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The implementation of competence management - how to approach it and the pitfalls to watch out for

by Mark Homer, Director - The Matchett Group

During the last five years we have specified and implemented a number of intranet based skills management systems in large companies, and there are some success criteria that we would like to share with your readers.

Organisational readiness

The first one is Organisational Readiness. This basically means that people are aware of the scope and objectives of the project within the organisation. But simple as it may sound, this is one of the most difficult, time consuming and often neglected elements of a successful competence management system. Regardless of a system's functionality and state of the art technology, there needs to be an enterprise-wide understanding of what the company is trying to achieve and the reasons why.

This calls for a very effective Communications Campaign from the very beginning and with this in mind it is critical to the success of the operation that Senior Management support the project. These people ultimately direct the overall prioritisation of new strategies. Upon the completion of a business case, along with the identification of the rollout strategy, senior executives should be given a full presentation. The business case should make them fully aware of the associated up-front and ongoing costs. The rollout strategy should show them a workable plan that includes predetermined checkpoints that allows the Steering Committee or Project Team to review the progress.

It is not usually recommended that you try to present the competence management system overview, and related processes, to all employees of the organisation at once. In fact, the recommendation is a strategy that involves a different approach to different categories of employees based on either their department or job type. An opportunity must be found (taking advantage of any existing regular meetings by the target population) or made (scheduling a special meeting) to provide a formal presentation about competence management to each target group. Before such a presentation is made, the 'leaders' of the target group should have been given a presentation so that they will 'buy-in' and can indicate their support when the overview presentation is made to the rest of the group/s.

Positioning the competence management system positively and effectively during the overview presentations is important, and in order to alleviate any misconceptions that employees may have, it is useful to introduce competence management as a tool for discussion between the employee and their manager regarding career management. This should cover areas such as Training and Development, and Career Progression.
The recommendation is to communicate the introduction to competence management in terms of positive results - results that will be of benefit to both the employee and the organisation. Relaying the importance that the organisation places on employee ownership and responsibility for their own career development, greatly improves the chances of success for the whole project.

The Steering Committee or Project Team

Next, there is the involvement of the Steering Committee or Project Team. Your competence management processes may need multiple focal points to be successful. Competence management can be tied into many business processes. A strategy that does not identify any single group as the 'driver' of the process will ensure that any individual's personal political views regarding the value of an individual group will not harm the effectiveness of the process. In other words by showing, early in the process of deployment, that support comes from many parts of the organisation (i.e. HR, Quality, Training), additional support may be easier to achieve and maintain. This is particularly true when considering IT support.

With many organisations utilising their company intranet for this type of business system, it is imperative that members of the IT department are involved at an early stage, preferably being represented on the project team or steering committee for the duration of the project. The competence management system may possibly be linked to a company's HR system, so again the IT department's help will be vital.

The creation of a Steering Committee or Project Team can also provide value in presenting different perspectives. The members become ideal 'champions' to carry a positive message back to various parts of the organisation.

Members of this committee should fully understand the initial business case, the various aspects of competence management frameworks and how the concept of common Skill Definitions and Job Role Profiles (personal profiles) can benefit the organisation. This group should then be empowered to set the priorities regarding where the focus should be.

Skills Definitions and Job Role Profiles together with skill explanations (observable behaviours or behavioural anchors), required levels of proficiency (proficiency rating) and development of a Competency Framework, can be approached in a number of ways.

There are 'ready made' libraries, which can save a lot of time; a specialist consultancy could be commissioned, and/or an organisation's employees could be involved.

The pilot

Whichever way you arrive at your competency framework, rolling out your process should be introduced through a Pilot or series of Pilots that build upon the data and the experience gained through each introduction. This approach introduces the eventual champions to the process early, so that they can provide a personal perspective as they introduce and disseminate the process across the rest of the organisation.

Feedback is obviously an essential part of any successful Pilot project. Many projects have failed, not because they were not well planned or implemented, but because the decision-makers were not kept fully aware of the progress and successes. As the Pilots are put in place, be sure to document all time spent, issues raised, concerns, feedback (positive or negative/formal or informal), and results of surveys. Feed this information back to the pilot participants and senior management. Make everyone part of the process and a contributor to success. What you are looking for at the end of a Pilot scheme should be acceptance by those involved that the system is relatively easy to understand and use, that it will be of benefit to the organisation and most importantly, of benefit to the individual. In considering this last point it is worthwhile remembering that 'personalising' the value of an individual's Personal Profile is another important aspect of successful competence management.

Even if employees understand the benefits to the general business, in order to establish 'ground-up' support for your system, benefit must be perceived on an individual level. The employee should see the benefit in terms of career progression and job development by tying the competence assessment process to the company training and development process.

Following the success of the initial pilot programme (or changes to the processes to ensure future success), a Rollout to the rest of the organisation can be introduced.

The time required to rollout your competence management process will vary with the size of organisation and the number of departments involved. As a rule of thumb, it is generally advisable to go slower rather than faster. At this stage you should involve the departmental 'leaders' referred to earlier who, because of their involvement previously, will champion the successful rollout of the system.

Return on investment (ROI)

Finally, your competence management system was probably acquired on the back of a sound business case, which may have involved some measure of Return On Investment (ROI). However, for some reason many organisations don't, or don't know how to, use their competence management system to capitalise on this. Below are some of the areas that you may find useful:

Training And Development

Competency assessment can effectively isolate employees' current skill gaps and help them in mapping out training and development plans targeted at closing those gaps. To determine the ROI for this capability consider measuring the following:

  • Savings to the training budget as unnecessary training is eliminated
  • Increased usage of contracted vendor training programmes (CBT and ILT)
  • Improved retention rates of star employees as employees are better able to develop their own employability
  • Just-in-time training is available so that training is delivered just prior to it being implemented in the workplace
  • Employee perceptions of the 'relevancy' of trainingq Job satisfaction derived from purposeful training, clear development plans and career development support
  • Improved employee commitment as they perceive their importance to the organisation
  • Improved employee retention of training as it is learned 'just-in-time' and then applied
  • Elimination of training not tied to organisational, project or individual goals
  • Improved career mobility - ensures people are adding the most value because they are in the right place at the right time
  • More accurate predictions of required training (and at what skill levels) to eliminate over-bookings
  • Improved training vendor responsiveness - modularise courses around skills to: increase the number of students trained, and reduce the time away from their desks

Performance Management

Competency assessment can help facilitate the performance management process in your organisation. By providing an objective set of measures, competencies provide an effective benchmark from which to measure the performance gains of both employees and teams. When the competencies are behaviourally anchored and adequately validated, they also support merit and competency-based pay strategies.

To determine the ROI for this capability consider measuring the following:

  • Achievement of organisational and individual performance goals
  • Employee performance gains when valid competency definitions and proficiency scales are used
  • Employee and team performance/ productivity gains as performance requirements described behaviourally
  • Changes in productivity per unit of employee wages
  • Changes in time to Market and Product Development costsChanges in job satisfaction
  • Changes in organisational commitment

Recruitment And Selection

Competency assessment can be used to assess how well an internal or external candidate fits the requirements for a specific job. By creating a competency-based job or resourcing profile, recruiters and managers can screen candidates based on how well their competency proficiencies match the profile.

To determine the ROI for this capability consider measuring the following:

  • Reduced cycle time on the hiring process
  • Increased number of job acceptances as the accuracy of candidate selection improves
  • Increased employee retention past probation period as the employee-job fit is improved
  • Changes in performance over first performance period - should increase as employees are motivated by meaningful work and training opportunities
  • Hiring costs - should be reduced as a result of the efficiencies gained by competency-based selection processes
  • Improved staff perceptions of job-fit
  • Job satisfaction of new recruits and reassigned employees
  • Higher performing teams as a result of more accurate job and project assignments to staff
  • Improved interview effectiveness and decision making - use of behaviourally-based skill definitions for interview questions

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© 2004 The Matchett Group. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.

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