Robin Kessler - Competency Speaker and HR Consultant

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Using competency-based strategy

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and the world will soon be blind and toothless.”

Implied? Maybe there’s a better way to handle our conflicts and disagreements than plotting direct payback or revenge.

We know that managing our emotions is a big part of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, there will also be people in our lives who decide to talk badly about us to others, even when we’ve done nothing to directly provoke them. When we find out, how do we handle it? Do we confront them or decide to ignore their bad behavior? Are we able to take comfort in the idea that they may be making themselves look mean-spirited to others?

One of my friends who offices down the hall told me he believes, “Like attracts like.” By responding the same way the other person did, we may simply be perpetuating the conflict.

How is this related to our personal and professional competencies? Consider making a commitment to improve your interpersonal skills and organizational awareness this year. Be more strategic with dealing with others, and be careful who we choose as a confidant or friend, especially at work.

I heard about someone who complained about how much money something was going to cost in front of a person she should have, strategically, been trying to impress. Remember that people have different values, especially about money, and not everyone finds complaining cute and clever.

But all of us can make the commitment to work on improving our response when people push our emotional buttons.  I recently took one of the online emotional intelligence quizzes and realized my score was 15-20 points higher than it had been four years ago when I took a similar test.

We can all get better at this by deciding that we need to do a better job of recognizing our emotions and consciously choosing our response, especially in work related situations that could provide evidence we are strong in key competency areas.


Urban dictionary

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm

During my communications class last Friday, one of my students told us about the site, I’m really impressed.

For most of us past a certain age, it is not always easy to stay current with the language. is a great resource to help us do that. I’ve always believed that it is important to keep learning, and to stay current with our language.

That doesn’t mean that we should always use all the words we know. I had my class laughing this morning when I asked them how ridiculous it is when a middle-aged woman like me uses words like “bling,”  which I understand is on the way out, or “ice,” which is the more current word to describe jewelry.

So here’s one example from  Regret Ceiling. That’s the point at which someone stops feeling remorseful about a thought, comment or action. So here’s the example, straight from the site, “I hit the regret ceiling last night regarding my comment toward Jody’s weight several weeks ago. Her fat ass just needs to get over it.”

Trying to improve our vocabulary shows initiative. It can also help us with our interpersonal skills

Please remember, though, to  be appropriate when you use examples from I don’t want to have to SMH, or shake my head, when you try to sound younger than you are.

Catching mice

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Summer is over. Time to get blogging again.

Between the weather, the economy, and politics, it is easy to allow ourselves to focus on things that are not within our control. Consider making some extra effort now to identify what can have the most impact on our future, our own careers. 

Stay focused on what you need to do. In one of his speeches, Deng Xiaoping quoted the old Chinese proverb, “It doesn’t matter whether it is a yellow cat or a black cat, a cat that catches mice is a good cat.”

Applying this idea to our own lives just makes sense. Being strategic, solving problems, and focusing on catching those mice is particularly important right now, when many of us are being impacted by the changes around us.

Do your research, or information seeking. Keep a results/achievement orientation. Use your organizational awareness to stay out of less critical interpersonal problems.

Be able to prove, through your accomplishments, that you are strong in key competency areas.

And try to avoid getting distracted by the politics we can’t control, the economy we can’t personally fix, or the drought or flood or earthquake or tornado we didn’t see coming.  Just handle it and get back to business.

Competency-based accomplishment statements: the key

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm

When clients ask me what is the most important thing they can do to make their competency-based systems work more effectively, the answer is simple:  teach your employees to recognize competency-based accomplishments and write competency-based accomplishment statements.

So, let’s look at a few competency-based accomplishment statements, competency by competency.

     Achievement/Results Orientation

  • Reduced average time needed to resolve EEO complaints from one year to thirty days while working at Chicago transit Authority; streamlined department processes and increased accountability of key EEO officers.
  • Recognized by museum board for bringing in first $1 million gift from individual donor in museum history, 2010.


  • Developed memo for reporting resolution of cases being handled by firm for Boeing; recognized by manager when memo adopted as standard for other attorneys in firm.
  • Built first telemarketing program at major university, eventually generating $3 million per year in donations; trained 30 students to call alumni based on fundraising model developed at University of Maryland.

What makes these statements effective? They are very targeted to demonstrating what the person has accomplished in key competency areas. They are specific and give concrete examples so the decision-maker knows what the person has done in the past that proves they will be successful in the opportunity in their own organization.

Now, here’s the key question:  Can you write this type of competency-based accomplishment statement yourself?  If not, please call me at 713.831.6881.

Making mistakes

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 at 11:40 pm

One of the songs I remember hearing when I was growing up included the line:  Mama said there’d be days like this. The Shirelles?

We all have days like this every now and then.  Days when you realize that you didn’t do your best on an assignment or procrastinated on something too long.

Part of emotional intelligence is recognizing we are not perfect and giving ourselves permission to make mistakes and even fail at certain things.

You can’t succeed at many new challenges without doing them badly the first time you try, and then learning what you need to do to improve. Think about when you started learning to play golf or tennis or a musical instrument.

 Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, in her book, Mindset, explains the difference between those with a fixed mindset, who give up when something gets too difficult, and those with a growth mindset, who keep trying.

So if you had a day like mine, it is okay to be frustrated about it. You can’t, as a coach, connect as well with every client. But the important thing to do is to use your best growth mindset to recognize you can learn from each experience and keep trying.

Remember Scarlet O’Hara’s last line in Gone with the Wind. Tomorrow is another day.

Competency-based networking

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Remember this Peter Drucker quote: “More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject.”

I believe Peter Drucker’s right……but I might just add breakfast to his list.

Meeting people who may help us professionally is extremely improtant if we want to be successful, and meals are a very good time to build  these kinds of relationships.  Playing golf or tennis, being active in professional organizations, teaching classes, and talking with people at professional meetings and on the plane are other good ways to develop your network.

Networking is critical for those of us who are trying to build businesses, make sales, raise funds for nonprofits or venture capital opportunities, get a promotion or a new position, or be elected to a political position.

Networking the competency-based way makes even more sense. One of your goals should be learning about the competencies the other person or organization needs to be successful, and then proving that you can help them in these key competencies because you have been successful in the past in each competency area.

Here are some basic tips to help you network the competency-based way:

  1. Network with purpose.
  2. Be persistent when you are networking but don’t be a pest.
  3. Remember that your network of people is much larger than you think it is.
  4. Don’t be too proud to ask for help.
  5. One of your goals is to help convince the other person that they should be an advocate for you and your organization.
  6. Thank your networking contacts for their help and advice.
  7. Follow through and remember to let your contacts know what happens to you, especially if they have taken the time to give you some good advice or suggested talking with other people.

Meeting new people and expanding my network are two of my key goals for 2011. If you are reading this, please let me know if you have someone you think I should meet. Tell me if you set the same goal for yourself this year, and I’ll try to help!

Competencies and catastrophes

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Like many people, I’ve been trying to stay current about what is happening in Japan. First the earthquake, then the tsunami, and now the crisis with the nuclear plant. How unbelievably sad for so many people…and for their friends and families.

In a crisis, some people are able to think clearly while others seem to panic and make bad decisions. Based on your past behavior, would you say that you are good in a crisis…or not as good as you should be?

Competencies like conceptual thinking and information seeking are critical to success in these situations.  Do you automatically think about alternative routes when the first road is too slow? Do you research other options or simply rely on your GPS to reroute you?

Admitting you are not good in a crisis is one thing. But you need to remember that competencies can be developed and strengthened, so allowing yourself to be the one in the group who continues to panic is simply not smart. It isn’t fair to ask your coworkers, friends and family members to calm you down when they are trying to be results oriented and handle the crisis.

What can you do to develop these skills to improve the way you react to a sudden event that is out of your control? Do some scenario planning. If you live in an area that has tornados or earthquakes, consider the best ways to handle the crisis and do some practice drills like you did when you were in school. Have extra water and batteries on hand and know your options for the next time a tornado, an earthquake, or a hurricane heads to your area.

Ask people who reacted well in the past what they are doing to handle the current crisis. It is always interesting to see people who have panicked in the past but stilll expect others to take their advice today and in the future. Be careful to avoid speaking with certainty if you are one of those people.

Develop friends who live outside your own city and geographic area. This can make you more interesting and give you someone you can stay with if you need to.

Remember that John D. Rockefeller said, “I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity.”  

The crisis in Japan has the potential to help many of us see the need to develop our skills in crisis management and planning, and offers us yet another opportunity to help those people most affected by the earthquake, the tsunami and the radiation from the nuclear reactors. To paraphrase a famous quote, let’s learn from the past so we do not repeat the same mistakes.

Top 10 Reasons to Hire Me as a Consultant

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm

How can you sound as interesting as possible to potential clients? Recognize the market changes constantly. Always be looking for new ways to help people recognize how you can increase their success and make an effort to brand yourself as the face of your business.

When I first started consulting, I had the privilege of sitting next to the managing partner of Ernst & Young’s  San Francisco office at a wedding. His advice? Clearly identify what you do better than other consultants and then be open to other opportunities that come your way. Key competencies needed? From my perspective, conceptual thinking and vision, then results orientation and initiative to make the vision real.

Here’s the newest list I developed last week to market my business. The Top 10 Reasons to Hire Me as a Consultant are:

  1. I am the expert at how to improve competency-based communication at work.
  2. I will train your employees to recognize when they contribute to your organization’s success and to look for ways to make themselves and your organization more successful.
  3. I will help your managers make better decisions about their people because they get better, more relevant information about each employee’s performance directly from employees.
  4. I teach managers to advocate for their teams and employees to advocate for themselves in competency-based organizations.
  5. I wrote the first books teaching people to write better competency-based accomplishment statements on their performance reviews and development plans.
  6. I train executives, managers and professionals to give better presentations and improve their performance.
  7. I am very good at training scientists and engineers to present more professionally – and I have  statistics proving presentation skills significantly improved in these workshops.
  8. I am very fun to work with, try to make my clients’ lives easier, and listen to my clients.
  9. I am a strong speaker, trainer and writer.
  10. I am happy to travel to work with you and love getting out of Houston!

In marketing materials, I am using third person language, not the word “I” as much. Please let me know if you know people who should see this list!

Keeping appointments

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm

When you work with people, sometimes they cancel their appointments at the last minute.

Today, my 3 pm appointment, a new client, emailed me by phone to let me know that she was running late and then a second time to tell me she would have to cancel the appointment and reschedule.

Two things were interesting about this cancellation. The client was referred by a business friend who sits on the board of a nonprofit that helps people without resources and asked me if I was willing to work with her at a pro bono rate. I explained that I do take clients, occasionally,  in exchange for bartering time to help me with filing and straightening my office (if that’s what I need at the time) because I believe that people generally don’t value things they don’t pay something for and because it helps them maintain more dignity. I was told she agreed to do the barter.

In this case, I received an email from the client’s cell phone to cancel the appointment. I realize that cell phone and internet service are not that expensive today, but when you’ve been asked to work with a client at reduced rates or on a barter deal, and they email by cell phone, it says something about their financial priorities.

The second interesting thing about this experience is that the client emailed me that her son had just had a problem and needed minor medical attention. First impressions matter. When you are looking for a job, you need to be savvy. From a competency perspective, this means that you need strong interpersonal understanding, organizational awareness, and customer service orientation.

If you are emotionally intelligent, you need to be prepared and have back up systems in place. In other words, if your child has a problem, you need to have other people who can help out if you are not able to be there. Employers want to hire people who demonstrate that they will show up for their appointments and handle emergencies in a way that inspires confidence.

We all have problems that cause us to miss our appointments occasionally. When this happens too often, we need to look carefully at our priorities and think about how people may perceive us. So, here’s my advice to my new client:  don’t even think about emailing or texting from your cell phone in the future if you are asking someone to give you something extra because you have financial problems. Just having a cell phone with internet capabilities proves you may not be as poor as you think.

President’s Day

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Have you ever thought about what George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would say about the decision for Americans to stop celebrating their birthdays independently and have one holiday for both called President’s Day?

One of my favorite nonfiction books that I’ve read in the last year is Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book is about Lincoln’s cabinet, which he put together by selecting his major rivals for the presidency and some other very strong willed, experienced people.

Lincoln was incredibly good at getting the best out of some very talented but sometimes tempermental people. When I read the book, I had the feeling that Lincoln was probably one of the most emotionally intelligent presidents we’ve had in the U.S.

So, after reading about Lincoln’s level of maturity, I’m not convinced that he’d object that much to the change from the Lincoln’s Birthday holiday to President’s Day. Remember that he had to lead the country through the Civil War, which was an incredibly difficult time. More Americans died in the Civil War than in all the other wars the United States has participated in…combined.

Think about the competencies he needed to be so successful, like interpersonal skills and organizational awareness. His interpersonal skills included a good sense of humor and an interesting way of thinking and putting together his words. Lincoln said, for example, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

Lincoln might even be able to reframe the question about the holiday so that he recognized the honor of sharing the day with George Washington, despite the story about the cherry tree not being exactly true.