When it comes to recruitment and selection or career development, it’s important to look at more than just technical competencies.
By Gaëlle Pritchard, Head of Assessment, SH Leadership and Sue Colton, Associate Business Psychologist
There’s a lot of confusion about behavioural competency frameworks in the world of senior talent recruitment. Organisations and even recruitment consultants either misunderstand their value or else they lack the training or experience to use them to their full potential. This is a problem because it can lead to organisations losing out on the extra level of validation they provide when recruiting senior talent.
This article aims to clarify what behavioural competency frameworks are in the context of assessment, their potential benefits for senior talent selection and recruitment, and how to apply them effectively.
Here’s an example of where using competency frameworks can help with candidate selection. In 2021, a client had a reservation about one of two candidates for an important role. This candidate, a parent, had asked for flexibility on working hours. The client raised concerns that this meant the candidate might not be ambitious or dedicated to the role, implying that the candidate might prioritise family life over the job.
We assessed the candidate against the behavioural competency framework agreed with the client. The profile that came out of the assessment showed that the candidate was extremely ambitious and organised. It also revealed that they had asked for flexibility because it would help them to work more productively and increase the productivity of their team. After we presented these findings to the client, they felt comfortable offering the candidate the role.
What is a behavioural competency framework?
One of the reasons why confusion persists around behavioural competency frameworks is that so many of us have been conditioned to see ‘competence’ or ‘competencies’ almost exclusively in terms of technical abilities. In the context of recruitment, technical ability holds sway when assessing a candidate’s suitability for a given role.
Proving technical competence is hugely important, but often during candidate selection this is used to the exclusion of other factors. As a result, behavioural competencies are neglected or not even considered. Many recruitment consultants have never used them.
At its simplest, a behavioural competency framework defines the visible behaviours and attitudes needed to do the role rather than the technical expertise required. In other words, while a job description states ‘what’ you need to know to do the job (i.e., the technical expertise), the competencies describe ‘how’ the job ideally should be done.
Behavioural competencies encompass such things as Problem Solving, Decision Making, Thought Leadership, Communication, Customer Focus, etc. Looking at the example of a senior executive, it is typically important that they exhibit the ability to be a strategic leader, to drive and deliver value to the business, that they can promote and seek process improvements, that they can future-proof the capability of their team, and so on.
Here is visual representation of a senior leader behavioural competency framework, with the behavioural competency headings shown in blue:
Just as with technical competencies, we collaborate with clients to come up with a framework based on the demands of the business, internal operational challenges, market trends, etc. The graphic above shows some of the key external factors influencing the desired competencies around the outside of the wheel. In this case the factors include increased stakeholder diversity, the increased complexity of business challenges and business models, the increased focus on the psychological safety and wellbeing of team members, and so on.
From this example, you can see that the competencies will vary depending on the influencing factors, so that behavioural competency frameworks can also be tailored to the specifics of a given client, as well as the ever-evolving yet prevailing business context. Sometimes, businesses already have their own behavioural competency frameworks derived from their vision and values. In that case, we would use that framework for assessment, though it is still far more common that we are asked to devise frameworks for specific roles.
Why behavioural competency frameworks are important
There are many potential benefits to assessing individuals and teams against behavioural competency frameworks. These frameworks are a means to measure individual performance across the business in a transparent and consistent way. This allows for ongoing in-depth performance and development discussions to take place, across the employee lifecycle. They can also aid individual and business-level career development planning.
Behavioural competency frameworks clarify the link between the role of the individual and their organisation, increasing personal ownership of business goals and objectives. They can also play a major part in attracting and retaining staff and can be used to underpin recruitment and selection as we’ve already seen. In the context of selection, they provide structure, consistency, and can mitigate bias by providing clearly defined and transparent selection criteria across the various parts of the assessment process.
How to use behavioural competency frameworks effectively
When using behavioural competency frameworks for recruitment and selection, it is important to use them well to get the best out of them. This means, as an organisation, you need to be clear on what behaviours and attitudes a given role requires. As we’ve seen, you might start by picking out behaviours that are consistent with and underpin your organisational vision and values.
However, it is also important to look at external market factors and trends that might influence successful behaviours. For example, today’s successful CFO often needs to be able to think strategically, prioritise business objectives outside of Finance, and exhibit concern for the mental wellbeing of their team.
Think of your business priorities and challenges too. What behaviours are other successful senior leaders exhibiting that may also apply to the role you want to fill? It can also be helpful to think about behaviours you do not want to see.
A key part of the assessment process is to compare our findings from the psychometric data against the behavioural competencies. Then we conduct a validatory interview with the candidate which is when we essentially test the hypothesis of the data against the competency framework. After that, we compile a report of our findings before we debrief with the client. Once the selection decision has been made, we also provide feedback to the candidate on their results.
As we’ve seen, it is often the case that assessing for behavioural competencies provides an extra level of validation for candidates who might look like an ideal fit on paper but then exhibit too few of the behaviours you have identified as necessary for success. On the other hand, a good competency framework can also help when choosing between two or three candidates who have each come across well in interviews and who each have excellent technical competencies and impressive experience.
We hope this article has helped to clear up some of the confusion around behavioural competency frameworks and their usefulness. If you have any questions or queries, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.