Ensuring Competencies Align to Strategic Initiatives
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Accomplishing any goal starts with having the right people on your team. Aligning performance criteria with business initiatives can help organizations reach their goals by getting the right people in the right roles, with the right training. By matching competencies to the skills needed to meet business objectives, sales enablement practitioners can ensure that how they hire, set goals, assess performance, and promote leaders are all aligned with the organization’s mission, strategy, and vision.
Competency criteria can be woven into many strategic initiatives, such as:
- Interviewing to improve selection and placement decisions for both internal and external candidates
- Succession planning by assessing competencies to identify and develop future leaders
- Training and development efforts to address strategic gaps
- Professional development coaching and performance management
According to a study by Brandon Hall Group, only 19% of organizations that utilize competencies say that their competencies and business goals are aligned. While using competency-based performance reviews or coaching and training frameworks can help sales reps develop transferable skills, aligning competencies to strategic initiatives goes a step further to ensure that everyone is in agreement regarding goals for the business and how their role will contribute to specific outcomes.
With alignment on goals, responsibilities, and criteria for success, a competency-based approach to strategic initiatives can create a unifying framework across your organization.
Understanding Organizational Goals
The first step to building a competency-based approach to strategic initiatives is to identify what exactly those initiatives are. Talk to sales leaders and executives to ensure you have a thorough understanding of where the business is headed and what priorities are. Aim to gain visibility into both short and long-term goals, as well as any current or expected challenges the organization is facing.
Next, determine what makes your organization competitive within the industry. What are the advantages and disadvantages your organization has over others with similar solutions? Determine how these factors align with your organization’s goals, and which major themes – such as innovation or customer engagement – need to be demonstrated across the organization in order for your business strategy to succeed.
“It’s really important to understand what those key corporate initiatives and areas of focus are so that we, from an enablement perspective, can help ensure that we are building the right programs to effectively enable the sales organization to execute on those goals,” said Susan Savona, vice president, global sales enablement, Monster.
Defining Job Expectations
Once you have identified organizational priorities, identify the ways in which different roles will contribute to these initiatives. Clearly outline what is expected of different sales roles in order to successfully meet business goals. From those, identify the competencies that lead to these behaviors or actions.
Different competencies can be required at an organizational, functional, or specific job level. Defining competency requirements for each job requires more time and resources, but can help guide hiring and performance for individual roles. In the middle ground, defining competencies for the revenue organization overall can help determine how reps will contribute to organizational initiatives while providing room for specialization within different roles.
Identify competencies for the revenue organization across three paths:
- Specific initiatives: What are the business initiatives that revenue-facing teams directly contribute to, such as revenue goals or customer growth and expansion?
- Industry competition: Think about the industry that your organization operates within and sells to. What competencies are needed to thrive within that ecosystem? For example, if your organization or direct competitors release new products frequently, adaptability might be a core competency that is required across the organization.
- Day-to-day business: Identify the competencies needed to keep daily business operations running smoothly, such as quantitative reasoning, basic selling skills, or self-sufficiency.
Aim to identify three to five competencies in each category. These should all be specific to the revenue organization, and can stem from or build off of an existing list of competencies if these have already been defined (learn more about how to develop a core competencies framework here). Seek out input from revenue leaders or executives to ensure that these are properly aligned with strategic initiatives and will produce the desired results.
“It’s important for the entire company to be focused on the same goals, with each department understanding their impact and their role for where their job starts and stops, and then how the handovers happen from team to team, and then how those handoffs impact that process,” said Pam Dake, senior director of global sales enablement at Accela.
Standardizing Success Criteria
Once expectations for roles and responsibilities have been defined, it’s important that reps know the criteria for success and how they can get there. Creating a rubric allows managers to evaluate performance fairly and consistently, and creates a guide for reps to assess their own behaviors.
In building this rubric, identify the relevance of each competency to performance. In her book, “The Handbook of Competency Mapping”, Seema Sanghi recommends creating both an importance rating scale and a performance rating scale. Use the importance rating scale to determine how essential demonstration of this competency is to achieving business goals. Rate each competency on a scale of one to five:
- This behavior is not relevant to overall successful performance
- This behavior is of highly marginal relevance to the overall successful performance
- This behavior is relevant but not important to the overall successful performance
- This behavior is definitely important to successful performance overall
- This behavior is of vital importance to a successful, overall performance of the job
Next, identify the level of performance required for each competency based on its relevance to business initiatives. Indicate the behavioral indicators – the underlying behaviors that lead to competence – and frequency of action that is required for adequate and exceptional performance in order to create an unbiased system of evaluation for managers. Create expectations for performance of each competency on a scale of one to five:
- Performance on this competency fails to meet acceptable standards. Major development is needed.
- Performance on this competency is not quite up to the acceptable standards. A development is needed.
- Quite acceptable performance on this competency, meets requirements.
- Very good performance on this competency, better than acceptable standards
- Outstanding performance, far exceeds acceptable standards
Use both the performance rating scale and the importance rating scale to determine which competency gaps may need more focus or attention through training and coaching. If there are competencies that tend to rate higher in importance and lower in performance, these should be the greatest priorities to address through sales enablement efforts.
Integrating into Management Processes
In order to effectively align competencies with strategic initiatives, train managers on how and when to use the competency framework to evaluate their reps. Incorporate the competency evaluation into existing coaching frameworks to ensure that managers review progress and expectations on a regular basis with their reps. Consider setting the following expectations for frontline managers:
- Incorporate competencies into coaching language. When referencing competencies in coaching conversations, have managers use clear, fair, and unbiased statements when discussing performance or setting goals. Referring to behavioral indicators and specific competencies can create a common language between reps and managers.
- Provide candid feedback on behaviors. Encourage managers to discuss competencies in regular management processes, such as when observing sales calls. Have sales managers look for specific behaviors or areas for improvement when shadowing reps, and debrief with reps afterwards in order to give examples of competencies.
- Engage reps as active contributors to their own growth plans. Share the scoring rubric with reps so there are clear expectations for success. Ask reps to self-assess, and compare their evaluation with their managers in coaching sessions. Use these evaluations to identify gaps that can be targeted through training.
“I think a lot of things that we can do as enablement practitioners is to provide our leaders with what you want them to be coaching on and how to do it and the forms and the feedback and everything, and then it’s much simpler for them to actually do it,” said Steve Maxwell, senior director of field enablement at Cloudera. “They’ve got to want to do it. They have to see that it’s a critical part of their job, and the more that becomes part of the culture there, the easier it is to do.”
Reassess your identified competencies at least every few years, or whenever there are significant changes in the overarching business goals, in order to ensure that competency evaluations remain relevant and effective.
Ultimately, aligning competencies with strategic initiatives ensures that sales enablement is making the most of reps’ abilities and professional goals. By identifying the organization’s needs, and basing metrics for performance off of business goals and strategy, practitioners can be confident that their sales force has the right people, with the right skills to meet goals and drive results.