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Competency-based Learning

How to create competency-based learning in only 1 day

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

ATD Webcast – March 13 at 1pm US ET


You’ve just embarked on competency-based learning and, much to your dismay, you suddenly realize that you don’t have the right content to help people learn the required skills and close their skill gaps. Panic begins to set in. Do you suddenly start to plan the building of new courses or programs, something that could take months to build and deploy? Or do you follow the approach the modern learner desires—creating activities that people can use to learn while they work, and that you can build in less than a day?

Enter skill practices - one of the most useful ways of accelerating learning transfer via workflow learning. That is, a skill practice enables people to learn while they do their job.

If you’re looking to learn a skill that creates currency for you personally, check out the free ATD webcast “Close Curriculum Gaps At Lightning Speed”, on March 13 at 1pm US ET. Register and you get a link to the recording. http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/2922

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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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How can we use competency models to develop a competency-based training program for supervisors?

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This question has 2 parts.  First relates to how to develop supervisor’s own skills, and the other is how to coach more effectively.  I’m breaking this into 2 parts.

1) How To Develop Supervisor’s Own Skills

Like any other role, a competency model for supervisors will focus on those tasks they need to perform to achieve their part of corporate strategy.  This likely includes a combination of people management and technical/functional tasks/skills.  Competency-based learning is where you map learning activities to the entire competency model.  You want to do this including activities across the 70-20-10 model (experiential-collaborative-formal).  Your Training Program will contain elements of these activities, but should enable people to consume ONLY the activities they need to close their skill gaps.  For example, if you build a traditional training program, maybe a 1-2 week formal course, and someone is capable in 80% of the tasks/skills being taught, that’s a huge waste of time and money, not to mention the supervisor’s own frustration of being stuck.  But if you create a training program across the 70-20-10 model that is sufficiently granular, so that people can do only the activities they NEED (to close their skill gaps), you will create not only the best training program, but you’ll make it very MANAGEABLE – you can update any element more easily over time without re-doing the entire program.

2) How To Coach More Effectively

If you are using competency models with the people that the supervisors are supervising, then through active participation in their team’s competency assessment, supervisors will see exactly what skill gaps each team member has.  This makes their job SO much easier.  No guesswork!  They know exactly where (the skill gap) and how to coach (the behaviors in the model).  Plus, they can identify task-based mentors so team members can work together to build bench strength.  If a Personalized Learning Plan for closing any gaps is automatically generated, it will be hard for a supervisor to say, “listen, I know you have gaps, and here’s a list of activities you can do to close them, but I’m not going to give you time to do that.”  Rather, it reinforces a culture of learning, and creates an environment that makes it easy to execute.

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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 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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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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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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Who is most important before, during, and after training resulting from using a competency model?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

There are 2 people who are most important: 

  1. The person who is doing the assessment that identified the need for training
  2. And their manager

By aligning the understanding that a skill gap exists, both the employee and the manager will be bought into the training.  The employee will be motivated to participate, and the manager will be comfortable with the time out of the job to attend.  After the training is over, the employee and the manager will be able to focus on applying the learning to the job, using the behavioral examples for the skills.  And this accelerates learning transfer.

 

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How do you get people bought into the idea that training is beneficial?

One person in a recent webinar asked, “How do you get people bought into the idea that training is beneficial? Our employees hate training and would rather not participate. “

THIS is exactly what competency-based, self-directed learning is designed to overcome.  Why do you think your employees hate training?  Most likely, it’s because they are told to do it – they are not identifying the need for training themselves.  This is adult learning theory, right?  If it’s not relevant to my job and relevant to my needs, I’m going to tune out. 

How do we make it relevant?  Have them self-assess against the competency model for their job, and recommend activities that are targeted to skill gaps, or areas in which they want to improve aspirationally.  Then, they buy into it.  Then, they will embrace training because they own it.

 

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How do I create competency models that address needs of different business units with shared development goals?

Think of this process as a many to many relationship.  On the one side, you have an inventory of skills, and on the other side you have an inventory of learning opportunities across the 70-20-10 spectrum.  One skill may be required by multiple roles across different business units.  One learning opportunity may close the gap of many skills across many different roles.  It is the competency model process that identifies which skills best define a job role.  And it is the competency-based learning mapping process which defines which of the learning opportunities are best suited to close a specific skill gap for a job role.

 

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3 Traits That Will Make You A Learning & Development Rock Star In 2020… START NOW!

A friend asked me to visualize the learning organization in 3 years and what their Learning & Development (L&D) department should do to get ready.  As I thought about the answer, I realized there are 3 traits that will make you and your department a Rock Star in 2020.

Be Customer-Focused/Learner-Focused

The learning department will be 100% customer-focused and the “customers” are the employees (not the departments).

  • Each person will get exactly (and only) what they need and want.  There will no longer be role-based “learning plans”.  There will only be a personalized learning plan – 1-size-fits-one.
  • End users will own their learning and hold themselves accountable – the learning organization will exist to make this possible.
  • Learning will not tell customers what to do – the customer will tell Learning what they need.  All pull, no push.
  • To support this customer-focused approach, the learning organization will have an agile, customer-focused mindset – rather than creating content that may be quickly obsolete. L&D will be highly responsive and can pivot quickly. (More on “Agility” shortly.)

This customer-focused approach can only exist when L&D can provide customers with the organization’s expectations for their role in terms of, “how do I do the job?”  The expectations are the tasks they must perform, the behaviors that make the tasks executable, and the required levels of proficiency.  That’s a competency model.

Be Curious

 The Learning organization will get curious and start to explore the industry of the company they are in and the audience they serve – not because they have a course to create, but rather to be intimately familiar with customer (learner) needs, maybe even before the customer knows the need exists. 

This will facilitate responsiveness and customer-focus… all in the context of what L&D knows their customers need to be able to do (the competency model).  Competency models help L&D know how to serve their customers.  They will become aware of what materials exist or need to be created for competency-based learning.  They can pivot quickly to meet changing needs.

Embrace Diversity

The Learning organization will provide materials that reflect true customer needs: ~70% will be activity-based, there will be support for the ~20% collaborative, and ~10% will be formal.

  • Learning will identify activities and experiences, along with tools, templates, checklists, and the like to support learning on the job; in fact, when a new need is identified, an L&D Rock Star will first ask, “What activity could this person perform to learn this skill?”
  • Learning will provide technology that supports identification of task-based mentors; everyone in the organization is likely to be both a mentor and a mentee on a regular basis – it will simply become a part of the organizational culture.
  • Learning may still create content, but more will be microlearning – short content that can be easily consumed in bite size pieces.  The course as we know it today may still exist, but be used sparsely, mostly for large complex topics or for those who are new to the industry/field/equipment.

Part of embracing diversity is recognizing that you don’t have to own everything your audience needs.  As an L&D Rock Star, you can become Master Of The Universe.  L&D Rock Stars will think of themselves as brokers – curating the best content and resources (tools, templates, job aids, ideas for activities), internally and externally.  When a need arises because of a change in the environment, (see “Agility” above) the Learning team will be so responsive that they can provide some resources within days to meet the new need.  Maybe it’s as simple as a link to a YouTube video, industry article, and blog post.

So if you want to be a Learning & Development Rock Star in 2020, start now.

  • Identify what people need to be able to do (provide a competency model)
  • Let them identify and own what they can and can’t do
  • Let them be accountable for closing their own gaps, achieving aspirational goals, and preparing for the next step in their career
  • Use that information, and deep awareness of their competency models, to provide competency-based learning with flexible options that reflect the way people learn (70-20-10) and make sure it’s easily consumable (microlearning)
  • Make it fast and easy by providing one click access to everything they need, recognizing that you can better serve the audience by becoming the Master Of The Universe, linking to options throughout the learning ecosystem, rather than creating it all
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How do you link a skills matrix to competency models to learning activities?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

I’ve listed this question verbatim the way it was asked, because I want to make some distinctions.  A competency model should be 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. 

We typically think of a skills matrix as being the output of a competency assessment.  So 100 field services technicians assess their skills in their role, and a skills 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 opportunities can close which skill gaps.

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.

For more details, read the post:  3 steps for organizations who want to create competency-based learning:  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8467576/8467576-6108588915516596225 and

watch the archived ATD Webinar on the process at: http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/1791.

 

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GASP! I just created learning that doesn’t transfer and they can’t get up!

If you create learning that doesn’t transfer, then you too will keep your target audience from “getting up” in skills and business results.

In a Deloitte study[1], less than 25% of Line Managers believed their Learning & Development (L&D) departments were critical to achieving their business goals. That is not surprising given related findings on learner disengagement. It is cause and effect.

If the employee doesn’t believe that the content is relevant to their job and their needs, they will be disengaged in any learning.

--> If the employee is disengaged in the learning process, then L&D efforts are mitigated – any learning opportunities will have minimal effect.

--> If minimal effect occurs, then skill levels do not improve.

--> If skill levels do not improve, then business results do not improve.

--> If employees participate in training programs, and positive business results do not follow, then Line Managers are likely to lose faith in the ability of L&D to contribute.

Why does this happen?  It’s a likely scenario when you don’t know what skills people need.  If you don’t know what skills they need, how can you possibly help them develop the right skills?  How can you create content that is relevant to their job?

Even if you know what skills they need, but you don’t actually know where skill gaps exist and have no supporting data, then how can you measure whether skill levels and business results improve?  That is, how can you measure that the programs you’re providing are closing skill gaps and driving results?

The solution

First, you create a competency model for each role, which defines the skills required to execute their part of corporate strategy.  In other words, the competency model is the connection between skills and strategy.  A competency model describes what it looks like to be great in that role.

Next, you create competency-based learning to increase the likelihood that each person CAN accomplish their goals.  This is where the learning objectives of activities are tied to the specific skills and behaviors in the competency model. 

Creating competency-based learning ensures the content is relevant to their job.  But remember that if the employee doesn’t believe that the content is relevant to their job AND relevant to their needs, they will be disengaged.  We’ve solved the first problem, now we have to solve the second.

In order to make content relevant to each person’s needs, you need to enable them to self-assess against the competency model and identify their specific skill gaps.  And you need to automate the identification of content relevant to their needs, known as personalized learning. 

If you create competency-based learning and enabling personalized learning, you will drive learner engagement and accelerate learning transfer.  And if your competency model is any good, then it will impact skills and business results.

What’s more, the aggregated skills data combined with business results over time will let you measure the impact of learning.

If you ensure that you only create content that supports the competency model for a role, you will never again create learning that doesn’t transfer.  If you use a competency assessment tool that personalizes learning for each person, you will maximize learner engagement, accelerate learning transfer, and you WILL be able to measure the positive impact on skills and business results.

[1] Bersin by Deloitte. (2015).  Reimagining L&D Capabilities to Drive Continuous Learning.

 

 

 

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How Accelerating Learning Transfer Will Make You More Popular

You probably have a lot of friends in your organization. People who respect you and invite you to participate in their programs.  The question is not whether you are popular in your department, but rather whether you’re invited to discussions with leadership.  Accelerating learning transfer can get you invited to the strategy table.  Here’s why.

Competency models identify what the organization needs people in a particular role to do in order for the organization to succeed and create competitive advantage.  That’s important to leadership.  Competency models intrinsically motivate people to achievement. In essence, they provide each person with a road map for how to be great.  Competency models define what is relevant.  That’s important to your target audience.

If the competency models define the required skills, then you need to make sure you have, or create, competency-based learning such that the required skills can be acquired, and business results follow. 

Competency-based learning ensures you have no learning opportunity gaps.  It provides the greatest opportunity to incorporate the “70” (on-the-job activities, skill practices, job aids, etc.) into the 70-20-10 model (see recent article in TD Magazine).

That’s why performing needs analysis without a competency model is so flawed.  How can you possibly know what your audience needs if you don’t know what skills they should have?

If you’re creating content without a competency model (and it’s not competency-based), there’s a good chance that:

  • You’re wasting a lot of your time and effort
  • You’re wasting the time of the people participating in those activities
  • You’re not closing skill gaps that are relevant to your target audience
  • You’re not moving the needle on changing the behaviors that your target audience needs to do their job
  • You’re probably not impacting results
  • And therefore, leadership won’t invite you to the strategy table because they don’t see the value of your effort

Want to fix that?  Want to be invited to leadership discussions because they know you can help them close skill gaps and achieve their goals?

Check out the webinar “How to Accelerate Learning Transfer Through Competency-Based Learning”, February 4, 2016 at 1pm Eastern time.

 

Also at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-accelerating-learning-transfer-make-you-more-popular-cheryl-lasse and https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Career-Development-Blog/2016/01/How-Accelerating-Learning-Transfer-Will-Make-You-More-Popular

 

 

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See how the SDLE helps Santa close the skill gaps in his shop

In case you missed it, see how SkillDirector's Self-Directed Learning Engine helps Santa close the skill gaps in his shop.  No more one-size-fits-all!  The elves get competency-based personalized learning.

 

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