Rethinking Competencies, Expectations for Leaders

This article is the first in a series about rethinking competency behaviors, feedback, and programs. IT is also how I help you improve your organizational performance

The simplest way to be clear about behavioral expectations for leaders is to communicate which behaviors achieve the results your business wants — not with a list of competencies that may or may not link to outcomes. Companies that don’t examine the behaviors that lead to the desired outcomes are liable to confuse leaders about what is expected of them.

That’s not at all unusual. Though knowing what is expected of them at work is an employee’s most fundamental need, Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report found that only six in 10 employees know what those expectations are. What’s more, just 41% strongly agree that their job description aligns well with the work they are asked to do.

The lack of clear expectations and accurate job descriptions creates an ever-present fear of being exposed as incompetent and being punished for it.

And managers may be worse off than the teams they lead. According to Gallup’s first perspective paper in a series on this topic, The Manager Experience: Top Challenges & Perks of Managers, managers are:

  • 15 percentage points more likely to say they have multiple competing priorities
  • four points less likely to say their job description is clear or that it aligns to the work they do
  • six points more likely to feel stress during a lot of the workday
  • 11% less likely strongly agree they get to do what they do best every day.

The lack of clear expectations and accurate job descriptions creates an ever-present fear of being exposed as incompetent and then being punished for it. Leaders have a real incentive to meekly accept lists of competency requirements, even if the requirements don’t align with their role.

Consequently, HR’s performance reviews can’t be entirely realistic or comprehensive. When HR must rely on an ambiguous, inconsistent, contradictory array of traits, skills, capabilities, knowledge, behaviors, and responsibilities — and trust, this describes far too many competency models — the job is far more difficult than it has to be.

What HR needs, what all leaders and managers need, is a fresh look at the behaviors that actually contribute to performance, development and success.

Competencies 2.0: The 7 Expectations for Leadership Behavior

Recently, Gallup researchers conducted a study involving more than 550 job roles and 360 unique job competencies. It showed that leaders achieve success, despite varied roles, organizations, and industries, by focusing on the behaviors within these seven expectations:

1. Build relationships. Establish connections with others to build trust, share ideas and accomplish work.

2. Develop people. Help others become more effective through strengths development, clear expectations, encouragement and coaching.

3. Lead change. Recognize that change is essential, set goals for change and lead purposeful efforts to adapt work that aligns with the stated vision.

4. Inspire others. Encourage others through positivity, vision, confidence, challenge and recognition.

5. Think critically. Seek information, critically evaluate the information, apply the knowledge gained and solve problems.

6. Communicate clearly. Listen, share information concisely and with purpose, and be open to hearing opinions.

7. Create accountability. Identify the consequences of actions and hold yourself and others responsible for performance.

Changing the expectation from a focus on competency to behavior instead allows organizations and their leaders to focus on the critical expectations of the job, not the things no one can control (e.g., idiosyncrasies), overly specific requirements (e.g., specific knowledge), and unrealistic aspirations (e.g., irrelevant skills).

What HR needs, what all leaders and managers need, is a fresh look at the behaviors that actually contribute to performance, development and success.

Anyone can gear their actions toward an expectation, though everyone does so in their own way. A leader’s “own way” can be identified and measured with the CliftonStrengths assessment. People who know and use their CliftonStrengths are:

  • 6x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 7.8% more productive in their role
  • 3x as likely to have an excellent quality of life
  • 6x as likely to do what they do best every day

This is why when I work with you we find your competences.


What Engaged Employees Do Differently

Most employees are not engaged — only 15% worldwide and just 33% in the U.S. are engaged, Gallup research shows. To figure out what’s gone wrong with their engagement, leaders should study the behaviors of their highly engaged employees: What are they doing that the others are not?

Gallup, no stranger to the topic of engagement, finds there are several patterns of behavior unique to highly engaged employees, including:

Despite challenges and barriers, the engaged don’t often let problems become an excuse for inaction or destroy their ability to perform.
They seek ways to operate at their best, which means they focus on their strengths and don’t spend too much time trying to do what does not come naturally to them.
They are intentional about their engagement. They have a plan and independently, proactively try to improve their engagement rather than expecting someone else to engage them.
They take accountability for their performance instead of blaming others when things don’t go as they want.
Are Employees the Only Ones Responsible for Engagement?
The natural question, therefore, is why not just teach workers to overcome barriers, focus on strengths, draft a plan and take accountability? Why make engagement part of a manager’s job?

It’s part of a manager’s job because Gallup finds that 70% of the variance in a team’s engagement is related to their management. Managers create the conditions that promote the behaviors of engaged employees (or just the opposite) with the relationships they establish. The manager is either an engagement-creating coach or an engagement-destroying boss, but both relationships affect employee behavior.

Coaches empower workers to take on challenges and use their strengths, which engages workers. Engaged workers don’t need or want a boss, but they will seek out their manager’s advice, assistance and advocacy to improve their performance. These empowering relationships nurture the behaviors of engagement — “You help me do this so I can behave like that” — that enable high performance.

The traditional boss, on the other hand, is transactional — “You give me this, I behave like that” — which can create learned helplessness, discouraging the discretional effort that engaged employees exhibit, and ultimately disengaged employees who don’t own their own engagement.

As a result, they actually teach their employees to need constant managerial intervention because they can’t overcome obstacles, plan, take accountability or operate with their strengths on their own. They have to be bossed, because that’s the environment their managers have established.

Both kinds of relationships require a manager’s close involvement, which is why managers have so much influence over engagement. But the kind of involvement is very different. The difference is especially noticeable in a key way: Coaches individualize, and bosses generalize.

The manager is either an engagement-creating coach or an engagement-destroying boss, but both relationships affect employee behavior.

All people have innate qualities that enable them to excel in particular ways. Matching those strengths to task or role can create extraordinary performance outcomes, and employees who work with their strengths tend to be more engaged than others.

Generalization blurs those differences. Bosses who generalize will have trouble capitalizing on strengths and may be unable to detect engagement problems.

Individualization allows managers to see workers’ unique qualities as well as their engagement needs, which are different from worker to worker, day to day. That perspective helps them help workers articulate their own engagement needs. There’s an exceptionally effective tactic for that, which managers can adapt for workplace engagement: the Socratic method.

Managers Must Ask Engagement-Oriented Questions

The Socratic method is a dialectic that poses questions to stimulate reflection and critical thinking. Coaches use the Socratic method — though most probably don’t label it as such — to help workers think through challenges and solutions, analyze their performance and plan their approach to their work.

These questions are always influenced by the human element of engagement, the foundation of Gallup’s Q12 engagement assessment. Employees perform at their best when these elements are fulfilled. Coaches incorporate these elements — sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, as the individual requires — to connect workers to their own engagement.


For instance, there may be any number of reasons a worker is struggling to complete a project. A boss would simply give a deadline, but a coach would also ask questions:

“This report has been on your desk for a while now. Are you having trouble getting the information you need to complete it? Do you know what’s expected of you? Does it seem so low-priority you can afford to put it off? Do you need help?

Those are process-oriented questions, but they all connect to engagement elements as well: access to necessary materials, having clear expectations, connecting tasks to the organization’s mission or purpose, proof that the manager cares.

Questions like those give managers perspective on each worker’s employee experience and facilitate individualization and advocacy. Employees’ answers direct them to align their day-to-day work with their engagement. Just having the conversation empowers workers to overcome obstacles, focus on their strengths, take accountability and proactively improve their engagement.

Those, of course, are the behaviors associated with highly engaged workers. They don’t surface by accident. Those behaviors are a result of environmental conditions constructed and maintained by managers.

That’s why those behaviors can’t be taught to or demanded from employees. Those behaviors are a spontaneous outcome of relationships that managers must carefully tend.

So, while it’s instructive to look at the behaviors of highly engaged workers to understand what they do that others don’t, the lesson to learn is not to be found just with the employees. It’s also to be found with the manager.

As of now, only 15% of workers worldwide have managers who enable the behaviors of engagement. That doesn’t give leaders a very large group to learn from — but it does show that it’s time to start learning.

Looking For A Flexible Job? Five Ways To Ace The Job Interview.

October is National Work and Family Month. October 15 is National Flex Day, which started in 2013 by flexible jobs career site FlexJobs to call attention to the need for flexible work. If you’re interested in working flexibly, you don’t necessarily have to leave your job to get more flexibility in your career.

However, if your current job doesn’t lend itself to flexible work and you feel you need a change, recognize that looking for a flexible job is different than a traditional 9-to-5. Of course, you will have to do your research to find flexible jobs and companies. In addition, during the interview process, you need to demonstrate that you can work flexibly. Here are five ways you can tailor your interview technique to flexible jobs and ace the job interview:

1 – Know when to bring up flexibility

FlexJobs is hosting a virtual job fair on October 24. Given that FlexJobs is the organizer, the employers at that job fair will openly be hiring for flexible jobs. However, it’s not always that obvious whether an employer is open to a flexible work arrangement. The default might be a traditional work schedule or location, and you may need to negotiate for flexibility.

You will be most effective negotiating for flexibility only after the employer is interested in you. Therefore, you don’t want to bring up flexibility prematurely. When you know the employer is serious about hiring you – e.g., they start selling you on the job or talk about the logistics of getting started – then you can broach the topic of flexibility. Prior to that, your focus should be on demonstrating your overall qualifications, knowing you can discuss flexibility at a later time. If you want to confirm that the employer is open to flexibility before you interview, ask people who used to work there or still work there but are not involved in your hiring process. Focus 100% on proving yourself to be the best candidate first, and save the due diligence for after the employer already wants you.

2 – Highlight results

Employers hire to solve a specific problem. The job description often includes a laundry list of responsibilities and qualifications, but employers ultimately hire for results. The most effective way to win employers over is to focus the job interview on results you can achieve for this prospective employer based on results you have already achieved in the past.

With flexible jobs, highlighting results is even more important because you won’t be as visible as your colleagues. You’re on a different schedule or in a different place, so your employer has to trust you to get those results without seeing the work behind it. If you’re already inside a company, they have seen your track record. Before you’re hired, however, what you say during the job interview is your track record. Be specific on what you accomplished for others and what you can accomplish for this prospective employer. Ideally, you can show how working flexibly contributed to getting those results.

3 – Outline how you would approach the work

In addition to the results you could accomplish, outline how you would get these results. With flexible jobs, the employer can’t see you work. A clear outline about how you would your approach the work will build trust with the employer since results aren’t going to materialize instantly. A clear strategy for your work also shows the prospective employer that you are self-starting and reliable – key traits for getting things done flexibly.

Outlining your work approach is also a chance to verify your understanding of the job description. When you and the employer discuss, not just the end result, but the process and the day-to-day activity, you get a much clearer picture of what the job really entails. Job postings can be wrong, and with flexible jobs where you may have less hands-on management to help you course-correct, you need to know from the outset what the relevant goals are.

4 – Confirm the logistics

If you’re working a different schedule or from a different location, you’ll have different equipment, resources, potentially even log-in access. It’s easy to take for granted all the logistics supporting the workplace when you’re onsite and everything is provided for you. Once you’re working flexibly, you need to ensure you have the support you need.

During the interview, as you confirm what needs to be done and how you would approach it (points 2 and 3 above), listen for what the employer already offers or what infrastructure you might need to set up. If other people are already working flexibly, you probably will have all or most of what you need. But if you’ll be the pioneer, you should expect to invest additional time with IT, security, facilities and your colleagues. If you have done this in the past, these specific stories would be relevant examples to share during the interview – assuring the prospective employer that you can hit the ground running.

5 – Make flexibility a non-issue or even a competitive advantage

If you check off points 1-4 above, you can convince an employer that you are right for the job. However, you also want to convince them that you are better than other candidates, including the ones who are willing to work the typical hours, schedule and/or location. One way to do this is to be the better qualified candidate overall, so that even if the employer feels like flexibility has a cost, they are more than willing to pay it in order to land you.

Another way to overcome the flexibility objection is to show how flexibility conveys an advantage. Pepper your interview with examples of how flexible work has increased your productivity, creativity or other tangible results. Have outside research on the benefits of flexible work readily available to bolster your case.

Use the interview process to bank in-person rapport for later

The interview process, whether for flexible or traditional jobs, is a great opportunity to build rapport with the people you will be working with. If your flexible work arrangement means you won’t see these people as much once you’re working, take advantage of the interview process to get the in-person interaction you won’t have later. Focusing on rapport will also increase your likability during the interview process – a critical and too often overlooked factor in hiring decisions.

5 Types of Turnover You Can (and Should) Prevent

By Guest Blogger•January 28, 2019

Turnover is a natural part of every organization, and there are a variety of reasons behind it. Some turnover is outside your control, like when someone chooses to move closer to family or decides to leave the corporate world to become their own boss. Yet, there are other instances of employee turnover you can actively work to prevent.

 • 9 MIN

Retaining Employees Matters More Than Ever

Voluntary turnover is a greater concern for employers now more than any time in recent history. In the U.S., the number of job openings currently exceeds the number of workers seeking work. Skilled workers have numerous options and can easily jump ship in today’s robust economy. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers: total employee resignations have risen every year since 2010, and they exceeded 40 million in 2018 alone. For all of these reasons, it’s more important than ever for employers to focus on preventing turnover as much as possible.

5 Types of Preventable Turnover and What You Can Do About Them

1. When someone is in a role that’s not the right fit

You hired Andre a year ago thinking he’d be a great addition to your company. You are not wrong; Andre is a good culture fit. However, he struggles with his daily tasks even though he’s received solid training and support from his manager. Andre is in a customer-facing role, but he dislikes talking to people constantly. He prefers systems and processes and wishes he had a job in company operations. But because Andre is concerned about keeping his current job and doesn’t see any internal opportunities, he quietly looks for new jobs outside of your organization. One day, seemingly out of the blue, Andre gives his two weeks notice.

Chances are, you have employees in your organization like Andre—people who are in the wrong job due to a mismatch between the essential duties of the role versus their interests, skills, and talents.

How this happens:

The breakdown in this situation is almost always a lack of communication. It can be scary for employees to speak up about the changes they’d like to see in the workplace, especially if managers don’t actively encourage feedback. Employees may worry that any critical feedback they offer will hurt their chances for advancement or even result in termination.

On the other hand, if your organization has a culture where people are constantly overworked and stressed, managers may feel they don’t have the time to check in with each employee and invest in their ongoing development.

When these kinds of conversations are perpetually on the back burner, employees get the message that they are only valued for their immediate results and communication is not a priority. Because of this, they’re likely to emotionally disengage from their work and look for better options somewhere else.

How you can fix it:

Instead of pretending these problems don’t exist, start encouraging your employees to talk about the changes they want, and make listening a priority. The key is to create a safe place for employees to address job concerns, then make a visible effort towards improvement.

You might follow the approach Robert Glazer, CEO of Acceleration Partners, took with his employees. He explains, “It all starts with people being open and honest about their challenges, if they’re feeling happy or fulfilled in their role, and removing the taboo of talking about leaving.” Additionally, he committed to being direct with employees when their performance was lacking, and giving them enough time to look for jobs elsewhere.

Once employees express their desire to move to a new role, be honest with them about what you can and can’t do to help. In some cases, an employee may have interest in moving to a different team within the company. If there is a business need for what they want to do, and the employee has most of the skills needed, then it’s simply about developing a transition plan. Other times, an employee may want to be in a certain role (or level) but your organization does not have a need for the role. Or perhaps, your organization isn’t doing the type of work the employees craves. In these cases, it’s okay to be honest with the employee about the situation so they can make an informed choice about their next step.

Either way, having open, honest discussions with employees about their development shows them you respect and support their needs and aspirations, which can encourage them to stay with your organization

2. When managers hoard talent

Hiring internally across different teams or functions allows your organization to develop and keep high performers engaged as well as improve the transfer of knowledge and best practices within the company. If you notice transfers don’t happen very often at your organization, it might be because your managers are hoarding talent. Hoarding talent refers to when managers deliberately prevent their top talent from leaving the team, forcing them to remain longer than what is good for the employee and the company.

When star performers sense a lack of mobility, they are likely to flee. These workers are driven to achieve and advance, so they will search for another organization that will empower them to move up when yours doesn’t.

How this happens:

When an organization creates an environment where each team has to compete against one another for budget, resources, and recognition, managers have no incentive to let their star performers move onto another team. Managers don’t want the pain of replacing the employee, and some may worry that if they do let an employee move on, they won’t get the budget to hire a strong replacement.

How you can fix it:

Know how to recognize this behavior in your managers. There are several signs from managers to look out for, such as under-rating top employees, telling the employee they’re “close but not quite ready” for the next position, and more.

If you identify this problem in your organization, one of the best things you can do is be intentional with your incentives so as to not stifle employee mobility. For example, stop rewarding bonuses to managers based entirely on their team’s performance. Reward managers based on their ability to cultivate talent that stays within the firm (retention rate for people who previously reported to the manager).

You might try more unconventional practices. Companies like Google have tried to minimize talent hoarding by allowing employees to nominate themselves for a promotion. Cisco uses their own recruiters to source and place the best internal talent. Here at PayScale, we promote from within whenever we can. All employees have access to all the available job postings across the company through an internal portal and can raise their hand for a position.

3. When high performers are underpaid

When high performers are underpaid relative to the market or feel like they’re not rewarded appropriately for their accomplishments, they are especially likely to quit.

How this happens:

There are two pieces to this issue. One possibility is the market salary has moved up for that particular role or job category (this is known as “market underpayment”). When someone is in an in-demand position, they’re likely fielding calls from recruiters at other firms. When employees have these recruiting conversations, they may discover they’re underpaid.

The second possibility is that you’re not adequately differentiating pay for high performers versus average performers. For example, if you’re giving high performers a 3.5 percent raise and giving the average performer a 3.0 percent raise, it sends the message that your firm doesn’t really value achievement and results. Giving your high performers a 10 percent increase is much more meaningful.

How you can fix it:

The best way to avoid underpaying to the market is to regularly benchmark your positions to the market and set aside a fund for making market-based adjustments for all positions. Depending on the nature of your jobs and your talent markets, you may want to evaluate your jobs every six months to make sure your pay ranges are in sync.

To set pay based on performance or results, you’ll need to create clear criteria on what it means to meet and exceed expectations in each job. To perform, employees must know what they’re measured against and have control over those metrics. To accurately gauge performance, it’s important to keep track of goals and results and make sure that feedback is delivered in a timely manner.

Then, develop a plan on how you can shift more money towards rewarding high performers. This might be done by raising your total budget, or it might mean giving non-top performers a smaller raise.

4. When pay disparity exists

Pay disparity describes the phenomenon when two people hold the same job or very similar jobs but there is a large variance in their salary (think a 20 percent difference or greater).

How this happens:

Pay disparity can become a problem when you hire candidates and do not stick with established salary ranges. For example, let’s say you hired two people for the account executive role. One person negotiated hard, so you raised their starting salary by $15,000 from the initial offer. Meanwhile, the second person eagerly accepted the initial offer because they were just thrilled to join your organization.

Fast-forward six months. These two employees have become comfortable enough with each other to discuss salary. Now, the second account executive knows that she is paid $15,000 less than her colleague. She is no longer happy with her pay.

Pay disparity could also occur because two employees who hold the same title are in fact not doing the same job (one is doing a higher-level job than the other one).

How you can fix it:

When you see significant pay variance between employees in the same job, start investigating why. Is the pay variable tied to performance, tenure, or other justifiable factors? Or, is it possible the two employees are not actually doing the same job, despite their titles? Is one more senior than the other? Is one in a newly created role that needs to be more clearly defined and benchmarked?

If you find two employees are in the same role and one is underpaid, try to close the pay gap as soon as you can.

5. When someone is overworked or close to burnout

If you notice certain employees are working during all hours, not taking vacations, or even working during vacations, it’s likely they’ll soon become exhausted and quit. Research shows many workers characterize their jobs as stressful, and this stress costs U.S. businesses 30 million a year in lost work days. Without downtime, it’s impossible to get the best results from any employee.

How this happens:

At the surface, burnout happens because people carry heavy or overwhelming workloads. But overwhelming workloads are a symptom of a deeper issue. Organizational culture can either promote or prevent burnout: leaders and managers can send the message that work trumps everything else in life, or they can show that it’s healthy to have a life outside of work.

How you can fix it:

Shifting your culture is the only way to truly solve this problem, and it won’t be an overnight fix.  Creating a culture that values work-life balance has to start from the top. Business leaders need to believe employee well being—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—matters to the success of the business.

One way to send this message is to lead by example. If you are a leader, don’t send emails after work hours or while on vacation, and make sure you actually use your time off so you can encourage others to do the same.

Additionally, consider creating an unlimited paid-time-off policy (PayScale has one). This shows that your organization values rest and trusts employees to be responsible. You may also want to create policies that give employees the option to work from home or work flexible hours, so they can take care of other parts of their lives.


By identifying issues and making changes today, you can prevent losing your best people in the future. Turnover will always exist within your organization, but it doesn’t have to be a threat to the company’s growth and success. Take a look at your own turnover rate, and see if you can improve on any of these factors going forward.

Google’s Former Head of HR Issues a Warning That All Business Owners and Leadership Teams Should Read Culture matters now more than ever. Laszlo Bock shares three reasons the timing has never been better to invest in your organization’s culture.

Culture influences decisions and decisions make or break businesses. 

This was the message Laszlo Bock shared in his latest LinkedIn post. He also issued a warning to organizations who are deciding whether or not to invest in corporate culture. 

“Failures of culture have been the single biggest destroyers of value in the last five years,” he wrote.

Bock understands the importance of culture more than most. The former SVP of People Operations at Google helped build the organization into the behemoth it is today. Throughout his 10-year career (2006 to 2016), he grew Google’s workforce from 6,000 to 76,000 employees, respectively. And no, it wasn’t about the free food, lava lamps, and beanbags, if you ask him. It was about making work a little more enjoyable and productive each day. 

Bock backed up his advice with some pretty good examples of culture gone wrong. The Wells Fargo dummy accounts and the Volkswagen emissions scandals are just a couple. I can think of a myriad of others, including Facebook’s privacy issues and Johnson & Johnson’s recent opioid indictment. 

In all these cases, you could argue that a lack of clear values, ethics, core principles, and their execution led these organizations astray. 

Don’t let it get to this point. Invest in corporate culture now. 

In addition to the extreme cases above and the numerous reports showing tangible benefits of great cultures, here are Bock’s three reasons why culture should matter to your organization now. 

1. The internal is now external.

Long gone are the days where what happens in “Vegas” stays in “Vegas.” With social media and numerous apps for online company ratings, employees can air your dirty laundry with the click of a button. 

You may not be concerned if a disgruntled employee leaves; however, you will be when their review prevents other talented prospects from applying. 

With the company’s doors now open to the public, organizations need to monitor and invest in their internal brand just as much as their external.  

My favorite quote on the subject comes from former Campbell’s Soup CEO, Doug Conant, who famously turned around the once failing food manufacturer: “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” 

2. The data on culture shows clear economic impact. 

Building the business case for corporate culture used to be fuzzy. Now, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of reports quantifying the bottom-line impact of healthy cultures. 

One of my favorite examples came from Bock’s book “Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead​.” In it, he highlighted one of his team’s pilot projects to improve new employee assimilation. With what he refers to as a “nudge,” (aka, a reminder, prompt, or suggestion) his team was able to decrease the time it took for new employees to be productive. 

The nudge, which came in the form of an email reminder to managers, resulted in new employees becoming competent in their roles 25 percent faster than other employees. In it were cultural considerations like transparency, open communication, networking, and quality time with managers. Pretty good results for a simple culture change if you ask me. 

3. People technology has advanced enough to help.

With the introduction of employee engagement, pulse, and satisfaction surveys, organizations can get a better understanding of what their employees’ are experiencing, and idea’s to help improve their working conditions and productivity.

Also, with the introduction of artificial intelligence and natural language processors, underlying sentiment can be identified and addressed before issues escalate. 

Your organization no longer needs to guess or experiment with culture change. Ask your employees; they will tell you what they need. 

Culture is not just a buzz word anymore. With the evolution of the workplace, organizations have to leverage cultural strategies now to drive organizational alignment, foster ethical/risk-averse behavior, and, as a result, will positively impact the bottom line through increases in productivity.