All businesses having competent people is important. The more competent our people, the better they perform.
In safety critical environments, more than almost any other business environment, it is critical to understand who knows what. Having competency maps or competency matrices can help.
What is a competency or skill?
The UK based CIPD (professional body for Human Resource professional) says:
Competence or competency?
‘Competency’ and ‘competencies’ may be defined as the behaviours (and, where appropriate, technical attributes) that individuals must have, or must acquire, to perform effectively at work – that is, the terms focus on the personal attributes or inputs of the individual.
‘Competence’ and ‘competences’ are broader concepts that encompass demonstrable performance outputs as well as behaviour inputs, and may relate to a system or set of minimum standards required for effective performance at work. –SOURCE: http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/competence-competency-frameworks.aspx
If you are in the HR world, there are books and whole diplomas on this stuff. In essence I like to keep things simple. A competency or skill is a low level statement where success can be easily measured.
A practical example of a competency
For example “make a cup of tea (or coffee)” is too broad. So the “task” may be to make a cup of tea, but it is comprised of several competence statements:
- Able to boil water safely
- Able to locate the correct ingredients
- Able to identify an appropriate vessel
- Able to pour water into vessel without spillage to the correct level
…. You get the idea.
The “task” is then signed off when the individuals is said to be competent in all steps or competencies.
The more specific we can be, the less room there is for ambiguity. People can use this as part of the training journey to be competent for the whole job.
Statements may be skills, knowledge or behavioural, or more likely a blend of the three.
How to write competence statements
The example above will help a little. But there is no getting away from the fact that this has the potential in most organizations to be a big task. In fact a VERY big task. A single blog or article like this one cannot do this activity justice. But there are some pragmatic steps to making the process easier.
One ‘trick’ I prefer to use is to “borrow” from others. Why reinvent the wheel? For example, if you run a coffee shop, the chances are 99% of what you do is done by other coffee shops. Better than that, 75% of what you do requires use of particular machines or ingredients. The suppliers of that equipment probably have the skills or competencies written somewhere. Ask them! Failing that look to the trade body or association they may have such competencies.
In more complex organizations things may be even easier. Most professions have trade unions or trade bodies of some kind. Often they undertake such programs on behalf of the industry. In the UK we also have a group known as “sector skills councils”. For just a few $$$ these organizations will give you their list of competencies or skills. Now their goal is to sell consultancy and training. What you want at the statements, as that is 80% of your work done for you. Yes you will have to pay. But often this figure is the price of a couple of books. This is much more cost effective than having your highly competent people ‘off the job’ for weeks writing this material from scratch!
Using in-house experts, go through the third party materials and filter out what can be put through a “Stop, Start, Continue” approach. In other words, what can you use as is? What is not relevant to you? What can be used with a little adaptation?
I would strongly advise having a champion or a lead for this activity. Their role is to ensure a level of consistency across the business. After all this is supposed to be a company strategic advantage. If you do not have someone internally, you can engage an interim project manager to take the bulk of the pain whilst you get started.
Never try to write all this stuff on your own. Never on one go! Plagiarise from those that have already done it!
A living document – Build a competency matrix to use every day
A competency matrix must not sit on the shelves of HR. It needs to be a living document owned and maintained by the people that use it, operational managers.
Once this matrix has been developed, it is easy for it to fall into disuse. The initial investment needs to be maintained. One approach I have found is to ensure that there are business champions for each section. It is their responsibility to keep this up to date, or their people won’t have the right training.
One other factor I add into the way I develop these, is rather than have the matrix on its own, I make the matrix part of the solution. The training for each elements needs to be IN the competency manual or document. The training materials ARE the matrix. Once these things separate they become an overhead. The level of detail needed is only that which is required for effective training. No more, and certainly no less!
What is a competency matrix?
At its most basic, a competency or skills matrix could be a list of skills down the left, and people’s names (or job roles) across the top. Then where these cross, a mark is made indicating performance:
- Not required for job/ role
- Some knowledge – on the journey
- Working knowledge – getting there but not ready without supervision
- Good competency – Job competence level
- Can coach others – able to train and mentor others.
To build a competency matrix understanding these (or similar levels) are important for real world application. Managers need to know who has none, some or the required knowledge, attitude and skills for the job. Tools like this matrix can help.
No person should be allowed to undertake a task unsupervised until they are at the “good competency” level, and there is a record of this being checked by a trusted, competent person.
Competency’s should include knowledge required, problem solving, where to find policies & procedures, safety related skills etc. Ideally EVERYTHING needed to do the job.
The real test is to ask, with this matrix do I know what needs to be done and how to do it? Every manager should know how to build a competency matrix and use it in the management and development of their people.
Identifying Training Needs through Building a Competency Matrix
Sometimes called Learning Needs Analysis (or Training Needs Analysis TNA), A skills matrix when complete can help become a tool to help develop your people. A personal version can track what the person can and cannot do in the workplace. When it comes to those appraisal discussions about ‘development’ the skills matric can provide a potential map to the next role.
Footnote to Build a Competency Matrix–
to all my HR colleagues. Yes this is an over simplification. This piece was not written for HR professionals, but for line managers to use as an understanding as to how they can identify needs, grow their people and ensure each job can be done safely
How to build a competency Matrix (Skills Matrix)
Having competent people is important. In safety critical environments, it is important to understand who knows what. A look at how to write a skills matrix