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The Navigator
Charting a Path to Leadership Excellence
Volume: # 18
Summer 2013

President's Message

Polaris® Goes to College

Bruce Griffiths


Right out of grad school, I landed a job as a staff industrial/organizational psychologist in a Fortune 150 company. The company had reasonably sophisticated OD and I/O functions that were using many best talent practices. I quickly realized that my graduate program had done an excellent job of teaching psychometrics, job satisfaction theory, leadership impact, culture, and the like. But I also saw that there was a lot of other knowledge and skills I'd need for a successful career.

Luckily one of my first corporate responsibilities was to manage the company's assessment center process. We were the 9th company to adopt the methodology and we knew that centers had great science behind them (e.g., the 25 year Management Progress Study conducted by AT&T that validated center predictions). My early experience with centers introduced me to the notion of behavioral dimensions or variables (now called competencies) as the criteria and language necessary to describe and measure managerial competence.

Assessment Centers

Assessment centers have long been a best practice in leadership selection and development. Centers use simulations such as in-basket exercises and role plays to measure critical Polaris® competencies such as Influence, Problem Solving & Decision Making,  and Organizing & Planning.  Participant performance in the simulations is evaluated by a panel of trained internal assessors that use a sophisticated and objective scoring and reporting methodology to ensure reliability and validity. 

Additionally, center research had isolated the crucial competencies of Influence, Problem Solving & Decision Making, Organizing & Planning, Relationship Building, Communications, and Drive/Energy as universally important in making the difference in exceptional performance. To personally validate this list, just think of any extraordinary leader you respect in any facet of your life. Aren't they trustworthy (Relationship Building), articulate (Communications), and efficient (Organizing and Planning)? Don't they exercise good judgment (Problem Solving and Decision Making)? Aren't they driven (Drive/Energy)? And aren't they persuasive (Influence)?

As I worked to master these competencies in different job contexts, I also wondered why they'd been neglected across my formal education. I discovered that there were a few universities, like Alverno College in Milwaukee, who had developed just such an emphasis. They had successful programs in which students not only earned a degree in a specific content area like nursing, engineering, or business, but were also taught the complementary competencies that would enable them to apply their expertise in the real world. But these examples were few and far between.

In the years that followed, OSI has worked with several more universities to differentiate their academic programs through our Polaris® Competency Model. For a number of years now, executive MBA candidates at Portland State University participate in a Polaris® 360 survey guided development program and are coached by faculty in the key competencies for business leadership. Polaris® has also been adopted by the University of California San Diego's Continuing Education Program to complement their executive education leadership development programs.  


Polaris® Competency Model

Over three decades of research with high performers in over 100 organizations have produced the OSI Polaris® Competency Model.  The model identifies, and defines, 41 separate competencies in the seven clusters of Leadership, Management, Communications, Conceptual, Contextual, Interpersonal, and Personal Competencies. The model is used globally by organizations as criteria for selection, development, and performance management. 


Recently, Lipscomb University, a liberal arts college in Nashville, Tennessee, has initiated the most ambitious application of the Polaris® Competency Model thus far. Having licensed the Polaris® content, they're now building an academic program that combines the assessment center method with key competencies to offer student  development (and potentially credit!) for reaching necessary levels of proficiency. Employers will not only get a competent engineer or accountant, but also someone trained in what it takes to truly add value in an organizational context from their first day on the job.

It only takes a few years of experience (plus encountering the occasional career "crash" (i.e., a derailment or plateau)) to realize that it's the Polaris® "soft skills" competencies that are actually the hard foundation that exceptional proficiency is built on. Since I have three sons currently finishing their bachelor's degrees in three different respected California universities, I've had a very recent personal look into current college curriculum. For the most part, I still see the classic and limited emphasis on content knowledge alone. And, of course, I still wonder why curricula continue to neglect key competencies that science and experience have found absolutely essential for career success.  


Bruce Griffiths Bruce's signature  


Another Successful Business Simulation

OSI launches another successful business simulation, in partnership with WholeWorks Consulting, for one of the world's largest hotel chains. This simulation focuses on General Managers, who operate in a realistic hotel for over six quarters. The experience results in improved understanding of brand standards and more effective leadership and management.



In This Issue
President's Message: Polaris Goes to College
Quick Links
OSI 30 Years
At Organization Systems International, we are celebrating over 30 years of quality, service, and innovation. We deliver client success with a high-performance approach designed to enhance occupational relationships, improve operational efficiency, and sustain customer relationships. 


OSI Clients Include:

American Greetings 
Blizzard Entertainment
Bowling Green State University
Dow Corning Corp.
GE Capital
Insurance Company of the West
Limited Brands
Nike, Inc.
Northwest Pipe
Portland State University
Schneider Trucking Company
Standard Insurance Company
Starwood Hotels & Resorts
State Auto Insurance
The Walt Disney Company
Wendy's International Inc.