Practice Makes Proficient: Where to Start, Part 2

Take the time to determine your developmental needs

By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP December 12, 2019
Practice Makes Proficient: Where to Start, Part 2

​At the SHRM Volunteer Leaders' Business Meeting held last month in Washington, D.C., I had the privilege of meeting many of the more than 1,000 HR pros in attendance who have taken on such roles as chapter president, state council director and Advocacy Team captain. These folks not only fulfill volunteer leader roles, they also have day jobs in HR—and even personal lives! When quizzed about their personal challenges, the vast majority said it seems there just aren't enough hours in the day.

Not having a lot of extra time certainly impacts our ability to develop our competencies and those of our HR employees. But it is epically important to engage in this critical activity.

In competency development, the key is to identify what areas you most need to develop and focus on those. In last month's article, we saw how your career level might require particular competencies. Now we'll see how your job function and organization can help you identify competencies that need development.


Start by thinking about the relationship between technical and behavioral competencies in your job. Technical competencies reflect the knowledge required to perform in your specific role; behavioral competencies describe the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that allow you to apply technical knowledge.


Next, identify your organization's business plans and goals so you can see which competencies you need to support them. If you are lucky, your organization has already identified the specific competences it wants to see in all employees.

Finally, determine your level of proficiency in the two or three competencies you have identified as most important for you. Then you can prioritize your related developmental activities. Remember, practice makes proficient!

Below are three ways to evaluate your developmental needs: direct methods, indirect methods and assessment tools.

1. Direct Methods

Meeting with your boss. This is the most direct method of evaluation. Discuss with your immediate supervisor what he or she sees as your level of proficiency in your target competencies. Some organizations make career or development discussions part of their performance management process. If yours does, use your discussion as an opportunity to assess your competencies. Just make sure the system is solid and your own relationship management capabilities are strong. To facilitate the discussion, use behavioral interview questions, or check out the lists of proficiency indicators in the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge™ (SHRM BoCK™).

Being observed. Ask others (often your co-workers or boss) to observe you while you're working, note your behaviors and identify the competencies you exhibit in specific work activities. It is important for them to be as specific as possible in terms of your observable behaviors.

Here is an example: You have determined that the Relationship Management competency is critical to one of your job functions, managing benefits. One of the proficiency indicators for Relationship Management is "establish[ing] a strong and positive reputation ... as an open and approachable HR professional." Ask your observers if, during your organization's benefits open-enrollment period, employees seemed to gravitate toward you to answer their questions because of your observable openness and approachability.

You can also ask others to observe your behaviors in assignments or activities that are not a part of your daily job. For example, say you want to know your level of competency in Critical Evaluation. One of the proficiency indicators under its data gathering subcompetency is "gathers data using appropriate methods ... to inform and monitor organizational solutions." If a team is investigating a new HR information system, you might ask to be assigned to it, then have your observers see how well you contribute to data gathering.

Meeting with co-workers, customers, managers and supervisors. You can obtain a lot of information about competency-related behaviors by meeting with people who work with you. Plan your questions ahead of time, referencing your actual behaviors as well as your relationship with the person you're meeting with. If the information from your meeting is to be useful, you need honest answers based on specific examples. Use caution when deciding which co-workers or customers you might approach and how you approach them.

If you are the one conducting an evaluation of employee competencies, it is best to use this method plus others. That way you can ensure a balance of opinion, in case the colleague or customer you meet with reveals negative motives toward the employee you are evaluating.

2. Indirect Methods

Reviewing performance documents. If your organization has an effective performance management system in place, you may be able to assess employees' competencies by looking at their past performance reviews (including ratings and comments) and connecting them to the SHRM Competency Model. Make sure your system is valid and reliable, however, before pinning your judgments on it. If the system it is not well-developed or your managers don't use it effectively, the data it produces may not be useful and could lead to bad decisions or discrimination claims.

Searching learning management systems. Mining the information in an organizational system that tracks training and development may also help you identify competency proficiency. Remember that a competency includes KSAs, so past education or training may give you useful data, especially if assessments that gauge the level of learning are included.

Reviewing your career history. A review of your past positions (at your current organization and previous jobs) may also reveal information about your competencies. To determine which proficiencies you developed in your various positions, combine this indirect method of review with the direct method of questioning your past supervisors.

Examining your certifications. Professional certifications can indicate that an individual has certain competencies. It is important to understand the certification and how it was acquired. Some, like the SHRM-CP and SHRM‑SCP, focus on HR competencies. Certifications for HR generalists, compensation professionals, benefits specialists and other functions likely include evaluation of competencies as part of their tests. But it's a good idea to research any certification before assuming what it measures.

3. Assessment Tools

SHRM resources. SHRM has created assessment tools for evaluating competencies in HR professionals and departments. These tools complement the SHRM Competency Model, research into which led to the development of questions about each competency. The questions were further validated using input from subject matter experts in a cognitive lab and evaluated for global applicability.

By helping you assess your HR skills and competencies and guiding you toward further training and development, these tools (available to SHRM members only) can help fast-track your career. Three easy steps can get you on your way to becoming the best HR professional you can be:

  1. The Competency Self-Assessment (CSA) identifies your competency strengths and developmental needs. Bonus: SHRM-certified SHRM members receive one professional development credit (PDC) per year for completing the CSA each calendar year.
  2. The Development Activity Wizard gives you tailored learning and development activity recommendations, which will help build your HR expertise and competency proficiency.
  3. The Competency Development Plan helps you outline a personalized strategy that will put your development goals into action.

Other resources. Assessments not directly aligned with the SHRM Competency Model may also be useful. Assessment tools should call out competencies. Additional options include working with an assessment center or industrial psychologist.

Phyllis Hartman, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant in Freedom, Pa. She is the author of several books for the HR profession, including A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff (SHRM, 2017).

For more information on SHRM Certification and to register for the exam, please visit our website.

Already SHRM-certified? Be sure to maintain your credential by recertifying. Learn more about recertification activities here.


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