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Capability Model

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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How can I use competency models/capability frameworks?

There are so many places you can use competency models within the organization and throughout the employee lifecycle.

For example:

  • Job descriptions
  • Recruiting/interviewing - ensure you’re recruiting the right skills
  • Onboarding (for setting expectations & communicating culture) - help each person on day one in a role know exactly what is expected of them, how they compare, and what they should begin focusing on; the behaviors in the model can communicate corporate culture, especially for those new to the company or business unit, highlighting what’s important
  • In-role development – closing skill gaps and developing toward both proficiency and mastery
  • Career planning - helping people prepare for the job they want next
  • Opportunities for development and growth is both one of the top 3 reasons people take a job, and it’s the also in the top 3 reasons why people leave… when they don’t exist.
  • Mentoring (creating task-based mentors) - build bench strength more quickly
  • Coaching - ensure that managers can coach without guesswork
  • Learning opportunity development – identify what you need that you don’t have
  • Strategic workforce planning – Compare the skills people have today with what you need tomorrow, and upskill or hire to close the gaps
  • Real needs assessment - develop the optimal L&D action plan

Here's an article that digs into more detail.

Want even more? Click here for all the detail in a white paper.

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How does knowledge fit into a competency model?

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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 required knowledge.  While a skill could be “Demonstrate knowledge of [something]”, it’s even better to describe the purpose of demonstrating that knowledge.

Here are some examples:

You don’t have knowledge of export control. Rather, the skill is "Apply proper export control procedures to shipments", which requires knowledge of expert control procedures, regulations and documentation.

You don’t have knowledge of solution components.  Rather, the skill is "Serve as a customer’s solution consultant in order to maximize solution impact", which requires you demonstrate knowledge of the solution components.  Your level of proficiency is determined by your level of knowledge, along with other behaviors, such as the ability to communicate at the appropriate level.

You don’t have knowledge of a technology.  Rather, you “Write software code with [that technology]”, which requires you apply knowledge of that technology.  And the level of proficiency with which you write code depends on that knowledge – coding simple functions, writing complex functions, or troubleshooting the code of others.

You don’t have product knowledge.  Rather, you have “Knowledge of Product XYZ such that I can perform the appropriate sales activities”.  You can do that by properly articulating product configuration options, detailed business case development, proper competitive positioning, and explaining how the product will help customers adjust to future trends.

So in summary, knowledge is an enabler of skill in a competency model.  It’s not the knowledge itself that is important, it’s what you can do DO with that knowledge that counts.

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How do we help product managers/owners identify competency models for their users?

A product manager should understand 2 things:  the need that their product is trying to fulfill, and the requirements it must include.  From those 2, ask the product manager what need achievement looks like at various proficiency levels, and what requirements each level can take advantage of.

Here’s a simple example.  Yesterday I spoke to a friend whose company just switched them from Lotus Notes to Outlook.  Needless to say, it was a pretty big change.  If I were the Outlook rollout manager for this company, I would say that the need the product must fulfill is the ability to easily communicate and share availability.  The requirements have to do with being able to use it for emails, calendars, tasks, and managing groups.

Prior to the rollout, the Outlook rollout manager should have identified a list of things they want someone to be ABLE TO DO at various levels of proficiency.

(1) Limited – Send emails, accept calendar invites

(2) Basic – Create calendar invites, check availability, create and file emails, manage tasks

(3) Skilled – Create and use email lists to ensure consistent recipients, schedule recurring tasks and meetings, use shared folders, automatically extract junk email

(4) Advanced – Auto format email and tasks so they stand out, customize layout to optimize productivity, create email rules to highlight visibility, assign tasks to others

(5) Expert – Modify templates, make it easy to create consistent folder structures (projects, customers), automate email organization, automate replies, maximize productivity

Now, a product manager can (1) share this model with users, so users become aware of capabilities, and drive themselves to higher level of proficiency (“I want to be able to do that!”), and (2) they can identify what activities or tools they can create to help users move from level to level.

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How can competency models be used to drive innovation?

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So the CEO says that the next 2 years are all about innovation.  Great!  How can you get the organization to change?  You add a skill to every role’s competency model that demonstrates what innovation looks like to them.  That is, you need to identify, specifically, what someone should do to be innovative in their role – whether they are in product development, engineering, marketing, or finance.  You might also update other skills in their competency model with behaviors that demonstrative innovation as one moves from good to great.

Translating strategy to every person in every level of the business so it can be executed is hard when it’s abstract.  But imagine how much more tangible it could be. 

  • Develop disruptive technologies that meet unmet/unknown market needs (product development)
  • Develop financial models that support disruptive product ideas while minimizing risk (finance)
  • Identify new product applications/market opportunities for our existing solutions (marketing)

Remember that for each person, a competency model describes what it looks like to be great in their role.  For the organization, a competency model describes what each person in their role needs to do to execute their part of corporate strategy.  Therefore, to get the employee to embrace innovation as corporate strategy, show them specifically what it looks like to them.  Let them assess themselves against it, and develop toward it.  Give managers the ability to easily assess and coach their team members against it.  And the organization will change.

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How do you communicate the link between a competency model and employee development (competency-based learning)?

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To communicate the link between a competency model and development, you need to first communicate what a competency model is and does. 

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.  It also defines what it looks like to be great in that role. 

It seems almost too natural and too obvious that once you know what people need to be able to do, if they can’t do what they need to be able to do (a skill gap), you need to have a way of teaching them.  This is employee development… and when directly mapped to the competency model, it’s competency-based learning.

For example, if one task in a competency model is “Engage the appropriate company and customer resources (systems, people, processes) to get things done better and faster”, then you want to have an activity, for example a skill practice for workflow learning, where they learn to build a project action plan that engages the required internal and external resources.

If you can talk someone through this connection at a high level, and provide them with an example, then you should be to communicate the link (and the need) between a competency model, a skill gap, and competency-based learning.

For more on how to develop competency-based learning, watch this webinar:  http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/1791

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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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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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