Many organizations have embraced the idea that a competency model can greatly enhance the ability to produce a high-performance culture. A competency model describes a set of individual skills and behaviors, tied to organization strategy and vision, that are required for superior individual performance. Core competencies can then be tied to performance evaluations, recruiting, team assignments, succession planning and more.
“By developing and utilizing a competency model, we are able to identify a success profile for our workforce,” said Heather Bock, director of professional development at Howrey LLP, an international anti-trust and global litigation firm. “The model provides clear behavioral examples of performance expectations, as well as a road map for advancement or development of individual attorneys.”
Simply put, competencies are skill sets that are evident in successful performance. They are honed and developed through a series of work and life experiences, training, learning, observation and feedback. By reviewing their performance expectations, individuals will see exactly what they are expected to achieve in order to excel within a team, department or organization. By comparing their actual skill levels to these expectations, the employees, with assistance from a supervisor, can create a plan to improve their skills and meet expectations for performance.
Providing the Resources
For a competency model to be an effective tool, an organization must allocate the appropriate resources to ensure its success. This means finding ways to support the model and ensure that individuals get the training and support they need to address performance expectations.
For instance, an organization must do more than simply state that “building rapport with clients” is an expectation of all staff. It also must provide a way for individuals to learn how to develop these skills. Since competencies may focus on knowledge-based skills (skills specific to one’s profession) or behavior-based skills (such as interpersonal, communication or problem-solving abilities), a wide variety of support and training resources is required.
It sounds simple enough, but consider that a single organization may identify hundreds of requisite competencies for its workforce. While some competencies may apply across positions, others will be quite specific to individual roles. Think of the myriad of management, professional and support roles within your organization—each undoubtedly has its own technical and behavioral competency sets.
Suddenly, offering training and support resources to address each essential competency becomes a daunting task. Luckily, there are many innovative ways to use learning technologies to effectively and quickly provide competency development resources to the entire workforce.
Online Competency Learning Resources
Online learning resources, in conjunction with traditional training assets, can be an efficient and effective way to support competency development learning needs. Many organizations have found that organizing and presenting learning and support resources by competency can be extremely effective and reduce confusion. Looking through a long list of upcoming internal and external training events that might support a specific competency could be a time-consuming and difficult task. By offering courses and other resources by competency, the learner knows exactly which requisite skill set will be targeted by that resource.
Howrey LLP is doing just that. The firm has rolled out a dedicated site, accessed via the firm’s intranet, to address each of its many individual competencies. Every page on the site targets one specific competency, providing information, answering questions and offering a host of development and support resources for that skill.
Each competency resource page is “owned” by a Competency Czar. These czars are responsible for all content on the associated resource page and serve as the firm’s subject-matter experts in those particular areas.
“We’ve selected people from across the firm who exemplify each competency. We capture their insights and they aid us in the selection and development of appropriate courses and related support resources for our employees. Each czar is, in effect, mentoring all of our associates,” Bock said.
Every competency resource page on the site includes the following sections:
- Competency definition.
- Overview of associated behaviors and performance criteria.
- Question-and-answer session with the competency czar: Why do you think this is an important competency? What makes you successful at this competency? How did you develop your skills in this area? Do you have any fundamental words of wisdom or philosophies on how to be successful in this area?
- On-the-job development tips.
- Lessons learned (via video clips or text).
- Helpful job assignments.
- Links to applicable self-paced and e-learning courses.
- Associated reading and audiovisual material.
- Information about seminars and live training courses.
Howrey is actively working to gather intellectual assets from across the firm. These assets are then converted into learning objects that can be used to address and support specific competencies.
E-learning offers an excellent vehicle for presenting these gathered knowledge assets to the individual. Courses can be developed to address this material and then accessed directly from the applicable competency resource page—serving as an effective competency development resource.
E-learning, of course, is a broad term encompassing many different applications and technologies. There are many ways to gather e-learning resources to build your library and address competency learning requirements. This is nothing new, but remember that there are potentially dozens of individual competencies (if not more) across an organization. Creating traditional online learning resources to address each of these would require a considerable investment in both time and funds.
That’s why organizations are looking for alternative methods to get learning resources online quickly to address competency development. Rapid e-learning has become a powerful way to address these requirements. It uses new tools and processes to allow for the quick development of online training resources. Using these tools, training content can be developed in a fraction of the time associated with traditional e-learning development.
In traditional e-learning development, subject-matter experts (SMEs) work with instructional designers who must then translate content so that it can be deciphered by programmers and other developers. With rapid e-learning development, the process is condensed significantly. SMEs work directly with the developer or designer, and the need for separate designers and programmers is eliminated.
Rapid e-learning is not right for every development project and has its limitations. However, if you are interested in getting captured intellectual assets online quickly to support your competency initiative, it is definitely worth considering.
Leveraging What You Already Have
One way rapid e-learning is being used to quickly create competency-based learning resources is by capturing and leveraging live training sessions already taking place within the organization. As classroom-based training events occur, they are captured on video. This video is then converted to a digital format, edited and combined with the associated PowerPoint and other supporting materials to create a single online course. The course can then be placed on the appropriate competency resource page and accessed via a standard link. Organizations are finding that this is an excellent way to quickly build online resource libraries and get applicable learning resources onto each competency resource page. (It also allows them to realize more from their initial classroom training investments.)
Since rapid e-learning courses can be updated or changed with relative ease, these methods are being used to keep competency resource pages fresh and current as well. Consider a “competency overview” presentation or course appearing on each resource page. Such a presentation can include a video address from the competency owner, links to applicable information, lessons learned, etc. Using rapid e-learning tools, these overviews can be updated periodically to include a new lesson learned, a change in competency focus or other related modifications.
Finally, e-learning courses can be built from scratch to address specific competency training requirements. The courses will be designed and developed directly with a competency SME and can be placed online in a matter of days or weeks.
Organizations are now using podcasts, wikis and other related applications to offer alternative methods for training and competency development.
Podcasts are audio-only files (most commonly in MP3 format) that can be downloaded quickly to a personal listening device. Organizations have begun using podcasts to address a variety of training requirements. Podcast files are posted on an intranet page so that learners can download and review content on their iPod or other MP3 player while commuting, at the gym or just about anywhere. This can be another excellent asset for your competency resource pages and is relatively easy to develop. Podcasts can be created from recorded classroom training sessions or can be developed specifically as audio-only presentations to serve as a competency learning resource.
Wikis also are gaining momentum in this area. A wiki is an application that allows users to edit, respond and contribute to posted content. (Think of a wiki as a community blog with many editors.) Wikipedia.com is probably the best-known wiki. It is an online repository of more than 2 million articles whose content is collaboratively developed and extended by thousands of users around the world. This concept can be directly applied within your organization to address competency development.
Consider including wikis on resource pages to promote conversation and dialogue about competency-related issues. This could include sharing lessons learned, collaborating on new ideas, etc. (When done correctly, you can see how the line between competency support resources and knowledge management begin to blur.)
Whether it’s wikis, podcasts or e-learning, the goal is to offer multiple ways for your workforce to access the tools they need to develop core competencies. Only you know which of these resources will be right for your organization.
Individual Development Plans
As development resources are put in place to support the competency model, it is important to consider how best to align these resources with performance appraisals and other sources of formal feedback. As employees receive feedback on their individual performance, there may be core competencies that are identified that require additional development and attention. A process is needed to take general development requirements and marry them (directly) to specific training goals.
Individual development plans provide members of an organization with the ability to translate identified development goals into specific action items and a plan (and commitment) for individual development. Organizations are now aligning individual development plans with their competency models and bonding these resources together online.
Organizations that have successfully implemented a comprehensive competency model will most likely use that model as a basis for the performance appraisal process. Employees will be well aware of competency expectations, and these will be highlighted throughout the entire performance evaluation process.
One output of the performance appraisal will be the individual development plan. By placing the plan online, a reviewer can easily generate a complete development plan based on results of the appraisal. The online development plan will be organized by competency area and will automatically generate a plan for individual competency development based on information entered by the reviewer.
Once the plan has been reviewed and accepted by the individual, the devised action items will link directly to the appropriate competency resource pages. As recommended learning events are successfully completed, the development plan will be updated accordingly. The individual, supervisor or leadership can then access the plan at any time to review and evaluate progress.
By aligning core competencies with a comprehensive set of innovative learning, knowledge-sharing and support resources, organizations can realize a direct improvement in the abilities of their workers. Granted, just because we may need to realign our learning resources with specific competencies does not mean that we can throw caution to the wind and abandon the elements of good training development and instructional design. As Howrey and others can attest, upon launch of a new competency model, the need for expanded (or repurposed) training resources will become evident. The goal is to get the resources out there quickly without compromising quality or detouring around proven methodologies. Leverage what you have, take advantage of new technologies and give your workforce what it needs to directly support your model.
“Offering online resources in support of core competencies has had a resounding effect,” Bock said. “We see individuals taking the lead in their own development and expect this to continue. We have many new resources available and are taking advantage of captured intellectual assets. In addition, the firm is now better able to attract talented professionals who are interested in developing their skills, better able to motivate associates who are focused on excelling and better able to create a high-performance culture.”
Steve Gluckman is the founder of Distributed Insight Associates Inc. and specializes in rapid e-learning development and live training to online learning conversion. He is the author of “E-Learning for Law Firms,” a new book from the American Bar Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.