How show-and-tell helps people develop communication competencies

Your first presentation to an audience was probably in kindergarten. The topics are more complex now, but a similar approach breeds clear understanding. Consider these seven tips.

Communicating competencies

Communication competencies can seem complicated and abstract.

They’re the core skills, knowledge and behaviors that employees need to succeed. They’re often described in broad terms such as “integrity” or “decision making” because they apply to employees at all levels and in all roles.

To bring them into sharper focus, think back to your first show-and-tell experience when you were a child. For me, it was in kindergarten.

I was excited to talk about my Winnie-the-Pooh bear, but at the same time I was so terrified to be in front of the class that words failed me. Thankfully, the way I hugged Winnie tightly to my chest showed more clearly how much I loved that bear than anything I could have said.

What I learned then would come in handy years later: The best approach to communicating competencies is show and tell.  My personal experience is backed up by my company’s research on employee preferences. One thing we’ve heard consistently is that employees are tired of hearing companies talk at them.

Instead, employees want companies to show them what they should do.

When it comes to competencies, the problem is that most companies rely too heavily on telling employees what competencies are and forget about showing employees how to bring those behaviors to life every day.

Take a cue from the kindergarten crowd. Do more showing than telling when communicating competencies. Here are seven tips to get you started:

1. Walk in your employees’ shoes.

Try to experience competencies as employees might. To do so, ask yourself what employees most want to know.

Make competencies relevant by showing employees what competencies look like in a way that makes sense for them. That way, they can understand exactly what they have to do.

For example, the competency “customer focus” will look different for a facilities manager, a sales director and a customer service rep.

We helped one client inform and inspire employees through an easy-to-read guide that organized competencies by specific roles and clearly outlined how to achieve individual success.

2. Make a connection.

Employees crave context, so make sure you show them how your organization’s competencies are rooted in your corporate culture.

One idea is to communicate competencies using an infographic that describes what the new competencies are and why they are beneficial to both employees and the organization as a whole.

3. Provide opportunities to participate.

Help employees grasp these concepts by taking the competencies for a “test drive” with interactive discussion groups, coffee chats or even all-day competency fairs.

Consider introducing competencies through workshops that feature scenarios based on development challenges faced by different employees at various levels, locations, functions, etc. Participants can discuss one of the scenarios and use the competencies to overcome the challenge presented.

Letting employees focus on the scenarios helps them dig deeply into the competencies without having to discuss their own development challenges in front of other participants.

4. Tell a story.

Use the power of peer successes to help employees see themselves using the competencies to fuel their own success.

For example, create a poster about Jim, who used innovation to solve a big problem. You might also post a short video interview with Whitney, who is happy to share her advice on staying in touch with key customers. Ask the CEO to recognize Emmy at his next town hall meeting and invite her to say a few words about her approach to collaboration.

5. Use plain language.

Though it’s fun to create a catchy acronym like STAR (Situation, Task, Activity, Result) or DNA (Develop New Attributes), all employees really want is clear, simple communication about competencies so they can understand what’s expected of them.

Skip the acronyms and vague terms like “teamwork” or “innovation” that don’t provide guidance on what employees should do differently. Instead, make competencies concrete by defining them in plain language that explains what actions each competency requires.

For instance, define the competency “teamwork,” as: “Collaborate with others to explore issues, solve problems and create ideas.”

6. Keep the conversation going.

Once competencies are introduced, encourage dialogue by helping managers make competencies real for employees.

To ensure that these conversations are meaningful, train managers so they can examine competencies, ask questions and work through different scenarios. Then equip them with the tools they’ll need to easily add the competencies to their regular employee conversations.

Create and distribute conversation cards that managers can use to kick off team meetings or one-on-one development dialogues with employees. Building messages about competencies into these conversations helps managers tie the competencies to real business issues and strategies.

7. Don’t forget to measure.

Once you’ve launched your competencies, make sure they’re breaking through.

As with all employee communication, it’s good practice to use surveys to test employees’ baseline knowledge and understanding of your competencies, then use individual interviews and focus groups to glean deeper insights.

Competencies guide the way employees work in all aspects of the business. That’s why you must show employees exactly which skills are needed for success. When you embrace the show-and-tell concept, you’ll help employees identify ways to bring competencies to life.

Caroline Hey is a project director at Davis & Company.

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