May 19

Why Focus on Managing Competence and Character

By Chuck Coker

The first question that needs to be satisfied in a manager’s mind is, can this person do the job? Do they have the experience and skills? These are reasonable questions that must be asked at the front end of an interview, otherwise, the departmental mission(s) cannot be accomplished.

In the past, many managers failed to verify the competence level of an individual. If applicants said they had the desired skills, there was a significant sigh of relief, and an effort made to get the person on board. Also, in the past, managers failed to realize that nearly 25% of the achievements or stated accomplishments on r-sums were embellished, or even fabricated, according to multiple studies from Harvard University and the University of Michigan. Today, most companies use standardized tests to ensure that foundational skills and knowledge exist prior to conducting a formal interview.

In many companies, the interview is where the assessment of competence can collapse. If an individual has the desired educational or experiential credentials and answers the basic questions of the interviewers, there is an assumption they will bring additional value to the department and contribute where team needs exist.

The problem with this approach is that there is often inconsistency (between individuals) during the questioning and interview process, leaving needed skills unaddressed. By the time funding is made available there is usually a desperate need for skills. As such, the applicants are sold on the company rather than assessed on how manageable they will be, or if they can execute the necessary competence based on the performance standards they will be required to meet. In short, competence needs to be established through some form of practicum, testing, or observation.

There are many highly specific tools available for virtually every skill set. However, the manager must be wise enough to look past Can the person just do this or that? Some people take longer to acquire and apply skills than others. This must be known upfront, as new competencies are necessary for our ever-changing marketplace.

Testing for aptitude in both external (business) and internal (personal) dimensions is a wiser approach but is often overlooked.? If the person has the abilities and mindset complementary to those skill sets, they will perform at a higher level, and there will be no problem managing the competencies and/or skill sets. A manager simply needs to illustrate how they measure the performance of the competencies through an organized plan, coordination of support systems, and quality control, to ensure things are done right.

However, if the individual has a strong r-sum, and has established some business competencies, but does not have the confidence or ability to see how the desired role makes a difference to the team, s/he will likely be a hindrance to departmental performance.

A manager must be able to step outside his or herself and evaluate the individual in an unbiased manner based on their capacity to perform in their unique work environment.

When we think about a person’s character our first question is typical, Can I trust them to do what they say they can do? Is there a work ethic? Can they meet deadlines? How do they handle their mistakes? Is their output commensurate with the stated competencies we hired?

Since each employee is unique, they will not always communicate, act, or perform in the image of the marketing manager. So, we must approach the character from John Wooden’s perspective:

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

Most employees display their character in predictable patterns, even though every shred of data gathered indicates that employees pride themselves on their uniqueness and individuality. Fortunately, an employee’s unique qualities are what allow them to be manageable.

A wise marketing manager will develop a deep understanding of how his/her employees’ approach and perceive loyalty. Employees are more task-oriented than the average person and place a significant amount of relevance on task completion and commitment. Each employee will have a different communication style, but most also have a strong desire to show that they are producing an ROI for the task at hand.

Once a manager identifies the mindset the employee uses to approach a task, then all s/he must do is manage the style or approach. This can be accomplished with certain words, phrases, comments, rewards, or awards that hold significance to the individual. Most managers insist on treating everyone the same when employees will never fit a general employee mode. While they hold many similar mindsets, each will want to be managed differently. While the same rules apply to all, the management approach makes a huge difference in performance.

In last year’s study of over 1,600 organizations, we discovered that personality testing was used in over 70% of the organizations surveyed. Most often those personality tests end up being used for more casual engagements which may make employees enjoy an afternoon with their peers. However, there is a greater potential use for these assessments measuring aspects (but not all) of the 4Cs. Unfortunately, the greater potential is not acted upon in most companies.

The manager who takes time to assess and understand natural and adaptive behavioral styles can learn to manage the behavior of everyone in his/her department, by simply following the guidelines of adaptive behavior.

This discipline is no different than email or direct mail marketing and is far from cumbersome learning. If one follows the data and parameters of what will (and will not) work, managing individual and departmental behavior is not difficult, even if it isn’t something you have been trained to do.

The reality is that with a very general understanding of behavioral traits, a marketing manager can provide solid direction by simply communicating with the appropriate words and phrases understood by each employee.

Now, let’s bring these concepts together. A leader that has a strong focus on Competency and Character can achieve quick results that look good initially. There is a very quick ramp-up with an employee who has the required competence and character. However, if these are the only two traits an organization looks for, the individual’s ability to contribute peaks very quickly. For most organizations, this is unacceptable because of a constantly changing environment, and an ongoing need for new, more state-of-the-art competencies. An employee must continue to grow and develop if they are to be of long-term benefit to the organization. This is where another dimension must be considered if a Manager is to be successful.

About the author 

Chuck Coker

For more than 30 years, Chuck has focused his career on people's development. He has implemented proprietary Personal Formation, Human Capital, Talent Management, and incentive-based programs across a broad scope of Fortune Companies, regional organizations, and educational institutions.


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