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Consistency: The Hidden Competency

Or, if you were a squirrel, would you be blind or fat?

A man in a suit and tie smiling.
Alex Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP

I enjoy meeting HR professionals across the globe. My favorite part is hearing their different perspectives, whether they're quietly commenting on specific trends in talent acquisition or shouting about the future of HR in general. Everything I hear helps fuel my thinking as I plan new research in our field.

Even more valuable are the questions people ask. They range from lighthearted queries such as "What are the answers to the SHRM-CP exam?" to serious ones such as "What is the biggest challenge most organizations face?" I strive to respond to all questions objectively, sharing insights that can help them, whatever their situation.

Here's the question I'm asked more than any other: "What competency would you add to the SHRM Competency Model and the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (BoCK)?"

Since I was the lead investigator and developer of these foundational documents of SHRM Certification, this question is significant to me. I always give it some thought. Yet my answer is always the same: "I would make Change Management a competency, rather than a subcompetency of Leadership & Navigation." But my unvarnished response would go much further: "I'd add another competency that is all too often forgotten or forsaken—consistency."

I know you're shaking your head. How is consistency a competency? How does it fit the definition of a competency in the SHRM BoCK ("a cluster of highly interrelated knowledge, skills and abilities that give rise to the behaviors needed to perform a given job effectively")?

Over the past 10 years, I've worked with countless researchers and HR professionals to identify the elements that lead to HR career success. Recently, while working with some subject matter experts, they repeatedly noted the importance of being consistent. But they also noted that consistency is an intangible trait.

I agree with the first part of their assessment, but I disagree with the second. I would argue that consistency is neither intangible nor a trait. If anything, it is a forgotten, or hidden, competency. Why? Because consistency underscores every practice, every communication, every decision of HR professionals, all over the world.

Consistency matters in everything HR does. This is demonstrated by three types of people:

  • The Inconsistent Decision-Maker. The importance of consistency becomes apparent when inconsistency rears its ugly head. One of the most egregious examples in the world of HR is when inconsistent processes are applied to similar decisions. Not every decision requires the same treatment, but every decision should be made using the same process. To do otherwise causes all sorts of perceived inequities.
  • If an HR leader, for instance, evaluates the starting salaries of staff by applying different sets of rules to different team members, that inconsistency equals inequity. Consistency is needed to perform the job of salary evaluation effectively.
  • The Consistent Deviator. "The only constant is change" is a worthy aphorism, but its lesson is corrupted when change is made for its own sake. Most enterprises need to constantly adapt or innovate beyond current practices, and most adaptations and innovations are warranted. But what happens when those changes consistently deviate from the enterprise's core values? It's a recipe for disaster. Enterprises on the steady march to nonexistence focus their efforts on "thinking outside the box" without understanding why the box is there in the first place.
  • In HR, this often manifests itself in "new and improved" ways to attract and retain talent. Recruitment in such organizations is always being done differently, always deviating from existing practices, and, more importantly, from the organization's core values. Where's the competence in setting objectives and then making changes without accountability for meeting them.
  • The Consistently Inconsistent Communicator. We've all talked to that colleague whose story changes every time. Communications with such people are painful, but, if you're not personally communicating with them, they can be entertaining. (If you're like me, you bring popcorn and see what kind of yarn they'll spin next. In politics, this person is known as a flip-flopper.) But ultimately, their situation is just plain sad, because their only consistency is being inconsistent.
  • I encounter this in my work when someone claims that a certain statistic is rooted in fact but then admits it was just illustrative. Then, the person jumps to claiming something altogether different—all from the same data. I just shake my head and chuckle. Which is it? Have some popcorn.

Like most HR professionals, I strive to find effectiveness—consistent effectiveness. "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while," my late uncle John used to say, "but the fat squirrel knows where to go for nuts day in and day out." (I miss that genius every day!)

Which area of your organization is most in need of consistency? Where do you look for consistency among your peers? How do you practice consistency? Do you know where the "nuts" are? What do you think of consistency as a competency?

Alex Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, is senior vice president of knowledge development for SHRM.


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