BBYO is a member of The Talent Alliance, a community of practice focused on talent and culture, run by Leading Edge. This past year, BBYO asked the question: “What does it mean to be a successful professional in our workplace?” The answer to their question led to the creation of a competency model that fully outlines the elements of success–it’s a model that could be relevant to any organization.
Active leadership is one of BBYO’s core values. For over 90 years, this pluralistic teen movement has successfully provided leadership development experiences for hundreds of thousands of Jewish teens around the world. At the same time, BBYO has found itself challenged to address its own employees’ questions about what it means to be a successful leader within the organization. BBYO has a large number of entry-level employees and many of these young professionals are seeking career growth or promotions for the first time. Furthermore, the lack of clarity around how to fully define successful leadership isn’t limited to early career employees; it applies to BBYO’s seasoned professionals as well.
Two years ago, when Elizabeth Berman joined BBYO as Chief People Officer, she marveled that as many as 75% of the roles in the organization require a uniquely broad and diverse skill set. “I call them ‘expert generalist’ skills,” she told Leading Edge, describing the diversified skill-set that employees need to have, including finance, fundraising, event planning, public speaking, marketing, and effectively reaching and connecting with teens, all in one job description. For a leadership organization like BBYO, the need for employees to cultivate proficiencies in many different professional areas presented a challenge, as did having staff spread out geographically.
But the gap in defining success wasn’t only about technical competencies, or which part of the country people worked in. Staff had a general sense that in order to advance, they needed to not only achieve their goals, but often times, to exceed them as well. And it wasn’t clear where gaps existed for those who did not receive advancement opportunities, especially when many of them met their goals in terms of base metrics.
Elizabeth and her colleague, Director of Learning & Development, Jill Rosenberg, felt that the organization excelled at training staff and holding them accountable to their core metrics. But the question of “how” was still hanging in the air—how was BBYO expecting employees to go about performing their work? In truth, the organization had technical competencies down pat, but greater clarity was needed regarding what BBYO valued in terms of leadership competencies.
“In any non-profit organization,” Jill told Leading Edge, “you need to understand four things–the values you sit on, the technical competencies any employee needs in their given job to flourish, the metrics everyone is driving towards and, finally, the leadership and soft skills needed to be successful.”
When it came to soft skills, BBYO realized there simply wasn’t enough clarity on what was required for success in each position at the organization.
Why a Competency Model?
BBYO had a competency model, however, it was mostly viewed as an irrelevant and unwieldy document with descriptions of competencies that were vague and undefined. For instance, it would say, “communicate effectively,” but fell short in explaining what that meant in practice or how it was applied to various jobs in the organization, from a new professional to a senior executive — and everyone in between.
BBYO wanted everyone to have the same shared language in order to perform well in their current job and advance to their next position. They wanted staff across the organization to evaluate for themselves where they feel they sit in each core area and understand how they can pragmatically acquire the competencies for advancement. Most importantly, BBYO wanted staff to experience a workplace where managers have the tools to help them advance their careers.
Elizabeth and Jill set out to create a fresh competency model that would better clarify the behaviors desired for each level of job at the organization and integrate these competencies into the fabric of the organization, from hiring and performance reviews to training and promotion.
“Leadership development is a blend of art and science,” Jill said, “A strong, detailed competency model provides the scientific foundation for the art of leadership.”
Once key stakeholders bought into the need to update BBYO’s competency model, the team embarked on the following steps to get there.
Identifying Consultants. Elizabeth inventoried BBYO’s network and identified a dozen firms for an initial screening. From there, a larger group conducted phone interviews with the top three candidates. Ultimately, the team picked a firm that understood BBYO well and demonstrated a willingness to build a sophisticated product tailored to the organization.
Conducting Focus Groups. With a firm in place, the team conducted a handful of focus groups by phone, randomly assigned across departments but organized by staff level to help the consultants understand what various competencies meant to staff based on where they were in their career arc. Employees weighed in on what they found valuable about the existing competency model, what people were accountable to within it, and what was missing.
Drafting Back & Forth. Incorporating the valuable feedback from focus groups, the consultants and BBYO team went back and forth with several drafts, identifying what did and did not fit in a new competency model.
Garnering Stakeholder Feedback. Roughly halfway through the process, the team ran a draft of the model by a focus group comprised of C-suite managers, to gauge whether it tracked with the leadership’s vision of the organization. Once they integrated this feedback into the model, the team reassembled segments of each focus group to present the new model. They posed a rubric of questions such as, does this represent what you do, and, when you read this, do you think this is my job? Integrating additional feedback, they made a few final adjustments and sent the model back to the management team for final approval.
Sharing the Model. With the language in place, the team considered how to best share the new model with the entire organization. Rather than hand out the full detailed model at their upcoming staff conference, they created a one-pager to explain the purpose and values behind the competency model. To further bring it to life, they held deep dives into storytelling, with each manager getting up and providing examples of competencies by highlighting the work of select staff members and how different skills came into play with their efforts.
Tying it Back to HR Practices. Since the launch of the competency model, BBYO has been in the process of integrating the model into the organization by:
- Taking the model into account when drafting job descriptions
- Designing interview questions that specifically address key leadership behaviors
- Factoring it into feedback loops and formal review processes so that managers can identify the skills, strengths, and gaps of direct reports
- Empowering employees to own their career planning by developing learning strategies that track to the model and encouraging them to partner with managers in selecting courses, assignments, and experiences that are aligned with their specific needs
- Weaving the competencies into regular staff communications; for example, BBYO has an organizational update that goes out every Monday, which now includes an accompanying article for recipients to read that is directly linked to a competency bucket
As an organization, BBYO isn’t only focused on its goals, but also on the skills people need to achieve those goals, which is why they designed their new competency model to be naturally applicable to the work people do there every day. While this may sound relatively easy, it was an intense amount of effort that took over eight months for the team to complete. They guaranteed staff buy-in during development and made the implementation an organization-wide initiative–not just something driven by HR professionals on a pulpit.
In the long run, BBYO believes that the equation that helped them arrive at their new model is the right one–and that engaging in a similar exercise will pay great dividends for other organizations as well.