WHY SHORTEN TIME TO PROFICIENCY?
A key stage in the development of an employee is becoming proficient in their job. At this stage, their performance is consistent, reliable, repeatable, and above acceptable standards, in every situation, they might face in that job role. They can perform their function or job to established standards; they are independently productive and require little supervision.
However, the term proficiency is largely misunderstood in the sense of business and academic literature. Proficiency is measured at a job role level. That means it is not measured at the task or skill level. When your house is on fire, you don’t care if the firefighters are good at individual tasks like holding the hose or breaking the door. As a customer, the only thing you expect is their ability to put off the fire consistently and reliably as they would have done in other places. Being good at individual activities does not relate directly to producing the desired performance. Thus, job proficiency is less about the activities, tasks, and skills, but more about the ability to produce noteworthy outcomes.
That’s the performance organizations need from their employees in every job role. However, when it takes a long time to achieve that state, organizations must spend numerous dollars on employees training or lose dollars while compensating for the mistakes they make in the meantime. This could also mean the loss of revenue opportunities. By shortening that time, an organization can shorten the time to market for the products or services and improve customer satisfaction.
TRAINING AS THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
In one of the project cases the author researched, a large tech corporation in the US hired several financial analysts for various business groups. The job description stated that the individuals would design, prepare, and distribute weekly dashboard reports on financial trends to various business groups to the stakeholders’ satisfaction. The individuals in that position would need to use Excel software and build automated dashboards. The proficiency of the individuals in this job is determined by the readiness of dashboards by the target date each week, followed by maintaining a customer feedback score of at least 4.6/5.0 for consecutive six weeks. Thus, the management expected baseline time to proficiency in the span of 2 months.
Upon joining, the new hires were given some introductory web-based training courses. Then they were required to attend a formal 5-day long training class to learn the functions and tricks of creating business dashboards using Excel software. They also received a 400-page manual, a certificate of attendance, job aids, and online resources during the training. The following week, they were assigned to the job. Many of them were given a mantra – ‘in case of any problem, approach Joe.’
One of the financial analysts failed to deliver her dashboard reports by the deadline for the first several weeks. Even when she did, several of those did not meet stakeholders’ requirements. She had difficulties presenting and communicating it to executives. As a result, she only hit the required 4.6 scores for the first time three months into the job, but the scores dropped the next time. It took her four months to reach a steady stage, achieving 4.6 scores consistently.
The average time to proficiency across the entire group of newly hired turned out to be five months. Why did it take them that much time to achieve desired proficiency in almost double the expected time despite getting the required training and support?
In today’s world, where training and learning are a foundational line of defense, several organizations are finding it hard to digest why their best possible training design and other mechanisms are not helping to shorten the time taken by their employees to attain the required proficiency.
HOW CAN TRAINING BE A SPEED BLOCKER?
This scenario described above is not uncommon across the board. Across a large spectrum of 70 best-in-class organizations in 42 industries, the author found that even the best-in-class organizations struggle to get the training right when the goal is speed. The majority of the organizations expressed that as opposed to the usual expectation that training would speed up proficiency, they also noticed the training itself hampered speeding up proficiency across the board. The issue is the poor training and learning design practices coupled with a poorly implemented support structure.
There are four critical areas of inefficiencies that inadvertently get introduced into training design practices, eventually leading to slower proficiency acquisition.