Gallup recently reported that 68% of the U.S. workforce was disengaged. I contend that one big cause of the problem is the continued use of generic competency models for hiring purposes I must have looked at 100+ competency models over the past 20 years. They're pretty much all the same. When you break them down into everyday speak, they include some combination of leadership, drive, cultural fit, team skills, confidence, communication skills, ethics and technical competency. Since everyone's looking for the same things, average is all that should be expected. Knowing why typical competency models have not resulted in better hires leads to a pragmatic solution, so let's start with the big reasons:

1. They're filled with too much vision and hope, and not enough practicality.

Everyone wants to hire top people, and top people all possess the competencies described in some form. Regardless, this doesn't mean the top person will be successful in your company doing the actual work required, working for the assigned manager and working in your company's unique culture. Any competent person who has ever been demotivated by these external factors can directly relate to their importance.

2. They're too generic.

What does cultural fit, leadership, and all of the other competencies actually mean on the job? If you don't define this clearly in relationship to the job, you leave it up to the interviewer's judgment to make the assessment. In this case the assessment is based on who is the most assertive interviewer, not who is the best candidate.

3. They're difficult to accurately assess.

Conducting an interview is hard work. That's why most people revert to one of three classic approaches: the intuitive, the technical, and the emotional. Each is flawed, and without specific guidance for the interviewer to evaluate the required competency in some way, the competency itself has no practical value.

These problems can be simply minimized by tying the competencies to specific job-related outcomes. This requires a bit of backwards thinking and reverse logic, but here are four steps to help get this done:

1. Relate the competencies to the actual job.

For example, if leadership is important, ask the hiring manager, "What does leadership look like on this job?" If you persist you'll get some type of outcome or task like, "Collaborate with the marketing group to develop a product spec everyone can accept." Then go through each of the other competencies in your model and ask the same question.

2. Define the desired outcomes before defining the inputs.

A performance-based job description defines the work a person needs to do to be successful, not the skills and competencies needed to do the work. This usually translates into 6-8 performance objectives consisting of major accomplishments (e.g., achieve quota within six months) and critical subtasks (e.g., prepare a territory map identifying target accounts during the first 30 days). The logic behind this is that if a person can do the work, he or she has the required skills, experiences and competencies.

3. Conduct a performance-based interview instead of a behavioral interview.

Rather than asking candidates to provide an example of an accomplishment describing the competency, ask them to give you an example of a comparable major accomplishment for each of the performance objectives listed in the performance-based job description. The fact-finding process involved in this type of interview highlights the competencies the candidate used to achieve the results. Using this approach, you'll quickly discover that multiple competencies are required to successfully complete any major accomplishment.

4. Evaluate candidates on how the competencies relate to required performance.

Included in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired is a talent scorecard for measuring quality of hire. The scorecard provides a means to rank candidates on their core competencies in relationship to the actual performance requirements of the job. The competencies are then evaluated based on how they were used to achieve a job-related result.

In most cases, competencies are just feel good words with limited practical value for hiring. Consider that the Gallup report cited above, Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014, indicated that less than 32% of the U.S. workforce was engaged, 51% were not engaged and 18% were actively disengaged. A good case could be made that most of the 68% of those unengaged possessed the exact competencies every company is seeking. However, unless you can tie them directly to the work that needs to be done, these same people will quickly become part of your company's disengaged workforce. Thinking backwards might just solve the problem.