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Best Practices for Identifying Critical Manager Competencies

It’s one of the most-asked questions from talent development professionals and managers alike: what does manager success look like in our company? What follows is usually a process to define the critical manager competencies.
So how can you best identify critical manager competencies? And what do you need to know about creating effective manager competency models?

Criteria for Effective Manager Competency Models
While it’s important to have competencies for your first-level managers, not all competencies are created alike. How can you tell a strong competency model from a weak one?

While I could write about this topic alone for a while, I’ll briefly mention three important criteria when building a competency model for frontline managers:

  • Align to strategic business priorities. Too often, HR’s strategy is divorced from the business strategy. For example, if your company strategy depends on driving innovation and expanding into new markets, but your competency model is primarily focused on behaviors linked to driving process efficiency, you won’t achieve the business goals you need.
  • Differentiate for leader levels. Many companies try to use a single competency to reflect a certain skill. But the behaviors are different at each level. For example, effective communication at the frontline leader level primarily takes place in conversations, performance management, and some presentations. Meanwhile, great communication at the executive level looks very different.
  • Focus on observable behaviors. Poorly defined competencies focus on outcomes and leave a lot open to interpretation. Instead, competencies need to be focused on clear, observable actions. At Development Dimensions International (DDI), we call these key actions. You need to know exactly what it looks like to perform the competency well.

Identifying Critical Manager Competencies
Now let’s dive a little deeper into how to identify the frontline leader competencies you need. A best practice is to identify some of the unique competencies that are aligned with your business strategy. In addition, you may want to pull in some of the foundational competencies that nearly all frontline leaders need: communication, building partnerships, coaching, decision making, facilitating change, and execution. However, the context of the work environment and the stressors on the leader have changed (and will continue to change) drastically. These context changes increase the importance of certain leadership competencies within each of these domains. DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021 (GLF) offers some important leadership research trends and insight.

According to the report, leaders who succeed in times of crisis are those who can learn new skills quickly and embrace change and uncertainty. Additionally, organizations with leaders who were stronger in leading virtual teams, coaching, delegation, and empathy were more prepared to meet the business challenges they faced. But based on an analysis in the GLF about which competencies leaders need help with the most, HR should focus on developing these essential skills as they rapidly adapt to meet new demands: managing change, influencing, and building partnerships.

Laser Focus With Competency-Based Development
Ultimately, your first-level manager competencies will serve as the guide to success in your organization. It helps you create clear development action plans that will help your leaders see what they need to do to perform well and advance to the next level. As a result, you’ll also start to see other benefits, like lower turnover, stronger talent acquisition, better performance, and a stronger leadership bench. To learn more, check out DDI’s blog.

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