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How can you design a competency model to be open to frequent change?

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A competency model describes what someone in their role needs to be able to do to achieve their part of corporate strategy.  Often the “what” people have to be able to do in the job doesn’t change much, but the “how” people do it successfully does. 

In our competency model process, we identify the big buckets of things people need to be able to do, we unpack what they need to be able to do within them (the “what”), then we get to “how” they do it, and what separates good from great (see http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/2235).

Let’s use a product manager as an example.  Part of their job is identifying products to build/enhance.  That category or competency is the highest level.  It’s unlikely to change very often. 

Within that category, they need to be able to do various tasks or skills, such as identifying customer problems to solve, and then identifying products to create or enhance that solve those problems.  This might change more often than the category, but still not that often.

Now you get down to the “how” people do it at various levels of proficiency.  We call these task examples or behavioral examples.  It is required to show people how to get from good to great, and helps people objectively and consistently see where they are.  The “how”, and the target level of proficiency someone should have in their role to be able to achieve their part of corporate strategy, are the most likely components to change. 

We recommend that at least once a year, or after any major event such as a merger/acquisition, product or system launch, you bring together a group of 4-6 high performers to review the model and the details independently, submit feedback in advance which is aggregated for discussion, then come together for an hour session to discuss proposed changes.  Most likely, the behaviors and the target levels will change.  But it is this competency model design and this process that makes them easy to change over time.

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How can I pursue an employee-driven development approach and track completion? Is it important to track self-directed learning?

Tracking is always an interesting question.  In the LMS, we track completions.  But what does that really tell you?  Not much.  Do you think business leaders care much about completions?  Plus, you’re mostly tracking formal learning, which leaves out 90% of how people really learn (workflow/informal learning & collaborative).

What you really want to track is the combination of: what did a person choose to pursue for professional development, did they follow through with it, and most importantly, did their skills and results change as a result?  That’s the language of business leaders.

You want to create a continuous improvement loop where you (and they) can examine these things and make regular adjustments. 

Assess your skills (how can I get to great?) →  

Review your Personalized Learning Plan →

Create a short-term Development Plan (what can I do this month or this quarter?) →

Execute the plan →

Re-assess (and repeat)

Today, if you have a lot of one-size-fits-all learning where people are assigned to participate, they may not have a lot of motivation.  With self-directed learning, people select development activities on a Personalized Learning Plan tied to skill gaps because it’s relevant to both their job and their needs.  Therefore, it has the best chance for accelerating learning transfer, assuming the activity is good. 

So track what people select (from the Personalized Learning Plan), track activity completion, and track change in skill (and results) over time.  That is the kind of tracking that will make you VALUABLE to business leaders.

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7 Steps To Measure The Impact Of Learning With Competency Models Summary

Thank you to everyone who attended the ATD Conference session: 7 Steps To Measure The Impact Of Learning With Competency Models.  

Here is the link to download the materials.

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How can I use a competency model to evaluate learning programs?

Competency models provide you with a very straightforward method for evaluating learning programs.  I teamed with Jennifer Naughton, formerly the Senior Director of Competencies and Credentialing from ATD, and Dr. Bill Rothwell from Penn State, to discuss this very question in a ATD Conference session.  We call it “The Holy Grail” – to be able to measure the impact of learning.

We developed a very simple blueprint you can use:

1.      Create or acquire a competency model

2.      Have people perform a baseline assessment (make it actionable)

3.      Use a personalized learning plan to provide people with cafeteria options from which they can create a development plan that is relevant and meets their learning preferences

4.      Ensure they actively execute the development plan (supported by manager coaching)

5.      Re-assess against the competency model

6.      Measure change in skills (and results, if possible)

7.      Return to step 3 for iterative continuous improvement

 

Feel free to download the template we created and try it for yourself. 

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How do you use competency models to identify personal strengths?

The value of a competency model is that it enables you to assess yourself against the expectations your organization has for someone in your role.  When you complete your assessment, you will likely find a few skill gaps – areas where your level of proficiency, defined by specific behaviors, are below the target.  However, it is also likely that you will find skills where you are both at and above the target requirement.  Where you are above the requirement are your personal strengths.

Seek out opportunities to leverage your strengths (as well as closing skill gaps), which can be things such as leading a project on that area, working to identify a solution to a complex related issue, developing innovations for that area, and serving as a task-based mentor to others on that topic.

 

 

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How many competency models can be completed within a 3 week period?

In the webinar on How To Create A Competency Model In Weeks, we talk about the fact that you can build a competency model in 3 weeks.  Someone asked, "How many positions can be completed within a 3 week period?  Only one?"

While the whole process takes 3 weeks, it is not linear.  If you look at the summary of events, you’ll see that there are days when you’re waiting for feedback that you could be doing other things.  It depends on how long it takes you to do each step, and your preference for work/life balance.  When we need to (and are willing to live with no work/life balance), we’ve done 8 models in 3 weeks.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone just starting with this process to do any more than 1.  Then as you get experience and you know what it will take, you can take on 3 in 3 weeks.

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TD Magazine: Know the Gap

 Copyright ATD

Copyright ATD

Check out the new issue of @ATD's TD Magazine.

Read how to use competency models and assessments to know what skill gaps exist by Cheryl Lasse.  Learn how to get started, why it works, and do's and don'ts of skills assessments.

Or download the podcast.

 

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How Personalized Learning Drives Performance Improvement/Engagement @ ISPI

Please join us for a "How Personalized Learning Drives Performance Improvement/Engagement” at the ISPI 2018 Annual Conference on April 8 at 9:45 in Seattle with Dr. David Livingston, the Executive Director of the Health Plan Institute of Kaiser Permanente, and Jacqueline Warner, Director of Learning & Performance.

 

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Restructuring and new expectations relative to the timing of competency model development

Question from recent ATD webinar: If an organization has just gone through a restructure and client delivery expectations are being discovered, what would you recommend in terms of timing for conducting a JTA Workshop and building of a Competency Model?

There is no better time to develop a competency model so you can re-set the expectation of each person in their new role relative to client delivery requirements.  What’s unique is that you need to ensure everyone has foresight into new responsibilities, and you may need a leader of the new area to “oversee” the meeting to ensure the new strategy (for which the restructure took place) is being properly cascaded/interpreted. 

We’ve actually done this several times for customers for this exact purpose.  It’s definitely more often felt as pain by large companies than small.

 

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How often should competency models be reviewed and updated?

In a recent webinar, I was asked, “How often should competency models be reviewed and updated?”

Have a rhythm for periodically re-examining the model for changes.  Maybe 2x/year, or after a merger or acquisition, or product launch.  Much like the process for customizing behaviors in your model, we recommend sending out the model in a Word document (track changes on) to 4 - 6 high performers, and a manager of people in that role.  Give them a few days to review and edit.  Consolidate edits and conduct a 1-2 hour virtual workshop to discuss and finalize updates.  Then make the updates within the competency assessment tool immediately.

 

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Can competency models drive organizational agility? YES!

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Organizational agility is one of the hottest topics today.  I’m talking about moving people regularly from team to team, moving people where the work is (as demand changes), and moving people among projects or business units.  Competency models make organizational agility possible. 

In fact, one of my customers is doing something really innovative in the area of organizational agility – they are taking their employees and having them assess their skills “early in their careers” against the competencies for multiple departmental areas so that they can help guide them into the next roles where they can best be successful, or assign them temporarily where they can easily and quickly support increased demand.  Another customer is taking a similar approach from a workforce planning perspective, and identifying how many people could be easily moved from one role to another where they are most needed, and what gaps would have to be closed to do so.

If organizational agility is taking center stage in your company, explore how competency models can support that effort.

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What’s the difference between a low performer and a good performer who is simply not in the right role?

How do you interpret the difference between a low performer and someone who is simply not in the right spot for them.  How many of you have seen a good person in the wrong role?

Imagine if that person, or the organization, could use competency models to identify what skills people have and where they do best fit?  So instead of losing potentially really good people, you simply move them to where their skills and the competencies required best align. 

This is the power of competency models and a competency assessment (because you have to have the honest skills data).  If you know what people have to do to be great in their roles, and you know what skills people have, then you can perform that alignment seamlessly as those openings become available.  Think about how many good people could be saved, the amount of turnover savings you could achieve, and how much more engagement would grow naturally when people are in the right role.

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The Holy Grail: Using competency models to establish learning program impact

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It’s long been the holy grail in learning to be able to measure its impact.  There are many variables that impact business results and the process often seems daunting.

What if you could break it down into components that would make this easier?  What would that look like?

First, you’d need to know what skills someone needs to be able to perform to be successful.  A competency model describes what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of corporate strategy.  So let’s say you have a competency model.

Next, you need a baseline.  This is where employees in a role assess themselves against the competency model the first time. 

To each person, a competency model paints a picture for what it looks like to be great in their role, and provides a roadmap to get there. As a result, it drives intrinsic motivation to mastery, so long as that model is actionable.  That means that each person must be able to easily access and assess themselves against their own model, and be provided with targeted recommendations for action. 

Therefore, the results of the assessment need to drive people to competency-based learning.  Once someone knows they have a gap, they are motivated to close it.  When they are presented with learning options that are specifically targeted to closing that gap, you are creating the best environment for learning transfer and impact to take place.  Each person will embrace the learning opportunity, because they believe it is relevant to them, their role, and their needs.  Sounds like adult learning theory, right?

Once they participate in these development opportunities (which they buy into, because they selected them based on gaps they themselves identified), they will re-assess against the competency model.  In a perfect world, this is quarterly, so that they are always thinking about their own development.

When you look at the assessment data over time, and you correlate that data with business metrics, you can measure improvement in both skills and results over time.  What’s more, you’ll know which skills are drivers of business results.  That is, if skills improve, but results do not, you may want to alter your competency model to focus on other skills that are more important to success.

This blueprint for measuring learning program impact may sound simplistic, but simplicity is what we as learning professionals need.  This will make it easy to both justify the business value of what we do, and also identify what changes we should make to our programs that aren’t producing the results we expect.

Learn how 3 different organizations, including ATD, applied this blueprint to learning programs and the resulting learning impact they established.  Join us in San Diego at ATD ICE on Sunday, May 6, at 11:45am EDT for the session called “7 Steps to Measure the Impact of Learning With a Competency Model”. 

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How do you manage competency models for roles that cut across a variety of functions?

In a recent webinar, I was asked, “How do you manage roles that cut across a variety of functions where some skills should be reflective in models cutting across different functions?  (e.g., Analyst in Finance and Analyst in HR)”

We actually just did something really similar about 6 months ago – 3 analyst roles.  We did each of the 3 roles independently using the normal process.  When we polished output from the first Task Workshop, we realized we had some skills (e.g., Use data visualization tools), that would span all roles.  When we got to workshop 2 and 3, we could ask, “Do you do these things too?” and leverage the first group’s work, while asking group 2 and then group 3 for specifics and what they believe separates good from great.  Then we synthesized the examples into one shared task.

 

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Using role language to create relevance

In a recent webinar, I was asked, "If everyone is using their own language to make the model relevant to a role, how do you create categories / competencies that transcend roles?"

If you’re building multiple models at one time (e.g., we sometimes do 6-8 models over a 4-5 wk period), you can leverage aggregated data sets to tweak categories before finalizing them.  But honestly, at the end of the day, your competency model should never be done.  If one group comes up with Administration and Reporting, and another group later comes up with Administration and Systems, then you likely recommend changing the Category to “Administration/Reporting/Systems” so it is consistent, and there is no impact to the users of the models. 

What’s important is communicating to users that they will always be evolving over time.

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4 Steps to increase usage of a capability/competency model

1)      Make it consumable.  By that I mean, do you have to read it, then re-read it to know what it means?  Or is it easy to read and in the language of the people using it so they can know what great looks like?  Often, we see a model that’s too academic.  It should read as people in the role speak.  It should state clearly what someone should be able to do.  When high performers are involved in building it, this happens naturally.  If not, this is when you need to bring them in for revisions.

2)      Right size it.  The most successful capability models have between 15 – 30 tasks. A capability model should describe what “great” looks like in the role – it’s not a complete task analysis of everything they do.  If your model includes tasks that are not critical to success in that role, eliminate them.

3)      Make it actionable.  That means getting the model off the PowerPoint, out of the spreadsheets and into people’s hands.  A competency model that isn’t easily accessible by those during the development process, and isn’t assessable such that one can measure their capabilities against it to identify and close gaps with competency-based learning is pretty worthless.  One of my customers calls this “operationalizing the blueprint”.

4)      Communicate the WIIFM!  Ensure learners and their managers understand what’s in it for them.  We provide our customers with toolkits containing messaging for change management.  They span getting started with the model, driving a culture of learning and continuous development, tips for maximum use, recognition messages, and competition drivers between teams.  Managers need to understand that NOT developing people is a risk. If people aren’t given the opportunity to grow, they’ll go somewhere they can.  So give your audience tools and templates that make it easy for them to learn a new routine. 

Follow these steps and you’ll increase both the usage and value of your capability model.

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How do you use competency models to motivate employees that may not be motivated by the organization’s mission?

A competency model defines what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of corporate strategy.

But it also defines what it looks like to be great in that role.  If you look at the research, for example, Dan Pink’s research in DRIVE, it is a human characteristic to be motivated to mastery.  It’s why we work on our golf game or learn musical instruments for fun.  It’s why open source software and Wikipedia exist.

How you use competency models to motivate employees that may not be motivated by the organization’s mission is that you make the competency model accessible, and assessable.  Once someone sees what they “should” be able to do (in the competency model), and they assess themselves against it and become aware of any gaps, they want to fix it.  It is a totally different dynamic when you want to fix something, versus when someone else wants you to do it.  Intrinsic motivation is the most effective and creates the best environment for learning transfer to occur. 

If you motivate someone to be great in their job, and the competency model defines what they need to be able to do in order to perform their part of corporate strategy, then by default, using competency models will drive the organization’s mission, even if they are not motivated by the mission itself.

 

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Leverage the neuroscience of self-directed learning to clone your top performers

This article on the Neuroscience of Self-Directed Learning describes why we build competency models the way we do - the science behind it.   The idea is that you reverse engineer your best performers, so you can sort of, well, clone them.  They pursue the purpose, which is the corporate strategy… translated into what the organization needs them to do in their role.

During our Rapid JTA Workshop, once we identify the skills that should part of the model, we ask top performers the important question, "what did you do to learn how to do this?"  to identify their most valuable learning experiences. Once they are captured, our customers have the recipe to create similar experiences so non-top performers can try them.

 

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What process and tools are most effective at keeping competency-based learning sustainable?

For competency-based learning to be sustainable, the competency model must be agile.  Competency models describe what someone in a particular role should be able to do to perform their part of corporate strategy.  If your strategy is changing regularly (and I believe that for your organization to continue to survive, it will), then your competency model has to change/adapt as well.

Have a rhythm for periodically re-examining the model for changes.  Maybe 2x/year, or after a transformation, merger or acquisition, or product launch.  We recommend sending out the tasks and behavioral examples and targets in a Word document (track changes on) to 4 - 6 high performers, and a manager of people in that role.  Give them a few days to review and edit.  Consolidate edits and conduct a 1-2 hour virtual workshop to discuss and finalize updates.  Then make the updates within the competency assessment tool immediately.

Once you know that your competency model is current, look at the mapped learning opportunities for a particular task or competency that was updated and identify if changes are required.  The behavioral examples for a task map to the learning objectives of an activity.  If the former changes, there’s a good change that the latter will also need to change.  The good news is that if you have a tool where this mapping lives, and all the data is in one place, you can probably do this in one quick report.  Run it, selecting only the tasks that were updated, and compare the behaviors in the target proficiency level for each task with the learning objectives of those activities.  Any mismatch in learning objectives will tell you exactly what changes need to be made. 

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ATD Spotlight Member Brigitte Hyler Richerson on Competency Modeling and the SDLE

This is a reprint from the SEWI ATD Member Spotlight

Authored by ATD SEWI.

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Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a Milwaukee native and I have 3 dogs, 2 daughters and 1 husband. The dogs are Mr. Coconut, Oreo and Butchy. My eldest daughter just graduated Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia and my youngest daughter will be entering 8th grade. I love Zumba and simply enjoying life. I like to spend as much time as I can with my family and very close friends. I have a natural thirst for learning and helping others be their best.

What is your hidden talent?
Being a consultant my hidden talent has to be the ability to make people comfortable and build trust. Another hidden talent, which sometimes works for me and other times it gets me in trouble, is being intuitive and strategic; being the person that’s always thinking ahead and looking down the road, rather than the person who is in the day-to-day. It can be a pro or con, but definitely a talent.

What attracted you to the field of Talent Development?
I was always the person, even at age 16 working at McDonald’s, who had the patience to train others, and also the one who could take complex information and make it easy to understand. Maybe because of that trust factor, people just liked learning from me. So I never went into it thinking I wanted to be in talent development. Originally I thought I was going to be an elementary classroom teacher. I’ve always had a passion for teaching, but then I found it was more at the adult level in a work setting, rather than pure academia, where I can help others succeed. I think as a consultant it’s my job to help everyone else look good. In the perfect world, I’m invisible - you don’t even know I’m there. I’m there to help my business partners and clients look great and reach their goals.

What is your favorite theory, tool, or process?
Right now, I’m in love with competency modeling. I developed this passion about a couple of years ago, when we were investing in new technology. I started to research working with business partners, trying to figure out where the skill deficits and skill gaps are, to make sure we are securing the best learning solutions. Technology training is extremely expensive, so you want to make sure you are getting the return on your investment. And that original concern has really turned into so much more now. We have been partnering with the company Skill Director, leveraging their tool, “The Self-directed Learning Engine”. Partnering with Skill Director allows me to take our learning strategies and build them around competency modeling. There are assessments for individuals, leaders, and peers. From these assessments they can see their skill gaps and create the right learning path to help them fill them. They have choices. They only take what they want to; they take what they need when they need it. I have seen positive results from it. I’ve actually seen the improvement. That has been what I’ve really been honing in on. What we are investing in and learning is supporting our overall corporate strategy.

How did you first learn about SEWI-ATD?
I’ve been a member since college as a student member at Alverno. It is one of those things I always stay close to. Even if I’m not necessarily engaged and going to meetings, I am still periodically checking out the website. I’m also a national member. In fact, I just bought a book, Learning for the Long Run. ATD is sort of the Holy Grail of learning and development. I’m impressed with how they stay current with how learning is changing. They do a very good job of looking at how the learning is reaching the various generations, how that looks, and learning more innovatively.

Just for fun, what are your top 3 most played songs on your iPod / iPhone?
Prince – “1999”, Bruno Mars – “24K Magic” and anything Zumba (I’m also a Zumba instructor)

Is there a question you wished you were asked during this interview?
If I could do it all over again and do something other than training, would I? And the answer is…No, I absolutely wouldn’t. I truly, truly love the space and love what I’m doing. It does take a while to get to a point in your career where you’re doing higher level work. It’s one of those jobs you gotta kiss a lot of frogs, but it’s so rewarding. It doesn’t feel like work for me, I absolutely love it. I think for anyone who really wants to get into this space, that’s the kind of passion you have to have.

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