Sunday, November 29, 2009

Employee Engagement: Competence, Motivation, Opportunity

In his Contrarian Thinking blog, Etienne Laliberté posted a link to a discussion paper entitled "An HR Director's Guide to Employee Engagement". I think the authors really underscore the limitation of the competency approach here:

The long-standing focus on ‘skills’ as key to increasing productivity is too limited. The ‘people and performance’ model identifies the three requirements for releasing employees’ discretionary effort as ability, motivation and opportunity. The skills agenda addresses only the first of these – employee engagement addresses all three. There is an historic opportunity for the Government to demonstrate that it understands the drivers of...performance.

Their Main Point: You not only need the relevant competencies, you need opportunity and motivation.

But here's the tricky question: Which is more important?

First, consider whether relevant competencies are something people are born with. Generally they are learned. They are abilities that people learn both formally and informally, in the classroom, and more often on the job.

Second, consider what are called "generic competencies". Who cannot learn them? Apart from the tragic cases, people have capacity to learn most generic competencies, and it's a matter of motivation and opportunity whether they realize these capacities or not.

I can understand that for jobs in which professional certification and/or very well-developed technical skills are required, these requirements would be included in a job description or a job posting. But it is very important to understand that competencies are not like standard features on a car, like horsepower, or doors, or seating. They are not static givens that people are born with, they are things that, given the opportunity and motivation people will learn, develop and display.

The fact that competencies are learned, not givens, raises questions about the value of hiring on the basis of lists of generic competencies. We should be looking for potential and providing opportunities, not looking for static givens thereby ruling out potential.

If I were hiring someone for for a job, I would certainly ensure they had the key professional technical expertise required, but on the more generic competencies, I'd forgo the standard list, except perhaps for communication skills, and look for what they enjoy:

What did they do or what ideas do they have that make their eyes light up when they tell you about them? Are they interested in the fine details, or are they interested in the big picture? Do they prefer action or contemplation? Do they feel anxious if things are not perfectly clear and stable, or can they tolerate a certain level of ambiguity? Are they more comfortable dealing with "just the facts" (task masters) or do they explore possibilities (experimenters)? Are they motivated primarily to climb the ladder (careerists) or to express creativity (innovators)? Do they enjoy working alone or in groups? What balance of direction/discretion are they most comfortable with? In what way do they really want to make a difference in their professional lives?

Understanding people's preferences, their motivations, would tell me most of what I'd need to know, if not more, than checking off the standard lists. And given the opportunity to act in accordance with their preferences and motivations, they would continually develop the relevant competencies.

So motivation and opportunity do not merely "complete" the trio of elements of employee engagement necessary to improve performance, they actually are the basis for learning, developing and displaying competence.

1 comment:

  1. Incredible!!! This is most touching article. It is beautifully written to step by step about employee engagement. Thanks and keep updating…