Competency-Based Learning: How to Future-Proof Your Organization Effectively
You already know that employees value companies that invest in growing their skill level through learning and development programs. Like many companies, you probably have an ongoing initiative.
Well, that's good.
However, many HR, Talent, and L&D stakeholders haven't figured out how to do it right.
The preferred route is having employees sign up for an internal Learning Management System (LMS).
However, many traditional programs tend to have broad objectives, basic content, or irrelevant aspects that turn learning into a hit-or-miss proposition.
But what if you could ensure every employee benefited from targeted learning that builds their competencies for both present and future mutual benefit?
That's what competency-based learning encompasses.
This article will show why this model has far better outcomes than traditional learning approaches.
Plus, we'll walk you through how to implement one within your organization.
💪 What is competency-based learning?
Employees can contribute to a team based on their knowledge of particular aspects necessary for task completion.
But competencies needed in one company or role might not match those in another company, even if they activate in the same industry.
So employees need to understand some core competencies to excel in their jobs.
So you must identify which critical competencies suit your needs and develop these by training your employees.
"As we enter a new decade of increasing digital transformation and automation, it is more important than ever to help your employees build the skills to grow their careers and propel your business forward." Amanda Van Nuys, Group Manager, Scaled Community & Experiences, LinkedIn Talent Solutions.
The focus isn't on depth but on developing a core skill vital to employee growth.
Compared to a traditional learning setup, you can tailor a competency-based learning initiative to get employees to improve essential skills for specific roles.
The outcome is a win-win situation: productive employees who give higher-quality output to the organization.
💡 How competency-based learning bridges your organization's skills gap
"One of the keys to unlocking creativity, ingenuity and much more is taking a new approach to professional learning." Mary Ryerse, Managing Director for School Success at XQ Institute.
The skills gap is real.
According to a McKinsey Global Survey, nearly nine in ten executives and managers are already experiencing this or expect it to happen within five years.
In the US, the cost of talent shortage is unrealized revenue that might exceed $160 billion by 2030.
If this has your attention, consider that it's not always the hard or technical skills deficits that employers contend with.
Instead, it's the soft skills that organizations, as many as three in four, say they have a hard time finding in newly-minted college graduates.
These human skills (such as influence, persuasion, negotiation, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking) are necessary for the workplace. Still, they are not taught or promoted in schools.
A lack of these competencies, necessary for creative problem-solving, innovation, and collaboration, can seriously hamper a company's quest to succeed in the market.
Building competency in these skills (which machines can't yet undertake) can be a valuable strategy for you.
A proactive L&D team will develop competency-based learning systems that do more than upskill employees. They:
- Help individuals build on their competencies.
- Offer personalized learning experiences that develop both behavioral and technical skills.
- Put employees at the heart of identifying what they need most. After all, employees are best suited to know the areas in which training has the most impact.
🔍 6 Key features of competency-based learning in the workplace
Your employees (and their competencies) become the focus, allowing them to develop the required skills at their own pace.
The goal is to grow them to become lifelong learners capable of:
- Undertaking a self-paced learning journey.
- Thoroughly focusing on mastering the competencies needed to achieve their work goals.
- Reflecting on their progress and positive learning experiences.
- Demonstrating learning as a result of understanding their competencies.
As employees master the valuable skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in their roles, it's only natural that the quality of their outcomes trends upwards.
Focusing on outcomes empowers L&D teams to:
- Match desired organization outcomes to competencies.
- Create high-quality learning resources that support progression to desired results.
- Focus employee training initiatives on outcomes.
- Transparently analyze the impact of learning on every aspect of the organization.
Unsurprisingly, traditional models consider a person as trained only at the end of a program.
However, competency-based learning models buck this thinking so that decisions about whether an employee is competent are made based on the evidence demonstrated as the learner goes through the process.
A competency-based approach allows L&D teams to recognize, assess and adjust the learning process to meet individual needs. This differentiation is present in aspects such as:
- training curriculum or topics;
- learning resources;
- assessments, surveys, and learning activities;
- formative feedback;
- communication (personalized notifications);
- learning journeys.
As a result, you accommodate different learning capacities and encourage active participation by employees in the development process.
Relevant to the real world
At a broader level, a competency-grounded learning process shifts employees' focus to building the ability to perform in real-world scenarios.
Such training is meaningful as it progressively empowers individuals to master life skills and job-specific scenarios.
Integrated employee development
Traditional corporate training models view L&D as a distinct aspect of an employee's development journey.
As such, learning goals may not always align with career growth paths or organizational goals, making it hard to assess the impact of learning.
Not so with competency-based learning.
- Employees appreciate the inclusive process and experience deeper learning.
- They embrace the learning and practice activities as there is a clearly defined performance level demonstrating mastery of various competencies.
- Most importantly, they are engaged as the process is transparent, communicates skill-level progress, and can integrate hard and soft competencies.
Variability in conventional learning approaches is problematic because expected performance levels can vary across supervisors, departments, or locations.
People are prone to bias.
When stakeholders who haven't addressed their biases become final decision-makers of employee learning, they may perpetuate (intentionally or otherwise) inequitable outcomes.
By contrast, competency-based training poses the question: How will you know if employees have achieved competency?
Tip: Where there is a clear expectation of mastery of a given competency, employees, L&D teams, and management read from the same script.
🟢 Pros & 🛑 Cons of competency-based learning
Flexibility and freedom
Effective learning happens when employees feel there is flexibility to engage in an assessment, topic, or activity, preferably as part of their regular work.
This idea is likely familiar as it has become part of a relatively newer learning ecosystem known as learning in the flow of work.
Competency-based learning matches well with this approach so that growing skills becomes a natural part of the workday.
Employees control the pace of learning, so they likely move quickly to attain mastery of relevant skills that have an immediate benefit.
Learning skills that formal education usually leaves out
Competency models are critical in ensuring employees and organizations focus on applicable skills and knowledge that impact work delivery, many of which are not taught in school.
Adapted to different styles of learners
Different learners respond in different ways to learning activities.
For example, some are more tech-savvy than others, while some learners want to take a step-by-step approach to gain skills.
Regardless of the skill, knowledge background, education level, or tech comfort level, there's space for everyone.
More learner ownership and responsibility
A positive result of this approach is that employees feel more empowered to take the driver's seat in their learning.
Drives continuous learning
The competency-based learning approach encourages employees and their supervisors to give each other feedback and identify the most relevant work opportunities to apply the learning.
Sharing and learning from feedback is the bedrock of a workplace learning culture.
More competent employees
When people receive training and development at their point of need, they will likely apply the learning to their jobs.
The outcome is improved work output that drives a high-performance work culture for better business results.
Lack of competency frameworks
Assessing and defining employees' essential competencies in advance has to happen, which is something many HR and L&D teams struggle with.
Difficulty in assessing progress and effectiveness
You will find that measuring training effectiveness for competency-based learning programs is more challenging compared to a standard employee training initiative.
How can you precisely measure someone's skill improvement? Chances are, their work outcomes will improve after effective training. But that will not be visible immediately.
The need for constant tracking of progress
If you are not ready (or equipped) to continuously track employees' progress and provide additional support as needed, doing so can be taxing and time-consuming.
However, don't let these cons hinder your determination to roll out a competency-based training model.
Tip: Get the help you need through adaptive learning platforms that:
- Track progress.
- Seamlessly incorporate 360° feedback for offering constructive insights to learners.
- Offer easy-to-implement competency frameworks.
🪜 Implement competency-based learning in your organization in 8 steps
Define core competencies
Analyze and document the applicable skills critical to the organization's success early on.
While some competencies are common across industries (workplace communication), others are industry-specific. For example, design skills for the creative industry, quality control for a manufacturing environment, or customer service for the retail and services sectors.
Tip: Reflecting on your company's values can unearth the core competencies needed.
Create competency frameworks
Collaborate with all management levels to lay out a competency model that aligns with the learning goals of the competency-based model.
Tip: Start the exercise from a departmental level and drill further until you have a competency framework aligned to each role.
Evaluate pre-existing knowledge and identify skills gaps
Often, you won't have the benefit of years of experience working with the same employees.
Tip #1: Administer a training needs assessment survey to understand your people's competency levels.
Tip #2: Using a skills matrix gives you an understanding of the skills gap within the organization.
Define available resources
The purpose of this step ensures you:
1. Create a training budget that captures the costs of training.
2. Identify current resources (learning material, platforms, time schedules) that aid the learning program.
3. Assess resource gaps and how to handle them.
Determine training methods
There are several ways to implement a competency-based learning program for your employees.
The individual, self-directed learning approach works well, so consider e-courses, Learning Management Systems (LMS), and online resources (assessments, quizzes, surveys).
Tip: But remember, individuals have a wide range of learning styles, so opt for inclusive methods that cater to various learning capacities.
Create an action plan
The famous adage "failing to plan is planning to fail" rings true at this point.
Based on your needs assessment, create an action plan that lays the foundation for learning objectives.
➡️ Learn how to create an effective employee training plan in 9 steps.
Measure, measure, measure
Tracking learner satisfaction, engagement, and effectiveness of the learning activities is easier when you have a robust training management system doing it for you.
Use the results to reiterate
The results of the previous step, plus feedback from learners, provide opportunities for continuous improvement of competency-based learning for greater effectiveness.
Tip: Measure training effectiveness with some impactful training metrics and available post-training questions.
💸 5 Methods for measuring the ROI of competency-based learning
- Employee output and productivity change as a result of learning participation.
- Change in customer satisfaction scores.
- Savings gained from upskilling internal talent over hiring externally.
- Employee retention/turnover rates.
- Change in departmental performance scores.
Tip: Make it clear that some of these results take time and that the journey to achieving them requires consistent tracking.
Here are five methods to measure the ROI of your competency-based learning programs.
Objective score assessments
Examples of this evaluation method include open-ended and multiple-choice question assessments typically administered after completing a learning phase or module.
Performance-based assessments are more effective at demonstrating ROI and require time to undertake.
Examples include individual or group-based project work, reports, and essays.
This assessment gauges whether the learning leads to positive behavior change in the workplace. An employee's supervisor or manager is best placed to conduct this evaluation.
Pre- and post-assessments
A pre-learning assessment establishes the baseline performance against which other evaluations can be measured.
At the end of the training, a post-assessment (using the same metrics) compares the degree of learning transfer and application.
Engaging everyone (supervisor, peers, direct reports) within an employee's domain of influence provides deeper insight into the learning outcomes in the work environment.
➡️ Want to know more? Learn how to provide valuable competency feedback using 360-degree reviews.
➡️ Enable competency-based learning with Zavvy
It's not always necessary to reinvent the wheel when developing talent.
However, the changing labor market calls for using innovative tools to upskill and grow your company's core competencies.
Zavvy's robust employee enablement solution has you covered:
- Conceptualize your mission-critical competencies in a competency map drilled down to specific roles.
- Collect 360-degree feedback.
- Run performance review cycles.
- Roll out learning initiatives.
- Enable employee growth with personalized growth plans.
Sign up for a free trial to get started on future-proofing your workforce.