Competency Model Raises Questions

Sunday, September 16, 2012
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So, just how good of an HR professional are you? How about the people who report to you?

With its new HR competency model, Elements for HR Success, the Society for Human Resource Management wants to help you -- and thousands of your HR colleagues around the world -- find out.

SHRM's model includes nine competencies: Eight of them are behavioral; the ninth one is technical. "We wanted to create a comprehensive framework for the entire career path of an HR professional," says Alexander Alonso, SHRM's director of thought leadership, who is overseeing the initiative.

The model is hardly the only set of competencies available to HR professionals, of course. For the last 25 years, University of Michigan Professor Dave Ulrich and his colleagues at Provo, Utah-based RBL Group have been conducting the Human Resource Competency Study, a highly regarded, recurring survey of HR professionals, business leaders and line managers that's been used as the basis for formulating a set of HR competencies

What separates SHRM's model from others, says Alonso, is that it's focused on practitioners at all levels, at organizations of all sizes. However, Ulrich takes issue with that description. "Our data is based on input from HR practitioners and line managers at all levels," he says, "from the very top to the bottom.

"SHRM's a wonderful association and they have every right to create their own competency model," says Ulrich. "In fact, up until recently, we've worked in partnership with SHRM on our own competency studies, but they declined to participate in the latest one. I'm not sure why."

Another differentiator between SHRM's model and the RBL Group's, says Alonso, is that it does not require participants to partake in a 360-degree assessment as a starting point. SHRM's model allows participants to start the process with a scenario-based self-assessment. The participants' responses are then compared to those from a panel of HR experts, says Alonso. In the future, SHRM plans to offer 360s as an optional assessment, he says.

Jon Younger, a partner at the RBL Group, says the 360 is "invaluable" as a self-assessment tool.

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SHRM needs to provide more information on how it validated its nine competencies, says Ulrich. "Other than noting the number of participants, SHRM's website doesn't really share the methodology and criteria they used in determining that these are the right competencies for HR professionals," he says.

Alonso says SHRM's process is "rigorous" and based on best practices for competency modeling as outlined by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Within the next few years, he adds, SHRM plans to offer additional validity evidence for its competency model.

He also reiterates the number of participants. "It would be foolish to discard the validity evidence gathered from 32,000 HR professionals worldwide," he says.

In any case, competency models don't necessarily need to be rigorously validated in order to be effective, says Richard Wellins, senior vice president of Development Dimensions International in Bridgeville, Pa.

The sheer number of HR professionals who participated in SHRM's process suggests "there's a lot of consensus" on the model that the organization has adopted, says Wellins.

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