Technology has radically altered the way we work, the way the global economy runs, and the way organizations of all sizes and in all industries operate. It should come as no surprise, then, that it has also changed the types of jobs companies need to fill in order to succeed, introducing brand new roles that that did not exist in the past and bringing highly specialized roles to the forefront.

Frank Costanzo, senior vice president at hiring assessment company Caliper calls these new and newly widespread jobs “emerging roles,” and he says filling those positions poses a unique challenge for today’s employers.

Take, for example, sales: What was once a relatively straightforward role – sell goods or services to customers – has now splintered into a group of interrelated niche positions. Sure, we still have regular salespeople, but we also have strategic salespeople, consultative salespeople, technical salespeople, etc., etc – and each of these new types of salesperson differs in critical ways from the traditional salesperson. A candidate that might make a great strategic salesperson may not make a great consultative salesperson.

It can be exceedingly difficult for employers to fill these emerging roles simply because these are brand new jobs. How do you hire someone for a role that your organization has never had to fill before? How do you determine who will be successful when you’re not even sure what success looks like?

According to Costanzo, employee competencies are key.

A Common Language of People: Employee Competencies, Explained

Costanzo recalls a conference he attended recently. The focus of the conference was “innovation,” and many of the attendees and presenters were high-level executives from big-name organizations. They were the kind of people one expects to be whip-smart when it comes to all things business.

But Costanzo noticed something funny: “Each of these executives was trying to describe … what constitutes an innovator. And they were all talking about creativity and out-of-the-box thinking [in various ways], but they did not have a common language.”

The common language sorely lacking from this conference is exactly what employee competencies provide. Competencies are, as Costanzo explains, “the specific building blocks that define a person, a role, and a role’s purpose.”

If the executives had access to the language of employee competencies while discussing innovators, they may have reached for terms like “business acumen” or “organizational savvy” – phrases with clear meanings that we can all understand.

GroupThis is why employee competencies are so critical to defining and filling emerging roles: They are the “common denominators” that companies can use to both define a role and “describe the attributes that a person needs to accomplish the job,” Costanzo says.

Using Competencies to Define and Fill Emerging Roles

One might assume that, because he is the senior V.P. of a company that provides candidate assessment services, Costanzo would say that assessments and people analytics are the answer.

One might assume that, but one would be wrong.

“People jump to analytics very, very quickly. They immediately go to analytics as the solution, but it’s kind of at the tail end of this whole workflow,” Costanzo explains. “It’s really important that people understand that people analytics fits in at the end of the recruiting and selection process. It’s very important to stick with your standard nuts and bolts of identifying a position, clearly defining the role, and assessing for the position – and there all kinds of different strategies for making sure you have the right person [for the role].”

So then, what does the process of defining and filling an emerging role look like? Costanzo walked us through Caliper’s approach.

Clearly Define the Role

“The key to successfully recruiting or promoting somebody from within [whether for an emerging role or a traditional role] is a clear role definition,” Costanzo says.

This, then, is where the process must start: Employers must first clearly define what the emerging role will be – the tasks and responsibilities of the role, the role’s place in the organization’s overall mission and vision, and so on, etc.

The process must start here, but it is also here that employers run into trouble. Traditional roles have been around for a long time. As such, they already have their common languages. Emerging roles, on the other hand, are brand new. So, when trying to define these roles, people often fall into the trap that the executives fell into when trying to define “innovators”: They’re all talking about the same things, but they’re not using the same words. That can seriously muddle the role’s definition – and you can’t hire for a role without a clear definition of said role.

“When we’re looking at an emerging role, everybody uses different terms to describe that role,” Costanzo says. “We’ve seen this resurgence of competencies to get to the definition. Competencies are used as consistent building blocks.”

In other words: Competency libraries can help employers find the common language they need to define the role.

For example, in a document Costanzo shared with me, Caliper defines a “strategic salesperson” by listing the core competencies such a salesperson would need, including things like “active listening” and “relationship building.” The document also contains examples of representative behaviors that demonstrate these competencies and an overarching summary of the strategic salesperson’s role in the organization. This is a great way for any employer to define a role: a list of key competencies, a list of exemplar behaviors attached to those competencies, and a summary of the role’s position within the organization.

Start Sourcing 

WalkwayRemember: People analytics and assessments don’t supplant existing workflows – they supplement those workflows. Once an organization has a clear definition of an emerging role in place, it’s time to proceed through the normal recruiting workflow.

As Costanzo says, “There’s a lot of data that makes analytics powerful, but in order to get to the right data for analytics, you have to have that traditional framework in place. You can’t bypass that rigorous framework.”

Assess Candidates According to Competencies

People analytics come in here, once the organization has found some candidates who look like they may fit the role.

The organization needs to assess the candidates according to the key competencies included in the role’s definition. So, for example, Caliper’s definition of a strategic salesperson includes nine competencies. Candidates for the role would then be tested and scored for each competency. This allows the organization to see how well each candidate may (or may not) fit into the role.

At this stage, organizations will have the data they need to make smart hiring decisions – even if they are hiring for roles they have never filled before.

People Analytics: Not Just for Emerging Roles

Costanzo points out that people analytics and competency-based assessments can be used for a wide variety of purposes. They can be used to compare candidates to top performers in existing roles; they can be used to determine the kinds of professional development a candidate may need once they join the team; they can predict how a candidate might fit into a team; and they can even predict future roles a candidate may be able to move into once they’ve become a part of the company.

But as far as the limited space of this particular post is concerned, the key takeaway is as follows: When it comes to emerging roles, start with a clear, competency-based definition; move onto existing recruiting workflows to surface potential hires; and finish up with competency-based assessments that will predict how well a candidate is likely to perform in the brand new role.

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