In the 1990s, SWA helped Allstate develop HR systems and people-management practices in its Corporate Relations Division. Our work followed a project conducted by a major strategy firm that identified five core competencies – strategic thinking, counseling, critical thinking, problem solving, and project management – presumably required of division employees. We were asked to design career paths, professional development, and compensation systems based on the newly identified competencies. In our work with Corporate Relations, we:

  • Considered defining roles in terms of core competencies
  • Instead, developed a methodology for defining roles as sets of major activities, making competencies secondary
  • Constructed a career development system that reflected a flat organization
  • Developed a salary structure that supported the new organizational structure and promotions within roles
  • Conducted a market compensation survey to ensure the external competitiveness of the salary structure

Defining roles, mapping career paths, and introducing a simple salary structure enabled Corporate Relations to execute its new strategy. By sidestepping competencies and defining roles as sets of major activities, the division gained clarity that improved execution and simplified professional development.

Key Lessons

The premise underlying competency models is that jobs change so rapidly that trying to describe individual roles clearly is futile. While this seems reasonable at a glance, at Allstate we learned that general competencies form a weak and insufficient basis for HR systems. We achieved a breakthrough by developing a new and more practical methodology for defining roles. Today, role clarity is a key component of our work, serving and as a strong foundation for practical people-management systems.

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