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Productivity Requires Competent People

Brice Alvord

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Competent people are consistently able to render valuable or worthy performance without excessively using costly behaviors. Competencies are measures of worker accomplishment that have a value to the organization. In other words, the organization is willing to pay someone to achieve these accomplishments. Competencies are results driven, That is they define a performance based on a standard of performance. Competencies are the foundation of Performance Improvement and productivity initiatives.

Competencies Without Standards Are Not Competencies

The standard of performance defines exactly how well the job must be performed in order to achieve the desired results. It is a clear and concise definition of that performance. The standard should be observable and measurable, i. e. “Apply a coat of paint so that it covers the previous color. " In this example, you can quickly determine if the standard was achieved.

It is also important to remember that the standard should be at a trainee level - not at the level of an experienced worker. The standard should be set so that it can be performed competently but at a much slower pace.

It is important to point out that people in a job will meet differing levels of competence. You would not expect a newly hire operator to achieve that same level of competence after two weeks of training that an operator who has been on the job for a year or longer. When determining competencies it is important to identify at least three or more levels of competence for each position:

  • The initial level (after initial training)

  • Secondary level of competence ( 6 moths to a year on the job)

  • Third level of competence (1 to 2 years on the job)

The responsibility for defining standards of performance rests with management. Typically the first line supervisor should have a major role in defining the standards to meet the various tasks identified in the JTA. Upper levels of management should review these standards (competencies) for adherence to specified goals and objectives.

Examples of competencies include:

  • Install a water heater according to the National Plumbing Code

  • Mix a batch of cookie dough in accordance with the recipe

  • Prepare minor ingredients within ± 0.05 oz of specifications

  • Take a lab sample according to the Quality Assurance Department sampling procedure

  • Load a trailer as specified by the appropriate customer order.

Defining Competencies

Defining competencies can become an overwhelming task unless you establish some guidelines for what competencies are important for the successful completion of the job. It is possible to create hundreds of competencies for a given job. In Performance Based Training it is important to establish some criterion concerning what should be covered in the training and what should not.

The important and critical tasks that make up a job are the ones that the designer of training should focus on when developing competencies.

Determining what tasks elements of the competency are critical requires the use of a DIF analysis. The DIF analysis compares four factors:

  • Frequency of occurrence

  • Importance

  • Difficulty of performance

  • Difficulty to learn.

Frequency is typically broken down into elements such as the following:

  1. Task occurs less than once a year

  2. Task occurs yearly or more

  3. Task occurs Monthly

  4. Task occurs daily

  5. Task occurs once a shift or more

The scale and responses can be changed as it pertains to the organization doing the analysis. We have found that the above items are generally effective.

Importance is typically broken down into elements such as the following:

  1. Consequences negligible or trivial

  2. Not too serious (an be corrected quickly with no noticeable impact)

  3. Somewhat serious (correction required to prevent a noticeable safety, environmental, equipment loss or damage)

  4. Serious (immediate correction required)

  5. Extremely serious (lost time injuries or safety consequences)

Just as in the case of frequency, the scale and responses can be changed as it pertains to the organization doing the analysis. We have found that the above items are generally effective.

Performance difficulty is typically broken down into elements such as the following:

  1. Very easy to do right

  2. Easier than the average task on this job

  3. Average difficulty

  4. More difficult than the average task on this job

  5. Very difficult to do right, complex, many factors

Again, the scale and responses can be changed as it pertains to the organization doing the analysis. In my experience, the above items related to difficulty have proved sufficiently adequate to do the job.

Learning difficulty is typically broken down into elements such as the following:

  1. Easily learned in a few minutes (entry level employees can do after being told once)

  2. Simple but requires some skill and knowledge or experience (entry level employees can do it right after being shown)

  3. Average learning difficulty for this job (task can be done right after minimal on the job practice)

  4. More difficult to learn than the average task on this job (task must be practiced multiple times to do right)

  5. Difficult to learn, typically requires experience in analytical ability (task requires significant experience and understanding to do right)

The scale and responses can also be changed as it pertains to the organization doing the analysis. We have found that the above items for learning difficulty are generally effective.

These factors are used to determine the criticality factor and the need for refresher training. Training for tasks which have a high criticality should be developed first. Lower rated tasks might not even require formal training.

Using Competencies To Improve Performance

Competency based training is an approach to learning where emphasis is placed on what a learner can do in the workplace as a result of their training. Competency based training is about learning skills, it focuses on what is expected of an employee in the workplace rather than on the learning process. The emphasis in is on “doing" rather than just “knowing".

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between comptency based training and traditional training, is that competency based training is a very systematic approach to training while the more traditional approach is not. Competency Based Training is Critical to Productivty. A Competency Based Training program must be designed so that with specific performance needs in mind so that the out come of that training has a positive impact on productivity.

Competency based training will not just happen, it takes a good deal of commitment from management, involvement of workers, and a strong design with appropriate and effective standards. Standards must be tied to organization goals and objectives and any quality initiatives underway at your facility.

Brice Alvord has over thirty years experience as an internal and external performance improvement consultant. He holds a BA in Sociology/Psychology from Central Washington University and an MBA degree from City University of Seattle. He is the author of over two dozen books on continuous improvement and training.

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