Competency grids are not the future of HR

Many thanks to Amy Burvall who brought this Harvard Business Review article to my attention. The author, Michelle Weise, starts off well:

How can companies get a better idea of which skills employees and job candidates have? While university degrees and grades have done that job for a long time, they’ve done it imperfectly. In today’s rapidly evolving knowledge economy, badges, nanodegrees, and certificates have aimed to bridge the gap – but also leave a lot to be desired. While HR departments are eager for better “people analytics,” that concept is still fuzzy. And simply collecting data is not enough – to be used, data has to be presented usefully.

I agree. We need a better way to represent people in a holistic way in the digital world. That’s why I’m still an advocate for Open Badges. I don’t think you can dismiss them with an assertion like “…but also leave a lot to be desired” How? In what ways?

Weise goes on to give examples from the world of GitHub, but fails to take into account that ‘contribution streaks’ tell you nothing about the content of what the person actually did. Similarly, behold the horror that is this competency grid heatmap from ‘The Human Factor’ by Burning Glass Technologies:

Competency grid heatmap

While I’ve got no problem with the ‘soft skills’ mentioned down the left-hand side, I can’t think of a more demeaning way to represent a human being than as a list of numbers.

The problem is that we’re trying to make a broken system more efficient, which is madness. We’re trying to remove the human element at the same time as saying it’s the thing we value the most.

Better people analytics – and better ways of visualizing and interacting with that data – will not only help managers and recruiters do a better job of matching people with jobs but will also help each of us develop a more accurate picture of our strengths and weaknesses. We’ll be able to send clearer signals to the market about all that we can do.

I think the best thing to do is to embrace the weird and wonderful world of alternative credentials like badges. A world where you still have to explain yourself, tell stories, and show evidence of you as a three-dimensional human being. The more we have to be accountable to algorithms, the worse the world gets for all of us.