In fact, information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast that as early as 2006, only 20 percent of the workforce will own the skills required to perform 60 percent of the jobs. And through it all, performance objectives will remain a moving target. The challenge: Business success will require a renewed investment in the competencies of today’s global workforce.
But in today’s dynamic business environment, how can companies focus on enhancing employee competencies when change is the only constant? Through timely, up-to-date learning content that links competencies to a company’s performance objectives, companies can keep their employees qualified for the challenges ahead. By focusing the limited time and resources dedicated to learning on key competencies, companies can feel secure in knowing that the learning content they do provide has a direct impact on the success of the company.
Using a competency-based training development process that incorporates performance maps (a one-page summary graphic drawing a line of sight from company goals to individual performance), companies can quickly prioritize competencies for a role. This prioritization helps identify which key competencies individual employees should focus on enhancing, as well as the competency-driven learning content that should be developed to support training objectives. This identification and prioritization process best prepares companies to meet the training needs of our ever-changing business environment.
A competency-based training development process ensures a strategic focus and achievable scope, leading to greater learner involvement and motivation. So what is the development process? The development process incorporates these steps:
- Develop performance maps.
- Conduct star performer focus groups.
- Document skills tables for key competencies.
- Assess current learning content against skills tables.
- Create competency development guides.
Develop Performance Maps
A performance map is a visual representation (similar to a chart) of the links, or the line of sight, between a role, the critical competencies for that role and the overall corporate business goals. Performance maps are similar to impact maps, which are discussed by Robert O. Brinkerhoff and Stephen J. Gill in their book, “The Learning Alliance.” Performance maps tie tightly to a company’s business scorecard and act as the anchor for the employee development process.
Performance maps identify how each role within a department directly impacts the success of the overall company. They also identify the critical competencies employees need to master within a role if they are going to help the company meet its performance objectives, or business scorecard.
Performance maps display how each employee plays a role in reaching company goals. This emphasis on individual contribution helps employees understand the importance of their key competencies. By focusing on the competencies that are most critical in driving business success, employee development remains aligned with the strategic company goals. The result is competency-driven learning content that directly supports company performance objectives. Focusing on key competencies also helps avoid the creation of laundry lists of skills and knowledge that can be overwhelming for both employees and their leaders.
When creating performance maps, learning organization leaders should meet with operational leaders and identify those individuals who can assist in creating the maps for various roles across the organization. These key individuals clearly understand what it takes to successfully perform various roles within the organization. The learning organization and these key individuals work together to develop the performance maps. Some maps take longer to develop than others; however, each map should only take a few hours on average.
The performance maps usually focus on four standard categories that companies use to measure and communicate their success. These categories include company financial objectives, process improvement objectives, customer satisfaction objectives and employee satisfaction objectives. Each one of these categories links objectives from the company level to the divisional level to the departmental level and then to the role so that the key competencies can be clearly identified.
Conduct Star Performer Focus Groups
Once the performance maps are created, the learning organization conducts focus groups with star performers to validate the maps and further clarify the key competencies. The star performers are employees who continually succeed in the roles identified on various performance maps. The focus groups are conducted similar to the format of a behavioral interview. Star performers are asked to provide specific examples of how they perform the critical competencies identified on the performance map for their role.
Each focus group runs approximately two hours and should reflect the geographical diversity of a region or department. It is recommended that one person lead the focus group while another person documents the information.
Document Skills Tables for Key Competencies
Based on information gathered from the focus groups, the performance maps are finalized and summary skills tables are created that clearly define the key competencies. The skills tables contain examples gleaned from star performers during the focus groups. The skills tables should clearly communicate the actions star performers execute on a regular basis that enable them to excel within their positions.
Assess Current Learning Content Against Skills Tables
From the skills tables, the learning organization identifies learning content materials that exist within the region, across the company and externally that directly impact the key competencies listed on the performance maps. If the skills tables are documented properly and include action verbs that help describe degree of mastery, the learning organization can quickly review existing learning content to determine what portions still meet the needs of the organization.
From this review process, companies can easily determine what portions of existing training materials need to be enhanced, replaced or remain the same. From the skills tables, learning organizations can quickly develop the necessary performance objectives for any materials that may need to be developed or purchased off the shelf.
Create Competency Development Guides
From the skills tables, the learning organization also creates a competency development guide for each role represented on a performance map. The competency development guide contains statements and examples regarding the key competencies listed on the performance map as executed by a star performer. Next to each statement is a five-point Likert Scale that enables employees to rate themselves against the star performer attributes.
By using this competency development guide, employees can more objectively determine how they compare against the star performers. In the competency areas where an employee rates herself as low, competency-driven learning content is provided so the employee knows exactly how she can enhance the key competency.
Employees work through the competency development guide in about 30 to 45 minutes. Once they finish the guide, employees have a good understanding of the areas they need to enhance and the learning content currently available to assist them in their development.
It is recommended that employees meet with their leaders to discuss their competency development guide results and potential learning content opportunities. At that time leaders can also discuss any on-the-job opportunities that target the critical items highlighted on the competency development guide.
The competency development guide helps employees quickly prioritize the competencies they need to improve if they are going to help the company succeed.
Results to Expect
Through the competency-driven training development process (performance maps, focus groups, skills tables, competency development guides), a company is assured that its learning content investments are strategically linked to business goals. Companies also achieve consistent, measurable performance improvement by focusing on the key competencies that most directly impact organizational goals.
As times change and companies adjust, the performance maps, skills tables and competency development guides should be updated to reflect updated company financial objectives, process improvement objectives, customer satisfaction objectives and employee satisfaction objectives. Once these documents are created, their maintenance should require only a few days every 12 to 18 months. The update process should trigger a review of the competency-driven learning content to ensure that it reflects the most current goals of the company.
The value of systematically evaluating current learning content and then developing competency-driven learning content far outweighs the amount of time it takes to work through the development process. In fact, the actual effort is less than you may think. As mentioned, the performance maps and the focus groups collectively take a few hours. Depending on the amount of data gathered during the focus groups, documenting the skills tables and follow-up reviews may take 20 to 40 hours spread over a couple weeks. The competency development guides require only a few hours to develop.
The bulk of your time will take place in the evaluation of your current learning content. You need to compare your current content against the skills tables. The amount of time needed for this task depends on the number of training courses you have and your level of familiarity with those courses. However, once you complete this task, you may move forward quickly and confidently to enhance current content and develop or buy new content that truly meets the needs of your company and is competency-driven.
If your company employs a learning management system (LMS), it is recommended that the distribution of the competency development guides and the linking of the competency-driven learning content take advantage of the LMS infrastructure. Through the LMS, employees can quickly access the competency development guides and then review the available learning content. The LMS can also track the needs regarding the learning content and help learning organizations forecast future trends.
One thought to consider during the development process is that you employ the “80/20 rule.” Due to the ever-changing business environment, it could be quite challenging trying to dot every i and cross every t when it comes to documenting the skills tables and listing examples from star performers.
If you spend several months in any single area of this process (performance maps, skills tables, competency development guides) waiting for numerous iterations of review, competency-driven learning content will continue to remain a goal rather than a reality. And as always, once you have a baseline with each deliverable, the ongoing maintenance effort is far less taxing. And the fruit of your labor, competency-driven learning content linked to company performance objectives, is well worth the effort.
For companies to survive, not to mention grow, in today’s dynamic business climate, workforce employees must master key competencies. And as key competencies that are directly linked to company performance objectives are mastered across the organization, peak performance will become a reality.
Joyce M. Clark, senior performance consultant at DigitalThink Inc., has more than 14 years of experience in performance consulting, gap analysis, project management, leadership, business process reengineering and communication. She is responsible for partnering with clients to help enhance the success of their e-learning initiatives. For more information, contact Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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