How I built a performance management process from scratch (Pt 4: Introducing goals & competencies)

By Lee Cooper

So far we’ve introduced a coaching culture, implemented an online platform and added continuous 360 feedback to our performance management framework.

Following these steps will incrementally increase engagement and enable employees and managers to familiarize themselves with your new platform and process. Next, we are going to introduce employee goals.

performance management continuum

A continuous feedback mechanism often uncovers a lack of unified understanding of the company vision, which should stimulate a review and update of how the company vision is communicated.

Rather than setting a large number of 12-month objectives at the start of each year, under the continuous approach, employees commit to a small number of short-term, flexible objectives (sometimes called “ agile goals ”) to work on over a 1-4 month period (with the freedom to set longer-term objectives where appropriate).

Related to performance, personal development, or a combination of the two, these goals and objectives are to be reviewed periodically at employee check-in meetings. When objectives are completed, new objectives are discussed and agreed upon to ensure there is a sustained focus on key priorities.

This cycle continues on an ongoing basis. From this, organizational goals can be mapped to individual objectives and key results (OKRs).

This means that any goals or objectives that are set contribute to the wider team and ultimately, organizational goals.

Within Totara Perform, performance activities such as appraisals, check-ins and 360-degree feedback provide great opportunities for employees and their managers to collectively monitor progress towards specific goals. (Adding new goals is simple and quick with the review items element.)

Setting clear goals for individuals, teams and the organization as a whole helps to drive an organization towards success. As deadlines approach and the day-to-day routine of work occupies focus, it can be easy to lose track of whether individual and team goals are being met.

Fortunately, Totara Perform enables hierarchical goal frameworks. You can create performance scales and goal-based reports to ensure that everyone is reaching their goals or being provided with support when required.

Examples of organizations that have used goals as part of their performance management strategy:

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How to use competencies for development (+ skills gap analysis)

Using role-based skill hierarchies and competencies will:

Skills and competencies can seem similar as they are just two ways of talking about ability, right?

Not exactly.

Competencies tend to focus on individual behaviors in particular roles. For example, the description of the competence “commercial drive” for a Sales Manager would include details that are not relevant to the same competency for an HR Director or Project Manager.

This would make it difficult to determine how one would perform in another role. Skills, on the other hand, are based on expertise that can be transferred across areas.

This was the hardest part for me as competency models often had multiple levels or layers.

For example, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Profession Map has core values, core knowledge and specialist knowledge, with four levels of each, you could also add company values or leadership competencies.

Where new job roles are defined, mapping underlying competencies to individuals in the business who already hold some or all of these competencies will help with career development and progression planning.

There are 5 steps you can take to do this:

  1. Start with why and use frameworks

This is the business reason you’re measuring skills. For most organizations, the reason why is growth. That could be market share, organization size or even personal i.e. what is my career pathway. Need some inspiration?

Many industry bodies provide competency frameworks.

Competency frameworks group job roles into job families. For instance:

  • Leadership

  • Management and administration

  • Product design and development

  • Sales and marketing

  • Technology and support

With the Totara HR import function (which enables people, position and organization data to be regularly and automatically updated from your HR system to Totara), we’ve made two frameworks available for import to your Totara Perform site:

  • The Chartered Institute of Marketing framework, which provides a framework of marketing abilities to guide the skills and behaviors that are expected of professional marketers.

  • The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Profession Map, which sets the international benchmark for the people profession.

  1. Simplify your competency models

Remember that one of the reasons competency models don’t work is their complexity. They’re both multi-level and wordy, so let’s not repeat that mistake.

When building your framework, focus on a few critical roles to start, like growth roles or high-performing teams, or maybe even new starters.

Of course, skills should be measured as broadly as possible to give you the most available data. You may find interesting insights like years of experience don’t necessarily correspond to mastery.

  1. Map skills to roles

Once you’ve decided which roles to start with, you can start to map the skills to them. This has often already been done as part of a job or role profile creation, so don’t reinvent the wheel.

Use this as an exercise to make sure these are up to date. I found the main challenges were that there were too many skills for each role, so prioritize. Eliminate non-critical skills to help the process.

People are a complex system of skills, some help in our role, some unrelated and some support our role.

For example, you could probably assume that somebody in a customer-facing role needs communication skills, but you may not need to map that unless you see a genuine need to upskill that skill for the role.

Don’t forget to ask your employees what skills they use, what gaps they have and what skills they aren’t using.

You may find that rather than good communication skills, process improvement, automation, data analysis and task prioritization are related to increased efficiency.

  1. Measure, monitor, modify

The next step is to measure and monitor the data you have. For example, you look at project management and see everyone is at the same level. So why measure it?

You’ve measured and monitored, but to get even better data, you need to modify. You could find that project management isn’t a skill that determines exceptional performance, so remove it and find the skills that do.

  1. Share your insights

This can be your big differentiator. Too often we share data on the percentage of completion, attendance or satisfaction. Why not add skill insights to this?

Thinking about the earlier example of experience years not relating to mastery could lead to changes in job requirements.

Finding these connections may take time, but when you do, share them. These insights will add significant value to your organization.

So there you have it. 5 steps to mapping skills to roles.

If you're building out your performance management framework, I'd recommend Totara Perform. It gives you the flexibility to do things in your style or way of doing things.


Step-by-step guide on building a performance management process from scratch:

  • The best practices to implement for a smooth pilot of your performance management program
  • How to navigate your way through the key stages of setting up a performance management process 
  • How to use workplace technology to automate the process and align employee learning and development with your organization’s objectives