4 Indirect Methods for Evaluating HR Competency Proficiency

By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP, SPHR October 30, 2017

​This is the second in a series of articles on evaluating competencies. This article discusses indirect approaches, using data, documents and history. The series is excerpted from A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff: Tips and Tools for Improving Proficiency in Your Reports (SHRM, 2018).

Though there are advantages to using direct methods of evaluating competencies—you may be communicating with employees and candidates, which can generate engagement—it is often valuable to use an indirect approach to verify perceptions gathered in other approaches. 

1. Review performance documents. If you have an effective performance management system in place, you may be able to look at past performance reviews of employees to assess their competencies. This would include looking at past ratings of and comments about your employees and connecting them to the competency model.   

Using the competency definitions and Proficiency Indicators from the SHRM BoCK, and considering how competencies are related to business functions, look for descriptions of related performance in the reviews. This approach requires a good understanding of your system and the competencies that you need in your HR function. 

For example, one of your employees may have done a particularly good job in developing a new benefits program that supported the goals of recruiting and retaining employees. This performance may indicate that the employee is strong in both Consultation and Business Acumen since acceptance of the program likely hinged on those competencies. 

The key here is to make sure your performance management system is valid and reliable before pinning your judgments on it. If it is not well developed or if your managers don't use it effectively, the data produced by the system may not be useful and could lead to bad decisions or discrimination claims. 

If the performance documents were created by someone other than you, a follow up conversation with the reviewer would be helpful to ensure you are judging the information accurately.  Also, look for trends in ratings and growth if you have access to multiple sources. 

2. Search learning management systems.Today organizations may have systems that track training and development. Mining the information in these systems may help identify employees' level of competency. Remember

that a competency includes knowledge, skills, and abilities, so past education or training, especially if it included assessments that gauge the level of learning, may give you useful data. 

3. Review career history. Review of past positions at both your organization and in previous jobs may also reveal information about competencies. The more you know about the past job or organization,

the better. Be careful not to assume too much from job titles. You may want to combine this method with questioning your employees or their past supervisors to determine what competencies they developed in what positions. 

When looking at information from other organizations, it may be valuable to research the other company including their business and how it is the same or different from your organization. 

4. Certifications. Professional certifications can indicate that an individual has various competencies. It is important to understand the certification and how it was acquired. Some, like the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), focus on HR competencies. 

Other HR generalist certifications, and those for compensation professionals, benefits specialists, or other functions, likely include evaluation of competencies as part of their tests, but it is a good idea to research the certifications your employees have or acquire before assuming what they measure. 

Candidates and You 

When evaluating external candidates for hire, Career History and Certifications can be useful.  Using these along with interview questions and references focused on competency proficiencies will help you determine if the candidate possess what you need. 

You can review your own performance documents and analyze your own career history focusing on personal achievements and successes to determine your own levels.  Sitting for a certification exam, if it focuses on necessary competencies, is a great way to determine your own strengths and weaknesses. 

Are there other ways you have determined competency levels?  How important is the accuracy of the documents you are considering? 

This is the second in a series of articles on evaluating competencies. The first article discussed direct approaches, including meetings and observation, and provides a list of questions you can use in competency assessment and development. The series is excerpted from A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff: Tips and Tools for Improving Proficiency in Your Reports (SHRM, 2018).

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