This article raises an important business concern why the time to proficiency of employees in any job is of utmost importance to any organization.
What is this time to proficiency metrics anyway?
Before we talk about time to proficiency metrics in the business world, we need to recognize the market forces such as time to market pressures in terms of how those metrics shape the pace of business. Over the last decade, every one of us has seen tremendous changes in technology and learning across the industries. In the hi-tech industry, organizations are trying to squeeze (or accelerate) time to market new technologies, services, products, and solutions to gain a competitive edge over others. Talking to several thought leaders in the industry, it appears to me that there is a large lag between the speed with which organizations can build the capability of employees and the speed of time to market products, services, solutions, and technologies. This business challenge of squeezed time to market has led to a new business challenge for training experts on how to drive the workforce to achieve full productivity at an equally fast pace.
Also lately, most organizations are targeting proficiency as the minimum desired level of performance of their employees. In general, the time taken by an individual to acquire the skills necessary to reach a level where his performance can be deemed as “proficient” (or exhibiting ‘desired proficiency’) is called time to proficiency (Pinder and Schroeder, 1987). This is generally measured either from his day of hire or from the day he takes the first training course. This time usually also involves time spent on OJT and other allied activities to gain proficiency. Carpenter, Monaco, O’Mara, & Teachout (1989) appears to be the first to develop the first Time to Proficiency model in a military context which established a relationship between actual performance, aptitude, experience, costs, and minimum acceptable level of job proficiency for recording airmen proficiency (as cited by Faneuff et.al, 1990). It took time for the same concept to make its way into the business world.
Need for acceleration as seen by thought leaders
Now the organizations have started understanding the business value of measuring and shortening time to proficiency (time to expertise). The purpose of achieving faster time-to-proficiency is financial and competitive. Having employees coming to the desired proficiency level faster allows the organization to have a competitive edge in the market and maybe more effective faster in handling their customer’s needs. The very basic essence of the concept of time-to-proficiency is that proficiency level stays the same, but by accelerating the time taken to achieve the same proficiency, the organization gain dollar value, productivity, customer satisfaction, and overall effectiveness of the business. Some of the leading training thought leaders have been pitching the importance of time to the expertise of employees.
- Williams and Rosenbaum (2004) state in Learning Paths that “You need to know the level of performance required to do the job and how long it takes to get there…..when you can get employees up-to-speed in far less time, productivity rises at far less expense”. Learning Paths (2013) puts the advantage of accelerated time-to-proficiency in terms of financial value to the organization as “Every minute, employees are less than fully proficient, has a direct financial impact on the organization”. (p.13)
- Rosenheck (2005) also emphasizes the importance of time-to-proficiency: “If we can reduce the time it takes to become an expert or at least proficient performers, we can save our organizations a lot of money, increase retention rates, reduce errors, and improve customer satisfaction”.
- Jay Cross (n.d.) wrote in his blog on “how to reduce time-to-proficiency” states the importance of making employees proficient faster: “The faster a worker becomes proficient, the more profitable the firm. Companies that focus on shortening the time employees complete formal, explicit learning are looking at a drop in the bucket. Improving the effectiveness of experiential, tacit learning adds much more to the bottom line. Managers who make apt stretch assignments produce productive workers sooner.”
- Stephen Libby (2010) commented on his blog about increasing awareness about time-to-proficiency by stating that: “North American businesses usually expect newly hired or promoted personnel to reach job proficiency within 90 days. This is of course only feasible if they have received excellent training and integration into their new work environment. Proficiency will naturally take longer to achieve if new job responsibilities are highly specialized or if inadequate or unsuitable training is given to the new staff.”
What if organizations do not pay attention to the time-to-expertise of their employees? The poor time-to-proficiency may result in higher costs to organizations.
- Dimension International President and CEO Williams Byham states: “Getting off to a weak start in a new job costs organizations in three ways: 1. It takes too long for the new hires to reach full job proficiency. 2. Job engagement decreases as individuals experience early failure or misunderstandings. 3. Individuals start to consider moving to a new job”. (p.2)
In my research, I found that not all organizations are yet able to measure training effectiveness or ROI with the metrics like time to proficiency, time to full productivity, or time to expertise. But it might be coming in due course of time, as I see it.
How long is time-to-proficiency?
Measurement of time to expertise (or time to proficiency) has long intrigued researchers. Allow me to share angles from various renowned researchers in regards to time to expertise.
- Raskin (1936) in early research found that the time interval between scientists’ and authors’ first accepted publication and their most valued publication averages about 10 years which amounts to an even longer preparation time. Since then 10-year rule to achieve expertise has been empirically tested in many studies.
- Simon and Chase (1973) argued that similar to chess, several other domains exhibit the patterns of achieving expertise in 10-years.
- Hayes (1985) later also commented that literature appears to have accepted the classic estimate that the development of very high-level skills in any complex area takes at least ten years of concerted effort.
- Bloom (1985) and Hayes (1989) reinforced the observations that a decade of intensive preparation is necessary to become an international performer in a broader range of domains including chess, sports, and the arts and sciences.
- Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Romer (1993) further found that it takes 10,000 hours or 10-years (20 hours for 50 weeks a year for ten years = 10,000) of intense training and ‘deliberate practice’ to become an expert in almost anything.
Note that most of these studies focused on the time it takes to reach world-class ‘expertise’. Most of the literature appears to use the term time-to-expertize and most training professionals appear to relate to it well. However, in organizational context usage of the time-to-proficiency term is more appropriate. Proficiency in work settings refers to exhibiting superior performance during daily jobs at full productivity and the goal is not to reach world-class expertise. As an example, typical airline pilots take about 5-6 years to reach ‘desired proficiency’; a corporate manager may reach the ‘desired proficiency’ in 2-3 years. Thus the time to ‘desired proficiency’ varies from job to job and from organization to organization.
Time is money
Time is money and any reduction in time should be the first goal of any training program, while not losing focus on effectiveness and quality of the same.
- A decade ago proponents of deliberate practice of 10 years Ericsson et al. pointed out that there are no proven ways to develop expertise faster when they said, “Although these studies [on expertise] have revealed how beginners acquire complex cognitive structures and skills that circumvent the basic limits confronting them, researchers have not uncovered some simple strategies that would allow nonexperts to rapidly acquire expert performance.” (Ericsson & Charness, 1994, p.737)
- Very recently, Hoffman, Andrews & Feltovich (2012) raised this issue as: “empirical fact about expertise (i.e., that it takes a long time) sets the stage for an effort at demonstrating the acceleration of the achievement of proficiency.” (p. 9). They further make an appeal to training professions “Our vision is that methods for accelerating the achievement of proficiency, and even extraordinary expertise, might be taken to new levels such that one can accelerate the achievement of proficiency across the journeyman-to-expert span post-hiring.” (p. 9)
Nevertheless, there is a general consensus that time is taken to achieve a high level of proficiency to do any job consistently and reliability with a high degree of repeatability is generally very long, and that sets the grounds to put some processes, methodologies, and efforts to build a knowledge-base to reduce it. However, the reality is that even today there is a lack of proven knowledge-base in the training industry as a whole.
I have been interacting with a handful of such experts who are strong proponents of the concept of accelerating proficiency. Most of them have their own independently proven practices and methodologies, but I think the training industry needs to break such silos and should rope in the experience of key knowledge agents in this niche area as a ‘talk of the town’.I am trying to raise a kind of appeal in this post that we might need more discussion around this niche area, not from the commercial consulting angle but from the collaboration angle like making forums or groups which specifically address this business challenge by putting collective knowledge and learning together.
Attri, RK (2018), ‘Why Is Time To Proficiency The Most Important Business Metrics?’, [Blog post], Speed To Proficiency Research: S2PRo©, Available online at <https://get-there-faster.com/blog/importance-of-time-to-proficiency-metrics/>.
- Bloom, B. S. (1985). Generalizations about talent development. In B. S. Bloom (Ed.), Developing talent in young people (pp. 507-549). New York: Ballantine Books.
- DDI International (n.d.) Strong Start to Success: What Leaders Can do to Shorten time to proficiency, increase job engagement, and reduce early turnover. White paper. Byham W.C. available at: http://theengagementeffect.com/wp-content/uploads/Strong_Start_to_Job_Success.pdf
- Cross, Jay (n.d), How to shorten time-to-proficiency, http://www.internettime.com/2013/02/how-to-shorten-time-to-proficiency/#more-18420
- Ericsson, K. A. & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance – Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist 49, 8, 725-747.
- Faneuff, R.S., Stone, B.M., Curry, G.L., Hageman, D.C. (1990) Extending the time to proficiency model for simultaneous application to multiple jobs. Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, Brooks Air Force Base: Texas. AFHRL Technical Paper 90-42
- Hayes, J. R. (1985) Three problems in teaching general skills. In Chipman, Segal, & Glaser (eds.): Thinking and learning skills: Vol. 2 Research and open questions (391-405), Hillsdale, NY: Erlbaum.
- Hayes, J. R. (1989). The complete problem solver. Philadelphia, PA: Franklin Institute Press.
- Hoffman, R. R., Andrews, D. H., & Feltovich, P. J. (2012). What is “ Accelerated Learning ”? Cognitive Technology, 17 (1)
- Simon, H. A., & Chase, W. G. (1973). Skill in chess. American Scientist, 61, 394-403.
- Raskin, E. (1936). Comparison of scientific and literary ability: A biographical study of eminent scientists and letters of the nineteenth century. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 31, 20-35.
- Rosenheck, M. (2005). Case-Based Learning : Accelerating the Path to Expert Performance, SITE Journal. Available at http://www.cedarinteractive.com/pdf/RosenheckSITEArticle.pdf
- Stephen, Lisby (2010). 3 Tips to reduce time-to-proficiency. Blog Post. Humanizing the Transition Experience. http://www.libbystephens.com/blog/organizations/18-time-to-proficiency
- Williams, J., Rosenbaum, S. (2004). Learning Paths: Increase Profits by Reducing the Time it Takes Employees to Get Up-To-Speed. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.