Why measure competence?
Before we answer that question let us define competence. We (that’s us) define competence as ‘the ability for a person to perform a specified task to a required standard, safely and under varying conditions’. This also means that a competent person will know where the limits of their authority are and what to do if an issue occurs outside their authority, and they will take the required action on the issue.
The net result of competent staff can be simply put that staff go home at the end of the day in the same condition that they started it, and plant is in the same condition at the end of the day as when the day started. Competent staff also reduce maintenance, repairs and renewals. The workplace is safer for both people and plant.
So why measure competence? Simple, it makes commercial sense. It keeps organisations on the right side of the law. It reduces costs in running plant and operations and can reduce insurance costs as plant has fewer failures and people have fewer accidents.
As plant (or any organisation) runs more effectively, there’s a positive effect on the bottom line and with a fully engaged workforce organisations can reduce finance costs in line with their overall reduced risk.
How do you measure competence?
To be able to measure competence, you need a few things in place:
- Senior Management Support;
- Standards of competence;
- Competence Management System (Framework);
- Internal Quality Assurers;
- Assessors of competence in the work environment;
- Policies, procedures and standardisation;
It is vital that senior management recognises and engages with the value of a fully supported competence management system (CMS). We recommend that senior management attend a half-day session designed to introduce the CMS to them; help them to understand the goals of the CMS and what an effective CMS will throw up particularly during the early stages of implementation. Senior managers need to understand the cost implications in terms of people, time and finance to get to the point of reward for the organisation.
In measuring competence there is no grey scale; there is no scale of competence. Someone meets the standard or they do not and in order to measure staff as competent or not yet competent, standards must be developed. So where to start?
Our sister company The Gill Payne Partnership Ltd, develop standards of competence for clients in many industries in many countries. A starting point where plant operation happens for example, it is useful to start with the manufacturers operation instructions; to ask time-served staff to record step-by-step what they do and what they need to know about; to review industry standards, laws and regulations, etc. Combining these into a lean standard that contains measurable Performance Criteria and Knowledge and Understanding Criteria. Behaviours and Attitude Criteria are about performance and would be included within the Performance Criteria.
Once you have your standards of competence, your need a framework to sit them on. This is the Competence Management System such as the GPP-Digi CMS. Your CMS should be simple and workable for your environment. You need to think about accessibility from multiple locations, consistency of CMS data records across multiple sites, and security of the data to include the risk of data breaches, data loss through fire, explosion, etc. Our GPP-Digi system not only satisfies all these criteria, it is able to work in multiple languages in real-time and work ‘straight out of the box’ with either your own standards or those designed by us.
In developing your CMS framework, consider access control, allowing only those who have the authority to see the data, access to the data at their CMS role level.
As part of the CMS and the above processes, you need to consider how you maintain robustness of the CMS. This is done through effective quality assurance and people acting as Internal Quality Assurers or IQAs. IQAs maintain the ‘quality’ and effectiveness of the CMS. They support the assessor of competence and ‘standardisation’. Standardisation is about making sure that all assessors when looking at the same evidence of competence are all reaching the same conclusion as well as being effectively supported. In organisations with a number of IQAs, one will take the Lead IQA role and guide all processes towards the common goal.
Of course, you don’t just need standards to measure the competence of staff, you also need people who can make a decision if someone is competent or not yet competent. These are the Assessors. These people should not be line-managers as there is an implicit bias in having a line manager assess their own staff for competence. Assessors can and in most cases should, be peers. They must be occupationally competent themselves and ideally assessed against standards for assessors. There is a recommended ratio of assessors to staff, and IQAs to assessors. Assessors usually are not full-time but perform assessor duties in addition to their day job and this needs to be considered and supported to remove excess stress.
As with any effective system, a CMS needs good policies and procedures. Our company has an ‘out of the box’ solution for these which just need modifying by the IQAs during implementation to suit local language, best practice, etc.
In 25 years of designing and implementing CMS, it is our experience that when the process starts, quite a few issues will be found and not necessarily about the staff. The common issues identified are that existing operational, maintenance, etc., policies and procedures are found to be at fault, they are commonly out-of-date, do not reflect current best practice and in some cases, do not reflect the right equipment – very dangerous.
Any company implementing CMS can and should expect to identify these issues and be prepared to support correcting them with appropriate resources which may not be financial, but more likely the staff’s time on resolving them.
When implementing a CMS, start small. Pick those job roles that can provide quick positive results and support staff engagement and motivation. If you have Unions within your organisation, engage with them early on as you will find them open to the development of staff through competence measurement. Communicate regularly with staff about what you are doing, this will remove the fear factor and cancel the rumour mill.
To finish, of course we can help you if you need us to. We have the experience and the systems to get you to where you need your organisation to be, wherever your organisation is based world-wide.