Critical path

The following considers that a company or group has already been created, established its reason to exist, its mission, culture, and has a business plan that includes key sectors of activity. This includes the various roles to be filled by different stakeholders.


First, hire the right people. Establish the values, traits, and elements of synergy and hire accordingly. Do not hire on skills.

Second, develop a competency model for each role. A well-designed competency model leads to a fair evaluation of people’s abilities and provides a basis in establishing why such competencies are, or not, well developed. This directly influences where development resources need to be allocated for optimal return.

Third, put in place a motivational/behavioral communication model to promote adaptability and a common language. Behavioral, motivational-based communication and adaptability help everyone be more efficient in daily interactions.

Fourth, establish processes and models to determine how actions are taken. The right people, core competencies, communication effectiveness and culture determine why and how. Models and processes consolidate the how by adding clarification on who does what and where.

Fifth, provide developmental opportunities that are in line with the competency model and the priorities of the group or individuals.

Sixth, ingrain a process for continuous re-evaluation and adjustments of all the elements/steps. Also include a review of the group culture and its application.

In more details

Hiring the right people

Close to 20 years ago, I was asked this question by a person tasked to launch a commercial initiative, “what are the key elements or steps to the development of a successful sales team?” At that time, I was discussing with other learning and development professionals and in quasi unison we said: “first, hire the right people”. All those years later, the primary answer is still the same. And that applies to all sectors of activity in any corporation or working group.

In the last 18 years, we have worked with marketing, sales, medical, training, HR, customer support, project management, key account management, IT, legal and executive teams, in all cases, the fundamentals are the same.

We often think that if we train people correctly, equip them with the necessary skills, we naturally end up succeeding. We can provide skills training, check the box, done. It just does not work that well.

It is not skills that get the job done, it is people. Fundamentally it is the individuals that want to do what’s right that use the skills best. It is our belief, and that’s what our development program in hiring accomplishes, that values, traits, and synergy with stakeholders are the first three pillars to hire the right people. Then we look at adaptability, accountability, skills, and maturity, in that order.

The first step is to identify the fundamental values, traits and synergies and only hire people that fit in.

One may think that hiring the right people should come after other steps. One key reason to hire people based on values, traits, synergy first, is to avoid looking at individuals principally on their skills.  And because creating a competency model does put a certain emphasis on skills, we consider that hiring come first. People that fit in with values, traits and culture, individuals that mesh well with others, are adaptable and accountable for their action, will always be able to learn the necessary skills.

Establish the vital competencies

Once the right people are in place, what’s next? What are the different development areas of priority?

The first key element is to clearly define the role for every position and build a competency model for each of them. Many have replied to this affirmation thus, “we have never had competency models and we are still successful”. True, it works given certain conditions. We know that a competency model is a strategic investment. Here is why.

Having a clear grasp on the necessary competencies influences each of the following:

  • How development programs are chosen and structured
  • How funds are invested for people development
  • How people are fairly evaluated for their efforts
  • How performance is defined, evaluated, and rewarded
  • How leaders need to coach
  • How the changing environment can be anticipated
  • How common values and traits are established
  • How HR established key parameters
  • How promotions are given
  • How a group culture develops

We get calls and emails on a regular basis, asking for assistance with people development. In most cases, potential clients have specifics in mind. “we need a program on effective communication, or on negotiation, or on conflict management, or on leadership.”  What is fascinating is that the reasoning behind that specific need is often unclear.

Here are some reasons for consultancy requests:

  • Someone was tasked to find a program on ABC.
  • A satisfaction survey was conducted, and it appears that XYZ is a problem. It needs to be fixed.
  • Managers were chastised for the lack of ABC in their teams. We need to train on ABC.
  • The competency was discussed years ago and there is finally time and resources to invest in its development.

Those are not necessarily inappropriate reasons. What may be of issue is the potential lack of congruency with true needs. It is important to understand the “why.”  Clear competencies with detailed levels of proficiency will provide a good part of the why.

Ex. “We need decision making skills because after a review of their competency assessments, 80% of leaders score “fair” or “basic” on that competency. And some of the consequences captured in the assessments are:”

  • High opportunity cost due to misled decisions
  • Tendency to make high risk decisions leading to increased losses
  • Staff turnover at 26% due to dysfunctional teams

This is a good start. It is based on a fair and standardized assessment.

We recently completed a new competency model with a client. As a result, and because of senior leadership impetus, managers had in-depth developmental discussions with each member of their teams. It turns out that most discussions focused on strategic questioning and active listening. Those two competencies had been part of the model for the role in question for many years. Only this time, the definitions brought out clarity on their meaning as well as the expected outcomes of using them effectively. Consequently, it was identified that those competencies were not as well developed as they should be. More importantly, the teams were able to identify why such competencies were not developed well. Lack of understanding and clarity was one. Misunderstanding of how to apply the competencies was another. It also appeared that the two competencies were previously perceived as important but not fundamental.

A well-designed competency model leads to a fair evaluation of people’s abilities and provides a basis in establishing why such competencies are, or not, well developed. This directly influences where development resources need to be allocated for optimal return.

In turn, this will also help consolidate values, traits, synergies, adaptability, accountabilities, skills, and maturity aspects essential to hiring the right people. Yet, it is only when the right people are in place that such competencies can be 1- defined, 2- implemented, 3- evaluated with efficiency.

While competencies are influenced by the group culture, they usually help define that culture,


In every job description and competency model we have elaborated in the last 18 years, for at least 10 different roles, communication effectiveness elements have been present. This leads to a third key step or element of any effective team, communication. And there is one part of communication that proved most important, adaptability.

Understanding how to effectively communicate with others is essential for success. The ability to understand various stakeholders, determine how they need to interact and what is important to them remains the basis for efficiency of efforts. Why, because it allows people to adapt their approach and increase their ability to connect.

A solid start is to use a behavioral or motivational model. We have developed our own which is anchored in self-motivation. Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, Dynamix, DiSC, Insights, Strength Finder, and other variations are valid and tested examples. This provides a template for understanding communication preferences and allow individuals to adapt their communication to better connect with others.

The utilization of such models also establishes a common language in groups. A common language is one of the foundations of communities. It helps strengthen bonds, increase understanding of each other and engages individuals in the success of others.

Behavioral, motivational-based communication and adaptability help everyone be more efficient in daily interactions.

Models and processes

Once the right people are in place, have clearly defined the core competencies, live and breathe the culture, and communicate effectively, adapting to all stakeholders, groups define how all of those actually work in unison to create value.

How people interact with clients (ex. Sales model), or with internal stakeholders (ex. Decision making processes), or with shareholders (ex. Results sharing), or with their industry partners (ex. Codes of conduct), or with any other entity (ex. Production and manufacturing protocols), get defined in accordance to values, traits, synergies, core competencies, culture, and communication principles. 

The right people, core competencies, communication effectiveness and culture determine why and how. Models and processes consolidate the how by adding clarification on who does what and where.

Models also contribute to the common language of the group, guiding every effort in the attainment of common objectives.

A development curriculum

In the fifth step, individuals in teams are provided with opportunities to develop the competencies on which they are evaluated.

Companies or teams may opt for programs in which everybody participates based on the establishment of a group priority. In other cases, a series of programs are available throughout the year for individuals to choose based on their specific needs.

This is where we have helped numerous groups establish a development curriculum and onboarding plans. Corporations and groups are then able to schedule development efforts along the year to foster optimal effort allocation, engagement, and profitability.

Continuous re-evaluation and adjustments

Finally, the loop needs to be closed by ensuring that at least once a year a core group of leaders is able to re-evaluate the situation and adjust all aspects. This exercise is made effective through continuous performance check points and the integration of known factors that will influence the business in the future. Anticipation of changes along with a clear view of the current situation help make adjustment along the way to avoid most surprises.

A word on culture

A fundamental element is the establishment of a culture that is specific to a group. A culture that is in congruence with the competencies for that group and that provides support for actions that will make the group successful.

Leaders create the culture. Are leaders using fear to make people act, or are they inspiring engagement? Is trust for each other key to the group or are we rather OK with healthy suspicion? Is a team built on collaboration in which the success of others is shared, or is it promoting significant internal competition to increase individual performance?

Once there is clarity on the optimal culture, the master elements are put in place for that culture to flourish. If trust is considered crucial to doing business, the pillars of trust building are established as well as a mechanism to continuously evaluate how trust is fostered and maintained.

The right people being in place, they will positively and rationally influence the core competencies. And when the core competencies continue to identify communication as essential, the congruent communication patterns will be established. As stakeholders communicate effectively and value differences, they are more in tune with the desired culture.

It is important to recognize and integrate the fact that group culture evolves. Market realities, stakeholders, products and services, and the social environment may influence movement in the culture. It may be that the changes should indeed help reshape the culture. In other cases, if the existing culture is still the optimal way to conduct business, the factors putting pressure on that culture need to be identified and mitigated.

Here is an example.

Several corporations saw their employees as just another tool to attain their objectives. They were easily disposable. When unemployment was low enough to create a scarcity, the same corporations decided it was tactically more viable to value employees more. As positive outcomes subsequently arrive, some changed their culture to establish employee satisfaction and retention as a strategy. On the other hand, if unemployment rises (as during the COVID-19 pandemic), and skilled individuals are much easier to find, it may not be strategically wise to reverse to a culture of “use and discard” for people.