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Capability Model

How to create a competency model rapidly when there are no high performers

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What if the organization does not have high performers to use in our rapid competency model creation process, where you can build a model in a few weeks by creating a blueprint from your high performers.

It can happen when it’s a relatively new company, or a new role. 

What you want to find are high performers who do similar things.  If you’re taking an existing role, and splitting it into more specialized roles, might you have people who are high performers in those other roles that can focus on only the nuances of the new role. 

Or you may want to consider standard competency models.  These are industry standard roles that define what the role looks like at a typical organization.  And you can then customize the model based on what this role must do or not do in your organization.  It’s a rapid “quick start” to a role-based competency model.

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How the competency model connects to the organization’s mission

Gayla asked, “You mentioned relating the competencies to the org mission. can you give examples of that?”  I want to start out by pointing you to a short ATD blog post that describes the answer more deeply.

https://www.td.org/insights/what-is-the-value-of-a-competency-model

In summary, in any organization, everyone has intermediate goals that, if accomplished (by everyone), would lead to the achievement of the organization goals and mission.  You might hear this referred to as cascading strategy.  The deeper in the organization you go from top to bottom, the more specialized the goals and the required skills, until you get to a specific person performing a specific role, such as an R&D engineer. 

That’s where you have a role-based competency model.  A person with competence in their role will achieve their part of corporate strategy. 

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How many competencies should be in a competency model?

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Well, there is no one answer.  It’s based on the role.  A competency describes what’s most critical to success in a role, not everything one must do. 

Once you’ve built your model, you may discover there are simply too many tasks for a reasonable assessment and resulting development focus.  E.g. if you’ve identified more than 40 tasks, the assessment will simply take too long, and you’ll lose the intrinsic motivation you’re trying to create.  While there is no hard rule, we recommend 20 – 25. 

Think about it logically.  If it takes about 1 minute to review behavioral examples and select a value (in a meaningful and thoughtful way), and you have 50 competencies, that’s 50 minutes.  Can you say “survey fatigue”?  On the other hand, if you select the 20-25 most critical, it should take ~20 minutes… a much more realistic request.  Plus, who can focus on that many skills and potential gaps?! 

Consider that you may not need assess technical and soft skills separately

Pick the most critical to success items now, and continue to iterate it to capture changes in strategy, in tools, in technology, and in the environment in which you operate, so you can always focus on the critical tasks and skills for that point in time.  It may be that your assessment includes 20 now, and next year, you remove 8 and add 10 new ones.

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Webcast: Use sales competencies to clone your top producers

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Want to learn to how use sales competencies to clone your top producers? Then join Cheryl Lasse and sales performance expert Mike Kunkle for a free Sales & Marketing Management webinar on April 17, 2019 from 2pm-3pm US ET.

Can’t make it? Register anyway and you’ll get a link to the recording after the event. Click here to register.

Here’s an overview:

 At a time in the sales profession when only 50-60% of reps make quota and over 20% of opportunities end in No Decision, there is massive room for performance improvement and growth in most sales forces.

What could it mean to your company if you could clone your top producers, fix those problems, and close these performance gaps?

Mike and Cheryl will share how you can use sales competencies to replicate the performance of your A Players and move your B and C Players up a notch.

  • Explore top-producer analysis techniques

  • Discuss the steps to develop an actionable sales competency model in weeks

  • Discover a competency development framework that produces personalized learning plans to close competency gaps

  • Foster a learning culture and create an environment that supports performance improvement

April 17, 2019 from 2pm-3pm US ET. Click here to register.

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How to create a competency model – should Directors and above participate?

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“Would it ever make sense to have someone above the manager position (such as a division head) participate in the job analysis workshop?” 

In our experience, this is not a good idea for several reasons. 

(1) When there is someone 2 levels higher or more in the workshop, it can be intimidating for some participants, which could mitigate their input.  

(2) The purpose of the workshop is to identify what the people doing the job need to be able to do to be good and great in their job.  A person who is 2 levels higher is not currently doing the job, and while they may have held that position at some time in the past, they will not have done so recently, and therefore be out of touch with the current realities of the position.

(3) The person who is 2 levels higher may know what kind of skills they want people to have in the future, which should be imparted to the person facilitating the workshop.  You can bring up those topics in line with the appropriate tasks and competencies (e.g., “how do you foresee data analysis impacting the role going forward?”).  This person, not being an expert in the process, could derail the workshop by bringing it up at the wrong time.

(4) One of the things that often presents itself in workshops is regional differences. A high performer describes how something is done in their region.Another person says, “that’s interesting because we do it differently in our region.”And you get these different perspectives that can be aggregated into the competency model appropriately.It will be less likely that someone tells a Director level person that what they said is not entirely true.The quality of your model may suffer.

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How to create a competency model for those who are not employees

What if the group you are developing competencies for are not employees but rather a large group of stakeholders? Are there any modifications needed to the competency development process?

Let’s assume the stakeholders are business partners – perhaps channel partners or part of the supply chain.  The process to develop the competency model will be the same, but identifying who to participate (who is a high performer) could be more difficult.  The other complexity, which we also experience when building models for associations, is that not everyone does things the same way or uses the same system.  So while the tasks people need to be able to do to be competent are likely the same, when writing behavioral examples, you’ll want to take care to not be too specific to one stakeholder’s environment.  For example, use “ERP system” instead of the specific brand name of an ERP provider. 

 When letting people assess against that model, consider making the tasks all optional, so that those who don’t have to do that task in their organization can skip it or select N/A.

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How the neuroscience of self-directed learning ties to competency models

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This article in CLO Magazine 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.

During our Rapid Job Analysis 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.

Remember that "purpose" is how I contribute to the organization's strategy.

Thank you to Dave Conner, EdD, SPHR, ACC for sharing it with us!

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How to create a competency model when participants are global

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In a webinar we conducted, someone asked, “How can you create competency models with the rapid job analysis process when bringing people together isn’t an option, and multiple time zones are in play? Can you do multiple meetings and then merge the information?”

It’s possible, but not the best option. The best option is to try to find a time that works for all virtual participants, though depending on those locations, it may not be feasible. (I’ve often done 6am – 10am ET to accommodate global participants.) Doing separate workshops mitigates the creativity generated during the workshop across regions with culturally diverse participants and doesn’t immediately highlight regional differences.

If you have to do it, here’s what you need to expect. There are 2 basic alternatives.

  1. You can either do completely separate Rapid Job Analysis and Task Example Workshops with the 2 groups, and have to merge the 2 finished products

  2. Or you do separate Rapid Job Analysis workshops, 1 set of shared Task Examples, and separate Task Example Workshops to review

Alternative 1 Pros:

Will be easiest for the participants who will be familiar with all the tasks as they are written.

Alternative 1 Cons:

  • Will take the most time

  • You’ll be making the process much longer and more cumbersome for yourself

Alternative 2 Pros:

It will be less of an additional effort (writing the task examples is the hardest/longest part).

Alternative 2 Cons:

May not create the same level of buy in to the model or be as easy to review since they will have to get their arms around something they’ve not seen before. For example, if 3 groups came up with the same thing, and it’s all written in a slightly different way, you have to synthesize into one task statement that will not be “exactly” what they saw the first time. And if 1 group came up with something unique, it will take longer to digest. 

 In my opinion, if you have to do separate workshops, alternative 2 is the best option.

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How competency models can support a new system rollout

Change. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. These are the things that surround a new enterprise system rollout (e.g., ERP, CRM, HCM).  But what if you could help people in each role understand exactly what was expected of them, both during the rollout, and thereafter as processes change? That’s exactly what role-based competency models can do. 

If you don’t already have one task in your competency model dedicated to the new system, create one.  It could be as simple as “Demonstrate the ability to use the [XYZ] system.”  Then, it is the behavioral examples that differentiate the task from one role to another.  And the levels of proficiency identify exactly what functions people in that job need to be able to perform (with support, or independently).  This will provide you with an easy way to communicate the expectations. 

For example, let’s say you’re rolling out a new Customer Relationship Management system.

 

The task you add to a Sales Rep may be “Document accounts and opportunity pipeline activities sufficiently in the CRM system”.  The task you add for a Sales Manager/Director may be “Perform sales forecasting and manage the opportunity pipeline with our CRM system”.

And the Sales Director behaviors at each level of proficiency (low to high) might look like this:

1 – Locate opportunity details in the CRM

2 – Perform sales forecasting via a standard CRM report

3 – Effectively use a CRM dashboard for viewing and communicating the sales funnel

4 – Create a dashboard for easy access to opportunity intelligence

5 – Create a complex CRM dashboard to handle scenario planning/”what if” analyses

 

If you have your competency model in a competency assessment tool, have people assess themselves against it (and the newly added/revised task), to identify their baseline.  Be sure you have competency-based learning mapped to each role, so that as the gaps are identified, they will point to role-specific learning opportunities that provide each person with the ability to take action.  Your best strategy is to point to informal learning because (1) you probably have some mandatory formal learning already provided to everyone, and (2) the way to best develop proficiency is to support them WHILE they work… with workflow learning.  That means system-specific job aids/performance support tutorials, informal skill practices like step by step how to create a dashboard that they can follow and complete their work, and links to communities of practice and FAQs for rapid answers.

Periodically, maybe every couple of months, and as the resulting assessment data communicates the current level of proficiency, tweak the model to incorporate any process changes or your expectations for proficiency.  For example, in my role, the target proficiency may have been 2 at the start of the rollout, but 3 months later, the target is a 3.  Four months later, I’m expected to be a 4. 

Now you have an easy way to communicate expectations, by role, as well as provide the appropriate competency-based learning to support the changes.  And you will motivate each person to close their own skill gaps.

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3 Steps to simplify an existing Competency Model / Capability Framework

If you have a competency model or capability framework, and you’re ready to make it actionable, use these 3 steps to see if it needs to be simplified.  

  1. Is it easy to consume?  Do you have to read then re-read each statement to know what it means?  Or is it easy to read in the language of the people using it?  Too often, competency models are too academic.  It looks impressive, but the model itself cannot easily be consumed by the end user.  It should read as they speak. 

  2. Is it too much?  The most successful capability models have between 15 – 30 tasks, a reasonable number to assess against.  A competency model should describe what “great” looks like focused on what is most critical to success – not be a complete list of everything they do. 

  3. Are they really tasks?  Once you remove those not critical to success, see if you have some tasks that are really behavioral examples of other tasks.  If you can’t come up with behavioral examples (what it looks like to do that task at various levels of proficiency), then it’s a behavioral example of something else. (E.g., you don’t attend meetings well, rather actively participating in meetings might be an example of “Collaborate within and across functional teams”).  That is, tasks should list WHAT you do, and the examples describe HOW you do it.

Follow these simplification steps and you’ll maximum use and adoption of your competency model.

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What’s the difference between a Competency Model and Competency-Based Learning for a job role and job family?

If you create a model for a job family, or several similar roles, including entry level individual contributor (IC) to director, they might share tasks but require different levels of proficiency.   

  • As an example, if you built a sales model, an Account Executive might have to develop winning proposals at a level 3 – do it well and independently. 

  • A Pre-Sales person may have to be a level 2, as they are in a supporting role and participate in the process but don’t need to do it independently.

  • A Sales Manager needs to be able to coach and mentor those building it, so they need to be a level 4.

  • And the Sales VP needs to be able to innovate the proposal process or define the proposal strategy, so they need to be at a level 5.

Some tasks may be unique, for example, only those who manage others will have people mgmt tasks.  And because a competency model shouldn’t contain everything someone should do, but rather focus on “what is critical to success in that role”, the people management tasks may displace some IC tasks for managers/directors.

Whether a role has its own model or is part of a shared model varies by organization.  If you have multiple levels that do the same thing but with different scope (e.g., one role manages a site, one a region, one a country), it is likely a job family, or even one role (with behavioral examples written to accommodate variations in scope). 

When it comes to competency-based learning, you will likely recommend learning that will get someone to their target level (meaning the learning objectives help them perform the behaviors in that level).  Using the previous example, you’d recommend an activity that would get a Pre-Sales person to a level 2 or even a level 3.  But for the Sales VP, you’d recommend a different activity to get them to a level 5.

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What sequence of activities occur during the creation of a competency model?

During the competency model development process, you start by identifying the categories or big buckets of things that someone in a job role does, and then you unpack each category to identify the tasks within it.   This is “WHAT” someone in that role needs to do.  Once you have the tasks, you identify what it looks like to perform that task at various levels of proficiency.  This is “HOW” someone would do it.  Writing the behavioral examples is the longest part of the process.

Lastly, you identify the target level of proficiency, which is how you know whether a skill gap exists.  

If you are performing the process for a job family, you may have some jobs that don't perform a particular task at all, and others that overlap with varying levels of proficiency.

For example, a senior software developer and an entry level developer may share the need to “program in some language”.  However, the entry level person needs to be a Level 3 and the senior person needs to be a Level 4. Additionally, the senior software developer may have some team management responsibilities that an entry level person wouldn't have.

Here's a link to a free ATD webinar next month (October 18) with all the detail on that process.

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How do we keep the competency models current and in use by the organization?

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To keep competency models current, 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.

To keep competency models in use by the organization, you must make your models actionable.  That means getting each 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”.  Further, ensure whatever competency assessment and competency-based learning tool you choose supports making changes easily.  If it’s too difficult, it won’t happen, and then your competency model will be out of sync with strategy.

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How do you deal with “one-off” competency models?

Someone told me that they are about to begin competency modeling, but have a number of “one-off” roles – those with only one person in the role – and wanted to know how to handle them?

Well, people in those roles need competency models too.  There are 2 approaches we recommend.

If this role is fairly common, (e.g., an Accounts Receivable Specialist) it is easiest to use a standard competency model.  A good standard competency model will cover the tasks well, provide you with applicable behavioral examples, and a target level of proficiency.  While you may require a different level in your organization, or even slightly altered behaviors, it’s easy to make those small modifications.  We provide the model (tasks/skills, behavioral examples, target level) to customers in a template, and the individual and their manager spend about 1-2 hours reviewing and tailoring the model.  Their completed model then gets uploaded into the competency assessment system.  The cool part about this process is that if you have a bunch of one-off roles, all the reviewing and tailoring can be done concurrently without you.  So if you have 2 one-off roles or 20 one-off roles, it takes the same number of calendar days.

If this role is not common, then you need to determine if it’s worth building a model from scratch, using the process described in the ATD webinar and materials (here, participants include only that individual and their manager), OR you may find that there are tasks they do that are in other models, and you can piece together a new model from other models.  This is a similar approach that you’d do if it were a new role and there are no high performers.  That is, you determine what a role SHOULD be doing, and see if you have those tasks (with behaviors) in your competency inventory.  Then, similar to the standard model process, the individual and their manager would pick the target level of proficiency.

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How do you incorporate soft skills into a competency model that revolves around hard skills?

Remember that the competency model describes what people need to do in the job to execute their part of corporate strategy.  Usually that’s the hard skills.  But it’s the soft skills that determine how WELL you do the hard skills.

Therefore, we generally use the soft skills to differentiate levels of proficiency for a hard skill. 

For example, instead of having 3 skills in the model on analyzing and reporting out data, tailoring communication, and influencing, we have one skill “Analyze data and report findings”, where the behavioral examples are:

  • Level 3: Analyze data and generate a report

  • Level 4: Tailor communication of the analysis to the needs of the stakeholder to whom you’re presenting

  • Level 5: Make a recommendation based on the analysis and successfully influence leaders to adopt it

And these higher level examples might be reflected in many hard skills, perhaps without much change, since these are what separate good from great. 

A person could be able to influence others related to one hard skill, but struggle with influencing others related to a different hard skill.  This is not because they have a problem with influencing per se, (though it could) but rather because they don’t have the same credibility in that hard skill.

For more on how to do build these levels of behavior, see the free ATD webinar on creating a competency model in weeks.

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How do you tie learning to competencies for different job roles?

Question from Competency-Based Learning webinar:  How do you tie learning to competencies within every level of your organization (e.g. Asst. PM, PM, Sr. PM, Program Mgr, Director, etc.)

Answer: Follow the procedure in the Competency-Based Learning webinar and materials for each job role. 

Remember that you are mapping the learning objective of an activity to the target level of proficiency for a task in the job role’s competency model.  If I need to do level 3 behaviors, give me an activity that enables me to be able to do them.  If I need to do level 4 behaviors, give me an activity that will get me there.

For shared tasks, the mapped content may be the same, or they may be different.  If a Project Manager needs to be a level 3 in some task, and a Program Manager needs to be a level 4 in that task, you may wish to only recommend learning that will get each to their target proficiency.  Or, it may be that one activity can get someone as high as a level 4, and therefore you can recommend that same competency-based learning to people in both roles. 

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How can we keep the number of tasks to assess in our competency assessment manageable?

Once you’ve built your model, you may discover there are simply too many tasks for a reasonable assessment.  E.g. if you’ve identified more than 40 tasks, the assessment will simply take too long, and you’ll lose the intrinsic motivation you’re trying to create.  There is no hard or fast rule, 20 – 25 tasks is the max.

Think about it logically.  If it takes about 1 - 1.5 minutes to review behavioral examples and select a value (in a meaningful and thoughtful way), and you have 50 competencies, that’s 50-75 minutes.  Can you say “survey fatigue”?  On the other hand, if you select the 20-25 most critical, it should take ~30 minutes… a much more realistic request.  Plus, who can focus on that many skills and potential gaps?! 

During the model development process, we recommend the high performers identify which tasks are most critical to success to narrow the list.  But there’s also the aspect of strategic workforce planning – identifying skills the organization believes will differentiate it in the future… for example, some technology that will drive competitive advantage.  You want to be sure to call out that technology separately, so you can easily identify organizational experts.  Or you know that many people with a particular expertise are retiring, and you need to know which experts remain, so you can leverage them to create new experts (“nexperts”).  So a hybrid approach is best.

Then you iterate.  Launch the competency assessment, but remember, it’s always in beta.  Your competency models are not fixed in stone.  You put it out there, you get feedback, you get data, and you continue to iterate it to capture changes in strategy, in tools, in technology, and in the environment in which you operate, so you can always focus on the critical tasks and skills for that point in time.  It may be that your assessment includes 20 now, and next year, you remove 8 and add 10 new ones.

For more on creating a competency model quickly, see the free ATD webinar.

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How to differentiate between a job description and a competency model

There seems to be accelerated activity around redefining job descriptions and aligning job families, which is great.  The reason for this accelerated activity is that jobs have changed.  A job defined in the HR system 10 years ago probably doesn’t describe the job very well today.  So this seems to be a good opportunity to differentiate between job descriptions and role-based competency models.

  • A typical job description lists responsibilities, educational and experience requirements, as well as a list of the knowledge they should have, and which important interpersonal and technical skills they need. In other words, it is more of a responsibility narrative and a skills list.

  • A competency model focuses on what tasks/skills are critical to success in the role, what it looks like to be great at those tasks/skills, and what people should be able to DO with the knowledge acquired. In other words, it helps someone become self-aware and be able to DO their job.

  • A job description helps you screen resumes. A competency model helps you hire the right person.

  • A job description provides new employees with a general guideline on the things they will do. A competency model shows them how to be GREAT at the things they will do, and where they are now.

  • A job description helps create salary ranges and compare roles across organizations. A competency model describes what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of YOUR corporate strategy.

You can pretty easily create a job description from a competency model, but it’s quite difficult to create a competency model from most job descriptions because they lack the granularity required. 

While your organization needs both, if you don’t have a role-based competency model, how can you motivate them to be great at the things you need them to do and upskill them when they can’t do it?

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Why changes in performance management benefit competency models

If you haven’t noticed, there is a major shift away from traditional performance management (looking back) to new growth mindset approaches for looking forward.  And the elimination of the performance appraisal is the best thing that ever happened to competency models! Why? Because now they can be used for professional development without implication.

If you are assessing yourself against a competency model in a performance management system, like it or no, it can be "used against you" for keeping score. Therefore, it is human nature to inflate your assessment given that the data is co-mingled in a system used for pay and promotion, resulting in a development plan that is not representative of what you need, and won't help you close your gaps.

When performance appraisals are replaced with regular real-time coaching and feedback, competency models can be used in a safe environment, without bias, to accurately assess skills and identify competency-based learning for closing any gaps.  They make it easier for managers to coach.  They drive agility – change in strategy and priorities can be quickly communicated and supported.  The more regularly competency models are used, the greater the likelihood that there are clear expectations, and regular progress being made for skill development and career planning.

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What is the difference between a competency model, skills matrix and competency-based learning?

A competency model is a list of all the skills that someone in a particular role needs to do at a target level in order to be successful in that role.  And success means that they are achieving their part of corporate strategy – what the organization needs them to do, very specifically.  Some people call a competency model as a “capability framework” or “skills rubric”.

A skills matrix or skills inventory is the output of a competency assessment, where people assess themselves against the competency model.  So 100 field services technicians assess their skills in their role, and a skills matrix or inventory results – you know who meets or exceeds the requirements for specific skills.  And you can then leverage that information to put the right people on the right projects, and form the best and most successful teams.   

The competency assessment will also identify who does not meet the requirements for specific skills – that is, it identifies skill gaps.  It is extremely common for each person, no matter how tenured or how experienced, to have one or more skill gaps in their role. You want to be able to provide each person with a personalized learning plan to help them close their gap.  This requires that you identify which learning activities can close which skill gaps… that’s competency-based learning.

Essentially, you are mapping the behaviors of the target level of proficiency to the learning objectives of the activities.  And in many cases, you create a skill practice, job aid, or checklist that will help someone be able to learn the right skills while they are doing their work.  We call this embedded or workflow learning (the “70” in the 70-20-10 model).  It’s effective because it’s not separate from the work that needs to be done.

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