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Plato, Competencies and the Ideal Employee

Plato, Competencies and the Ideal Employee

Mark Vickers | i4cp

December 04, 2009

Maybe you have a vague recollection of Plato from your college days. You know, the Greek philosopher who believed in the existence of some ideal world that’s separate from our physical world? He is, of course, the source of the term “Platonic ideal.”

Whether we know it or not, most modern managers have a Platonist streak in them, a streak that often shows up in the way we think about talent these days.

The term “talent” is in itself a useful abstraction, shorthand for employees who have the kinds of skills, potential, attitudes and values that companies need to succeed. It suggests that a lot of organizations have an ideal employee in mind when it comes to their labor needs.

In fact, in a recent i4cp study that was requested by one of our member companies, four of five respondents indicated that their organizations have a sophisticated notion of the characteristics of that ideal employee. That is, their companies have identified a set of competencies that people throughout the organization need in order to be effective.

Our Talent Management Competencies Survey also found that, among the large majority that have such a set of competencies, 70% said that those competencies apply to all positions, not just leaders or high potentials.

“Establishing competencies has become standard practice, and it’s a helpful one at that, associated with better performance,” notes Senior VP of Research Jay Jamrog. “We found that about nine out of ten participants said such competencies are an important element of their talent management programs. They help define what talent actually means. Otherwise, talent management is just another meaningless business buzzword.”

“But,” warns Jamrog, “organizations have to keep in mind that making a list of crucial competencies is just one step in the process. Our research shows that there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Even the process of creating and maintaining the list requires good decision-making and logistical know-how. For example, should an organization apply these competencies to every employee, or is it more effective to apply them to a subset? The answer isn’t cut and dried. Our research shows that, while nearly 80% of lower-performing organizations apply such competencies to all positions, only about 70% of higher performers do. Higher performers are twice as likely as lower performers to say such competencies apply to “all leadership positions, but not individual contributor positions.”


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