Tag Archives: performance reviews

Competency frameworks – a management tool for recruitment, development and knowledge sharing

By Elisabeth Goodman, 15th November 2017

Competency frameworks have been very much in my mind at the moment as they are core to the recruitment and interview skills course that my RiverRhee Associate, Alison Proffitt and I recently delivered for a client as an in-house course.

They are also an excellent foundation for discussions about development and career progression that might be taking place at this time as part of annual performance reviews and appraisals.

Leadership competencies - HBR Nov-Dec 2017

Levels of [leadership] competence.  Harvard Business Review November-December 2017, p. 89

The November-December issue of Harvard Business Review also carries an excellent article on using competency frameworks as a basis for leadership development (see note 1.)

Last but not least, competency frameworks can be a useful tool to underpin the sharing of knowledge and expertise across an organisation.

Using competency frameworks for recruitment and interviewing

When recruiting candidates, we’re looking for as good a predictor of what their performance will be on the job as possible.  So it’s a good idea to have a clear idea of what we are looking for in the first place, and to make sure that everyone involved in the interview process has the same understanding.

Defining the competencies – both the technical and softer or behavioural skills – that we want is a way to do this. Examples of the softer skills include problem solving, communication, decision making. Technical skills will include scientific, legal, regulatory – depending on the nature of the job.

Job advertisements can then be framed to reflect essential or desirable competencies.

Interview questions can be structured so that the interviewees are asked to share examples of how they have demonstrated the competencies in their previous work.  Questions could use a ‘STAR” approach for example:

  • “Give me an example of when…” (Situation or Task)
  • “What action did you take?” (Action)
  • “What was the outcome?” (Result)

Competency frameworks for development and career progression

Organisations usually have some form of career ladder, through which individuals can progress as a result of their technical and/or behavioural or leadership skills.

Ideally, they will have different job titles, and accompanying job descriptions, the contents of which could form the basis of a competency framework along the lines shown in the illustration from the HBR article above.   There is also an excellent example of competency levels for the analysis and use of information in this UK government document: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/214008/competency-framework.pdf

A competency framework provides individuals and their managers with a concrete foundation for discussions about what the individual needs to do, and to demonstrate, in order to support their role and progress in their career.

Identifying and developing the leaders within your organisation

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz et al, in the HBR November-December 2017 article, share some excellent insights from Egon Zehnder’s collection of 30 years’ worth of data as global executive leadership recruiters.  They state that 72% of the managers within their database demonstrate the potential to grow into executive leadership roles, and 9% of these into CEO roles.

There is tremendous potential to develop managers within organisations to fulfil leadership roles.  Yet the authors’ findings suggest that internal leadership development programmes are typically weak at doing this, and that organisations either fail to use, or lose their best talent as a result.

The authors have identified 7 to 8 core competencies that can be used to evaluate senior managers on their leadership capability, and a further 4 to 5 predictors of their potential as leaders.  With the right match, and effective internal development activities such as stretch assignments, secondments, coaching and mentoring, can then shape the individuals for a leadership role.

Using competency frameworks to support knowledge sharing

There is another potentially powerful way to use competency frameworks to encourage and support sharing knowledge and expertise across an organisation.  I have seen this done in a workshop setting at a NetIKX seminar led by Chris Collison.

Although Chris uses different terminology, participants in a workshop identify different competencies present within the group.  They then use this as a starting point to agree areas to focus on for sharing their expertise.

This kind of approach could be used within an organisation, to foster a climate of sharing and collaboration.  Teams or departments could create a map of the type of competencies, and different levels of proficiency present within or across groups.

Individuals with greater proficiency in a particular area could then act as mentors to others wanting to develop their knowledge or skills in that area.  Mentors would thus develop their own management skills, as well as the knowledge and skills of their ‘mentee’.


  1. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz et al.  Turning potential to success.  The missing link in leadership development.  Harvard Business Review, November – December 2017, pp.86-93
  2. About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Performance reviews – kill them or keep them?

By Elisabeth Goodman and Liz Mercer, 6th December 2016

The idea of starting our own ‘Journal Club’ cropped up recently during a demonstration of the GROW coaching model on one of RiverRhee’s Introduction to Management course.  Both of us are keen to keep up with our professional reading and so pick up and feed ideas more effectively into the training and coaching that we provide to our clients.


Goler, Gale and Grant’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Let’s not kill performance evaluations yet” (November 2016 pp.91-94) seemed a fitting topic to start with as it’s one that we cover in our course, and has also been very much to the fore recently in our in-house training for clients.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that this HBR article is written from a US perspective and may not be reflective of the situation elsewhere.  It is also a case study of Facebook’s approach where Goler and Gale work.  Dale is a professor at Wharton and also a consultant to Facebook.  That said, there are some good, thought provoking ideas relevant to any organisation that employs people! And many organisations we’ve worked with have considered the same opportunities and challenges.

Performance evaluations, performance reviews, appraisals – what’s the difference?

The terms seem to be used somewhat interchangeably.  The article seems to focus on the use of performance ratings or scores as an integral part of performance evaluations.  We have mainly seen or heard the terms performance reviews and appraisals used interchangeably in the UK – and tend to use the former, as in the title for this blog.

Arguments for killing or keeping performance reviews

Goler et al have found that some organisations are stopping the formal performance reviews altogether, because the assignment of ratings is often biased, and the annual cycle means that employees don’t get feedback often or soon enough.

However, as the authors point out, ratings will still be assigned by management behind the scenes as a way of making decisions about pay and promotion. They suggest that the mechanism for assigning ratings should be transparent.

They also argue that something is better than nothing: people want to have feedback on their performance and discuss their development goals.  They quote Daniel Kahneman’s findings that even bad news about performance is better than no news – it gives people the certainty that they need to adjust their perspective and take action.

Some of the organisations that Goler et al have come across are switching to real-time feedback systems.  However, they suggest that an annual review is a useful way of formalising the process – allowing proper time for consideration and reflection.

Our experience of performance reviews in the UK

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All the companies that we have come across are using some form of performance reviews.  Our experience is that some of them are:

  • Taking the rating piece out of the performance review discussion, so as to allow a more open discussion – however that does mean there is less transparency about how pay and promotion decisions are made.
  • Supplementing the formal annual review with quarterly or twice yearly reviews.  Something that is particularly important for many of the Life Science organisations that we work with, as the unexpectedness and uncertainty of science can make it important to review and adapt objectives on an on-going basis.
  • Ensuring that direct reports have regular one-to-one discussions with their managers to discuss feedback in a timely way

How Facebook is taking performance evaluations a step further

Facebook has adopted some interesting approaches to their performance evaluations.

  1. Peers write evaluations, share them with their managers, and, in most cases, one another.  This supports openness and transparency.
  2. Managers then discuss their reports in a face-to-face meeting, championing and defending.  This reduces the risk of personal bias.
  3. Managers then write the performance review documents – which are examined by a team of analysts to remove bias.
  4. Ratings are translated into compensation using a pre-defined formula.

In addition:

  1. They set stretch goals, with a 50:50 chance of success, as they believe it is more motivating for people to have something high to aim for.  They suggest that people want to find out and know what they can and can’t achieve.
  2. Senior leaders share the feedback from their own performance evaluations, normalising the fact that they too can sometimes fall short of targets.
  3. There is a general acceptance that people will not get the same performance ratings from one year to the next.

What we would like to see adopted more widely by organisations

We don’t have a solution yet on whether ratings should be shared as part of the performance review discussion.  We can see arguments either way.  However we do think that:

  1. How ratings are determined should be transparent.
  2. There is definitely value in senior managers having a face-to-face discussion about all the performance reviews of their managers’ direct reports, for the reasons described by Facebook.  We know one company in the UK that does this both before and after the performance review discussions.
  3. More effort should be made to collect feedback from other managers or peers that individuals work with, especially in matrix organisations where they may report to both line and project managers.
  4. Performance discussions should be a continuous process, throughout the year – a shared conversation and based on a growth mindset.

And we do believe that some form of annual review process should be retained, for all the reasons given above!

About the authors

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

Liz Mercer is an Associate with RiverRhee Consulting.  She is a Human Resources professional, with 30 years experience, mainly in Pharmaceuticals and Biotech and understands the challenges of leadership, management and team development.  Liz also runs her own business providing training, facilitation and coaching, for individuals and teams: with a particular interest in the challenges for virtual team leaders. She has a Masters in Organisational Behaviour, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is accredited in MBTI and has a certificate in Coaching.