Competency-based role families could be the magic pill your NFP needs to transform HR practices.

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Competency-based role families could be the magic pill your organisation needs to tighten role descriptions, identify skills gaps, and reinvent staff learning and professional development.

Think that’s a big claim?

Frank Sedmak has been the General Manager of People and Culture at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) for 14 years, and implemented competency-based role families in the organisation 10 years ago. The implementation transformed the way CPA works, and Frank Sedmak thinks it can do the same for many other NFP organisations.

Here, he shares his thoughts on why you should consider implementing competency-based role families in your organisation, and what to expect.

What are competency-based role families?

Role families provide an overarching framework for all roles in an organisation, clustering jobs together based on the area of work or skills involved.

They can include corporate service roles such as finance, fundraising and administration, as well as frontline roles, such as support workers or clinicians.

For example, the Cerebral Palsy Alliance has eight role families within their organisation:

  • Management
  • Research
  • Allied Health & Related Services
  • Community Services
  • Technical Services
  • Corporate Support Services
  • Facilities Services
  • Care Services

What distinguishes these role families from the norm, however, is that each one is supported by core skills and knowledge that people in those roles are expected to have – that is, they are “competency-based”.

These core competencies include a mix of soft and hard skills, and they increase in complexity the higher the level of the role, or the more complex the work.

At CPA the core competencies for each and every one of these competency-based role families include:

  • Customer Service
  • Organisational Knowledge
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Communication & Relationships
  • Innovation/Creativity
  • Qualifications/Experience

While what these competencies look like in action will vary from role to role, the key element for CPA is that they reflect what is most important to the organisation’s clients, and what is required of staff to realise CPA’s mission.

Organisational benefits: NFPs and staff are winners

CPA’s Frank Sedmak has identified four key benefits for the organisation since the roll out of their eight competency-based role families.

1. Every role is essential and effective

Competency-based role families are developed with the needs of clients front of mind, so require organisations to spend time identifying what’s important to them.

“The big benefit”, says Sedmak, “is that you don’t have roles existing in the organisation for any other reason than to meet client needs. Every person in the role is there because they are competent in that role, or they are learning, and there’s a plan in place to get them there.”

2. Decreased turnover and increased engagement

Competency-based role families eliminate uncertainty around what is required of staff to do their jobs well and to progress in the organisation.

As a result, it is easier to match people to roles and it’s clear to staff what they need to do to advance their careers.

As Frank Sedmak explains:

“Because you have the right person in the right role, turnover is lower. People are far more satisfied and because the role family starts to clarify where the career paths are so you have a better opportunity to hang onto your staff.”

At CPA, overall turnover decreased significantly after the implementation of competency-based role families, and now sits at 15.2% compared to the NFP sector average of 20.6%.

3. Remuneration is more transparent

Once role families and competencies are identified, you will have a clear hierarchy of roles that make it easy to assign pay grades to individual roles.

Frank Sedmak says that he also finds it’s easier to answer queries from staff who may have seen similar roles advertised elsewhere for more pay:

“Over the years people have come to me and said, ‘I’ve seen this role advertised elsewhere and I’m being paid $10,000 less here’. Because of the competency-based role families, I’m able to sit down with the job ad they’ve seen and compare the duties with our role families and explain exactly what the differences are and why the pay may be different.”

4. Professional development budget is well spent

Competency-based role families provide a clear and consistent set of competencies aligned with the needs of clients and the organisation’s overarching strategy. Frank Sedmak says that as a result, CPA knows what skills need to be developed for each staff member:

“It’s much easier to do a gap analysis between the skills a person has, and the skills they need to have. Hence every dollar you spend for learning and development is better focused.”

Challenges you may face

Implementing a major HR strategy in your organisation is not without its challenges, and Frank Sedmak admits that he did have some pushback when he first began rolling out competency-based role families.

“I still remember the first focus group meeting we had when we wanted to construct a role family for our disability support workers. Once we started to talk to managers, there was an idea that certain workers were special ­– lots of people thought it was impossible.”

He adds: “As a HR manager you need to sell the idea that competencies are common across all staff.”

To demonstrate that the idea was indeed possible, CPA spent time mapping out the organisation’s current structure and putting current job descriptions into role families.

Once staff had come on board, they then had to resist the temptation to try to implement all of their competency-based role families at once – in fact, Frank Sedmak strongly advises against this approach:

“It’s just too much change, and a lot of swamps to clear alligators from at once, so my strong suggestion is to start with one role family – for example, one where there are only a few people so you can test the waters.”

How will you know if you’ve got it right?

Once you’ve implemented your competency-based role families, you’ll need to understand if they’ve had a positive impact on your organisation by measuring the outcomes against key performance indicators (KPIs).

CPA uses a number of KPIs to track their progress including:

  • Turnover: including tracking both voluntary and involuntary turnover. Ideally, voluntary turnover will decrease.
  • Performance management: Tracking how many counselling sessions or disciplinary meetings are being held and measuring the outcomes;
  • Learning and development: Requests from staff to attend seemingly unrelated courses should drop, and professional development spend should become more focused as managers and staff gain a clearer understanding of expectations; and
  • Staff satisfaction: CPA has seen a level of measurable passion and engagement well-above average since the roll out of competency-based role families.

Whilst it can require a significant amount of upfront work, the benefits of adopting competency-based role families are wide-ranging and have the potential to save huge amounts of your organisation’s time and resources over the long term. As Frank Sedmak concludes:

“If you’re running an elite sporting team, a coach will coach the team to a point where every player knows what their role is within the team. If elite sports people can do it, we can do it the workplace.”

 Are you thinking about adopting competency-based role families in your organisation? We’d love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments below

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