Competency Management defines and facilitates the management of the “way” work is to be done. It touches multiple organizational elements within a company or other entity. These range from operational units to training to human resources and hiring to essentially anywhere that people do or support the work of the entity.
A good Competency Management system captures the details of work based on how “the best” people do their jobs. When optimally used, it becomes the “system” for increasing skills and know how among all people and positions included within its scope. In some organizations it can become the key to a big “pay off” from sometimes major investments in training.
The Purpose of Competency Management
The purpose of a Competency Management system is to maximize organizational performance. It defines the methods and techniques of top performers and provides a vehicle to systematically communicate and develop “Best Practices.” It helps to focus training on its greatest opportunities either based on gaps uncovered in the development of the system or through the use of the system. It also helps to focus supervisory attention to those areas needing that attention.
The Method of Competency Management
The development of a Competency Management system starts with the official core processes for the areas within the included scope of the system. For each process, the next step is to identify all key activities within that core process. These key activities should be the focus of attention with respect to that process. The non-key activities must also be identified buy, as non-key activities, their impact and the opportunity for performance improvement is less significant.
Experts for each process and activity must be identified based on their performance (measurable results, not feelings) and on management input. Each identified expert needs to be interviewed with respect to what they consider to be the keys to their performance success. Then, each “expert” needs to be observed, a minimum of ten observations, for the detail of how they do their work and because most people do not necessarily remember even critical detail.
The focus should be on key opportunities for performance improvement.
First, the focus should be on the identification of the core processes, activities and key competencies. The best practices will follow from this initial focus.
Experts for specific core competencies not always top people in measurable performance, but the top people in measurable performance should be a starting point. Focus groups of experts will help drive expert model development.
Never select experts with poor performance numbers; they simply will not have credibility with their peers and with management. However, if there is an opportunity to learn from anybody, even those who are not top performers, take that opportunity and have the top performer-experts validate the proposed “best practice.”
The Expert Model is the key element of a Competency Management system. An Expert Model provides a comprehensive guide, by position, of what that position does (processes and activities), how the best performers do it, and what tools are available to improve one’s performance.
Structurally, a basic Expert Model is a matrix consisting of the following columns:
- Best Practice
In some cases, a Description column may be helpful to those not intimately involved in the process in understanding exactly what the process and activity include. An additional column or heading category can be added to provide a further level of organization to the Expert Model. Categories for Expert Model in a sales environment, for example, would include:
- Selling Skills
- Product Knowledge
- Technical Knowledge
- Activity Levels/productivity
Competency Evaluation Matrix
The Competency Evaluation Matrix (CEM) is the second key element of a Competency Management system. A CEM provides an organized approach to assessing each employee’s capability with respect to each process and activity. As a reference, the Expert Model then provides a guide to the employee as to what is meant, how the best performers do it, and what tools are available to improve one’s performance.
Scoring should be kept as simple as possible. The purpose of a scoring system is simply to help employees and supervisors and trainers focus their attention on the areas most in need. While a five-point scale can be used, in most environments, a simple three-point scale should be used:
- 3 (expert),
- 2 (competent),
- 1 (training needed)
Employees score themselves and supervisors score the employees separately. After the scoring is completed, the supervisor meets with each employee one-on-one to review the scores for each item During this meeting, the supervisor and employee should come to an agreement or consensus as to the an appropriate true score.
For each employee, the lowest scored areas should be the first target for training. In aggregate, the lowest rated activities should be the subject of review and reengineering of the training practices associated with those activities.
However, a low aggregate score does not necessarily reflect training impact. To maximize training impact, pre-select key competencies based on results and on “promise” associated with return on investment in organizational performance.
The other consideration with respect to training impact is to ensure that selected training priorities match identified organizational goals.
Personalized Training Plans
The outcome of the scoring is not simply a score for each employee. The outcome should be the creation, after each “round” of scoring, of a specific training plan for each individual covered by the Competency Management system. This plan should be derived from the identified needs of the individual.
Management and supervision must first prioritize the identified needs. In many cases, there will simply be too many needs to address all of them simultaneously. The priorities will generally be based on the likelihood of impact on organizational performance. The primary reference for these prioritized training plans will be the “Resources” column of the Expert Model. The purpose of that column is to point employees, supervision, and management to the resources that are known to be available to improve performance in that specific activity and process.
Each Expert Model needs to be regularly upgraded. Processes are dynamic. Activities associated with processes are dynamic. Best practices are dynamic. Improvement resources are also dynamic. The timeframe for upgrading will vary across operating environments.
Management and supervision must take all necessary steps to settle disagreements tactfully. These disagreements can be related to scoring of individual employees. These disagreements will also be related to the identification of best practices.
The use of a Competency Management system should be translated into quality and productivity results and improvement efforts. As the management of competency moves into the culture of the organization, measurable performance improvement should be seen.
An additional outcome that will be observed is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, individual, team and organization, plan for training.
The long-term impact will be directly related to the organization’s commitment to long-term use. To the extent that it is possible, the organization’s Executive management should provide visibility to the Competency Management system and reinforce its use.
When seeking to improve overall organizational competency, the focus should be on observable and measurable behaviors. Behaviors that are otherwise will be difficult to manage. The adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” applies.
As with any scoring or grading opportunity, all steps should be taken to avoid scoring inflation by pointing to results. There should always be a correlation between competency and results. People without measurable top results should generally not be scored as an “expert” with respect to competency.
Despite the increased focus on training, there should be no training for training sake. The priority for training efforts should be those areas that are aligned with organizational goals.
It is important to stress improving both personal and overall human resources development and performance improvement in the development and use of the Competency Management system.
For several reasons, it is important to pull the training department into the Competency Management development process early. For one, there can be a tendency, in some environments, for the training department to take the outside development of a training-oriented tool as a criticism of their effectiveness. Additionally, the more involved training is and the earlier they are involved the more ownership training will take of the new set of tools. This ownership should not take away from the fact that, unlike some pure training programs, supervision and management are intimately involved in the use of the Competency Management system. Supervision and management does the scoring (with the employees). Supervision and management works with the employees to arrive at a consensus score. Supervision and management prioritizes the elements of the individual employee training plans that result from the system. But, training will be the focus for the development of new training programs for both new and continuing employees.
Expert Models should also be used in selection of employees and in training design. The Expert Model will ultimately be viewed as a much more detailed view of the expectations of the employee than a job description has historically been. It will, therefore, present a much clearer picture for the prospective employee than a job description.
The two most significant success criteria are measurable performance improvement and noticeable improvement in competency. Closing identified skill gaps will become a big driver of supervisor behavior but this is likely to be a gradual change. A noticeable change in supervisor behavior is a good indicator of the integration of the Competency Management system into the organizational culture.
It should be noted that measurable improvement in competency levels should not simply be based on the scoring by the supervisors. There should be some independent verification by the training staff and a corresponding improvement in organizational performance to assure that the measurable “improvement” is not simply a relaxation of the scoring standards.
The concept and use of Expert Models and a Competency Management system is relatively new, dating to the 1990’s. It provides a systematic method for capturing the work that needs to be done and the best practices associated with that work. It also provides a ready reference to the resources an employee or supervisor or trainer might consider when seeking to improve performance in a specific activity or process area.
It’s primary purpose, however, is to drive improvement in organizational performance through helping employees take more responsibility for their own training and development and through helping supervisors and managers also take more responsibility for the training and development of the members of their teams. The format of the Competency Management system helps reduce the temptation to provide training for the sake of training and helps focus all training efforts on performance improvement.