G is the Key

by Harald Ackerschott, posted Aug 19, 2012

The Task: Develop a competency model for top executive functions in a research driven industry

To qualify as a key competency, the key has to open different doors. Key competencies have to be measurable, predictive and be not defined by a single role. The goal is not to clone the CEO, but to prepare a framework that fits different characters and personalities. Not a mold is searched for, but a rationale that allows for diversity and individual strengths. Key competencies should describe basic characteristics, that are a must to make cooperation and collaboration efficient and frugal but at the same time rewarding and productive.

Productivity is the criterium. The glue that binds the different roles shall be the contribution of each individual to the Corporate goals.

Of course that can mean individual success and fulfilment as well. But personal success should not be aimed at at the expense of the company. The sustainable results of the company are the top priority.

„Is that possible?“ Most traditional competency models will open up a whole bunch of micro details of individual traits and characteristics. But in the scientific literature, there is a constant, if you look really for the contribution of the individual to the value generation of the organisation. The single personal attribute that explains the most part of that contribution and the quality of performance is general mental ability, the g factor (Hunter & Schmidt, 1996).

What does g mean other than “what an intelligence test measures”? What are we talking about?

General mental ability, or in fact, intelligence, is the capacity for understanding, the ability to perceive and comprehend meaning, to acquire and apply knowledge. It describes the capability to recognize the demands of the environment and the tasks that derive from that and to adapt to those demands. It contains the capability to see changes and to adapt to those changes and to learn.

Even if research evidence is strong that intelligence or general mental ability plays an important role in professional performance, there seems to be somewhat a hesitation to put this knowledge into action, especially when assessing for senior or top management positions. As routine as it is to run a health check in an important executive assignment, the check of her or his brain functions should be the same: routine.

But there are predictors beyond g: In executive functions more than on any other level of personnel decisions, the motives and goals, values and demands of the individual play a mayor role in the prediction of performance.

But the fit of those dimensions are more specific to a defined role. They have to be described and measured in correspondence with the specificity of the role and function.

Even if the demand for g may diminish with experience and age and a growing knowledge base, the capability to adapt and to change as well as the ease to acquire new competencies and to understand new or changing markets during a whole career depend on that variable.

G is the key, but it is only the first step.


Hunter, J.E. & Schmidt, F. L. (1996). Intelligence and Job Performance: Economic and Social Implications. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, Vol. 2, No 3/4, 447-472.



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