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ATD Blog

Communicating Culture


Tue Jan 12 2016

Communicating Culture

Changing corporate culture isn’t easy. Whether the change is a result of a merger or acquisition or simply an internal transformation, the most difficult part is showing people how the change in culture directly affects them. Even when culture isn’t changing, communicating culture to new hires is difficult. That’s where competency models can help.

When a competency model is developed properly, it contains the categories or competencies of tasks that people need to be able to do within a role to be successful; that is, to accomplish their part of corporate strategy. (For more on that, see my blog post on the value of a competency model.) The model contains the tasks and skills required to demonstrate competence in each category. It also contains the behavioral examples of what a skill looks like at various levels of proficiency, and the proficiency level needed for a particular job.


There are two places where we can weave culture into competency models: the description of the task or skill and the behavioral examples.

Let’s look at an example. What message does it send if a skill is described as, “Create a partnership with customers so they feel I work for them”? Are you internally focused or externally focused? When employees in that role see that skill in their model, they learn that customer focus is extremely important. Likewise, “Identify opportunities for process improvement and optimization” communicates that you should always try to improve.

This approach continues into the behavioral examples. Let’s say you are creating examples of behaviors at various levels of proficiency, and you are trying to instill a culture of learning. For the skill “Use appropriate sources to develop industry expertise and insight,” you might have: 

  1. I occasionally read industry-related publications, websites, blogs, and news to maintain industry awareness. 

  2. I read industry-related publications, websites, blogs, and news quarterly to maintain industry awareness. 

  3. I dedicate at least an hour each week to reading and exploring industry information to stay up to speed. 

  4. I receive daily news alerts from key sources, including industry and customer sources and social media, but allocate two to three hours a week for learning.

  5. I recognize that the more I know about my customers’ business, the more I can help them—so I review customer news daily or as it happens and allot at least 30 minutes a day for learning.

Simply creating a competency model alone will not communicate or change your culture. You need to make those models accessible. People must be able to assess their skills against them, so they become self-aware of any gaps in both skill and behavior. And they must reassess their skills at least quarterly, as part of a routine, so they can continue to refine their behaviors against the skills and behaviors that are important to the organization, which results in changes easily being operationalized.

If you want to ensure that the organization embraces your corporate culture, or you’re trying to change the existing culture, consider embracing competency models.


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