the elements each manager should possess to be an effective leader in the particular company.

Strategic-competency profile

Example-of-competencies


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