It is becoming increasingly important to train and develop corporate communications employees. The communications industry is changing rapidly and requires communication professionals to ramp up their professional skills. By developing a systematic approach to strategic competence management, the communication department can help to train communicators in a targeted manner while keeping an eye on talents worldwide.
Juliane Kiesenbauer at Leipzig University conducted the world's first in-depth study on competence management for corporate communications. The study discusses the benefits, strategies and challenges of targeted competence management in communication departments. The findings here have been taken from her book
- “Kompetenzmanagement für die Unternehmenskommunikation. Grundlagen der Professionalisierung und Personalentwicklung im Kommunikationsmanagement ”
published in 2018 (available in German only).
Competence Management Tools
Communication departments can apply various tools for training their employees. These should be aligned with both the company’s overall competence management strategy and the underlying competence model. Tools can range from competency requirement forecasts and employee dialogues to leadership programs and mentoring. It is also important to closely align these activities with HR strategy.
Tasks & Objectives of Competence Management
What competence management can do…
For the employees of the communication department:
- Better quality of work: With the help of competence management, communication departments can ensure that their work meets certain quality standards. It helps to identify missing skills among employees and also helps to address these gaps. Furthermore, the company's communicators should share a common professional understanding and act accordingly.
- Better self-presentation: Secondly, communication professionals should be empowered to represent their communication department and their professional expertise and enjoy a greater sense of community. They should be able to meet the expectations placed on them, assume responsibility for communication tasks and position themselves accordingly.
For all employees within the company:
- Recognizing the expertise of communicators: Communicators should strive to become generalists for all communication tasks within an organization to ensure that other departments acknowledge their expertise. Job shadowing and closer collaboration with other departments (e.g. HR, strategy, etc.) can contribute to this.
- More cooperation: Secondly, employees from other departments should be persuaded that corporate communicators can support them in fulfilling their own tasks. Top management can encourage the willingness for cooperation by officially acknowledging their expertise in solving communicative tasks and by supporting the collaboration between communications and other departments.
What is Competence Management?
What does competence mean?
- Competence is the ability to solve an unforeseen problem in a self-organized way.
- Competence consists of three dimensions: empowerment, willingness and entitlement.
- A corporate communications professional will be considered competent if he/she is not only capable of solving a communicative problem but is also willing to do so and can credibly showcase his/her performance in order to be recognized by third parties.
What is Competence Management?
- The aim of competence management for the communication department is to optimize the ability, willingness and entitlement of all employees to communicate professionally in order to increase the added value of corporate communications (Kiesenbauer, 2018).
- It is a management tool for enabling and legitimizing professional communication within a corporation.
Relevance of Competence Management
Professional personnel development is needed for communicators because:
- it is often claimed that there is a lack of quality standards for professional communication work. The mixing of specialists with an academic qualification in communication and those who have joined the profession from other fields is often cited as the reason for the inconsistent quality of communication work.
- the rapidly changing communications industry requires communication managers to continuously develop their skills. Many employees feel the need to increase their digital expertise or improve their skills in areas such as big data analysis and artificial intelligence.
- it can help to strengthen the identity and self-image of communicators. The aim is to establish a common understanding of the role of communicators. The communication department should be empowered to present itself convincingly to the top management and other departments.
- the topics of staff turnover and employee retention are also crucial for the communications industry. A systematic competence management helps companies to keep track of their own talents and develop them in the long term. In particular, employees with specialist knowledge and many years of professional experience are in demand.
Organization & Resources
- Ideally, the communication department itself should set- up and organize competence management. They can draw on their expertise in the field as well as their knowledge of the company’s own community of communicators. Human resources can provide support.
- Other areas such as salaries or leadership training should remain the responsibility of the HR department.
- Best suited for this position are communicators who have many years of professional experience, who can build on a large network, who enjoy a good reputation among top management as well as a high level of trust among employees.
Processes & Instruments
Companies wishing to implement or improve their competence management for corporate communications should take the following steps:
- Align goals: How can the personnel development strategy support the objectives of the communication department?
- Analyze existing resources and requirements: What skills are currently expected of communicators? Can these expectations be met with the available resources or does the comms department need to develop new competencies or even recruit new staff? What are the industry trends and how do they affect the communicators' expectations of competence? Online surveys and interviews can be carried out to identify the competencies employees need and to find out how they want to develop professionally.
- Analyze existing measures: It is recommended to check which measures and best practices exist within the communication department. Carrying out an audit also reveals if there are already potential trainers. Furthermore, it should be examined whether the current development plan should be adapted by including new qualification modules and whether the cost-benefit ratio of the existing measures is appropriate.
- Do not forget the evaluation: Employees and managers should evaluate their performance by giving medium and short-term feedback and checking whether the objectives of the original development plan have been achieved.
What are success factors for implementing competence management in communication departments?
- Juliane Kiesenbauer at Leipzig University conducted the world's first in-depth study on competence management for corporate communications from 2013 to 2017, sponsored by the Academic Society for Management & Communication.
- She conducted a short survey, analyzed documents, conducted expert interviews and a group discussion with competence managers and employees of five companies: Allianz Group, BASF SE, GIZ GmbH, Robert Bosch GmbH and Siemens AG.
- From a theoretical perspective, Kiesenbauer has developed an integrative concept of competence management for corporate communications. But she also outlines how corporations can leverage the potential of competence management to further professionalize communication tasks. In addition, she discusses the challenges of implementing competence management for communication departments.
Research on personnel development for corporate communications has been rare. Only a few studies exist and have resulted in the following findings:
- The size of the company is a decisive factor when it comes to competence management: larger companies offer training programs more frequently, covering a wider range of topics. This has a positive impact on the number of employees participating in training on the job (Klewes & Zerfaß, 2011; Kiesenbauer, 2018).
- During training sessions, soft factors (such as sense of community, norms and values, individual development goals) are gaining importance and enhance the teaching of professional skills and knowledge (e.g. dealing with communication crises) (e.g. Stahl & Röttger, 2015; Jain, 2017; Meng & Berger, 2018).
- Empirical studies point out that the majority of managers sees the need and the potential of improving competence management for their communication department (Jain, 2017).
Downloads & further readings
- Kiesenbauer, J. (2018). Kompetenzmanagement für die Unternehmenskommunikation. Grundlagen der Professionalisierung und Personalentwicklung im Kommunikationsmanagement. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
- Kiesenbauer, J. (2020). Kompetenzmanagement und Personalentwicklung in der Unternehmenskommunikation. In A. Zerfaß & M. Piwinger (Hrsg.), Handbuch Unternehmenskommunikation (3. Aufl., S. XX-XX). Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.