Tuesday, 19 September 2017

10 Components of a Successful Performance Management System

Performance management has arguably been one of the defining trends in human resources in recent years. Yet regular performance appraisals often have a negative effect on employee morale. I suggest that the problem here is one of understanding the crucial difference between performance appraisal and performance management. It might initially seem that this is merely a matter of semantics and it is true that the two terms are often used interchangeably. A good performance management system, however, goes far beyond performance appraisal and should therefore avoid the negative connotations of that term.
Effective performance management should be concerned with positive development, both for employees and for the organization. Performance appraisals produce groans all round and can make employees feel they are being held under a spotlight, a situation that is hardly conducive to good morale. Additionally, it can be very difficult to quantify some employee strengths that nevertheless make a strong contribution to the effectiveness of the workplace.
Implementing a positive performance management system may require a fair amount of work initially but, once the fundamentals are in place, it should run smoothly. Performance management — used appropriately — can promote a business’s effectiveness. Effective performance management should fulfill the following ten criteria:
  1. Have clear, easily defined job descriptions for each and every specific position in the organization.
  2. Ensure that employees’ goals are aligned with those of the organization.
  3. Establish priorities for both the organization and the employees.
  4. Involve collaboration between managers and employees; two-way communication is essential to successful practice. An organization that has a successful performance management system in place will foster an open environment that allows for freedom of discussion.
  5. Obtain input from employees and provide a framework for managers to respond to this.
  6. Recognize employees’ accomplishments, even those that may be difficult to quantify.
  7. Allow for frequent, continuous feedback, including informal feedback, that is both positive and constructive; this could include 360° feedback that includes comments from peers, customers and supervisors.
  8. Provide employees with adequate resources and professional development opportunities: courses, seminars, opportunities to attend conferences, mentoring, etc.
  9. Give management the necessary information for decisions on promotion, salary increases and terminations.
  10. Be user-friendly.
A performance management system that is, once implemented, relatively easy to administrate, and that allows for managers to actively listen to their employees, will result in a positive and productive workplace where everyone feels valued and respected. If goals for future performance are set, they should be mutually agreed on and should be, ideally, SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. If competencies are part of the performance management process, then each employee should have a competency profile.
Above all, it is essential to foster a workplace environment where two-way communication is encouraged and where feedback is mainly positive or constructive. Performance management should focus more on encouraging and developing employees’ strengths and providing opportunities for growth rather than annual appraisals that are directly linked to raises and bonus payments.
Shift iQ offers companies a performance management system that is both efficient and user friendly. Results from performance measurement initiatives can be analyzed instantly and provide feedback that links directly to its Learning Management System, Compensation Management System and its Talent Database.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Understanding Competency-based Training

Competency-based training may still be viewed by some as the latest 'buzzword' but actually it has been around — and operating effectively — for more than two decades. So what exactly are competencies?
This quote from Alan Roberts, President of Shift iQ and founding partner at InSite Systems: "...Competency is a set of knowledge, skills, behaviors, attitudes and characteristics..." sums it up quite efficiently.
Competencies will include soft skills as well as technical skills as these reflect the attitudes and behaviors required to successfully complete various tasks. Competency-based training ensures that employees? professional development is closely related to job performance.
Competencies relate to real-world tasks as opposed to more abstract textbook learning — they assess whether or not someone can achieve a task that is required for their position in an organization. One of the main differences between using competencies as opposed to other forms of summative assessment is that competency-based training sets a benchmark that learners either achieve or fail to achieve. Competency-based assessment is not competitive; learners only have to challenge themselves, not compete with others. Students can work on one skill at a time and can be re-assessed multiple times if necessary.
Tasks or competencies being assessed will vary widely depending on the industry and the employee's position within an organization. A simple example might be for a barista making and serving a cappuccino. Competencies could include the following tasks: taking order and payment, brewing the coffee; steaming the milk, decorating the foam and delivering the coffee to the customer. All these tasks would need to be successfully achieved before the barista could be considered to have met the benchmark. Employers and mentors can devise rubrics to assess whether or not the learner has met the benchmark for each competency. For example, our barista might be given a rating on criteria covering both technical and soft skills: there was an attractive design drawn in the foam, the barista smiled at the customer and engaged him in pleasant small talk, etc. Assessment simply comes down to whether or not the barista is able to perform these tasks successfully.
Best practices for competency-based training will:
  • Be based on needs assessment
  • Assure personal performance expectations are clearly aligned with the company's goals
  • Allow performance evaluation to be linked directly to specific competencies and, if required, to compensation
  • Offer employers the chance to create a competency profile for hiring purposes
  • Provide clear benchmarks for learners and make them aware of the criteria they are being assessed on
  • Provide an industry-specific framework
  • Facilitate effective planning for future growth and further professional development
  • Establish clear paths for career progression linked to an organization's succession planning

Advantages of competency-based training

Competency-based training:
  • Is related to real-world situations and tailored to on-the-job needs
  • Is student focused
  • Allows for self-assessment
  • Allows learners to proceed at their own pace
  • Can be customized for any field or industry
  • Facilitates performance evaluation and management

Disadvantage of competency-based training

The only possible disadvantage is the time required for initial implementation. Employers, HR managers and instructors will need to spend time deciding on the desired competencies and establishing effective assessment tools. However, the ROI for time spent will be huge; once this initial framework is in place, the system will be easy and efficient to operate.
Since competency-based training will be an essential part of professional development and career progression, employers and HR managers will need to maintain an inventory of competencies in their talent database.
Shift iQ offers clients the ability to maintain their competencies in the cloud, thus enabling efficient management of human talent.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Understanding an Outcome-based Curriculum

Outcome-based learning represents a paradigm shift from traditional teaching models. The change? from learning objectives to learning outcomes is far more than mere semantics; it means that the curriculum is now learner-centered. Traditionally, the teacher or instructor designs a curriculum and establishes learning objectives or goals; he then teaches the curriculum over a set period of time at the end of which students are assessed on their progress. This method is relatively passive for students with teachers actively inputting information. An outcome-based curriculum is likely to be constructivist in nature, building on pre-existing knowledge and experience. Learning methods may be more hands on, interactive and based on real-world tasks. Outcomes will be clearly defined and reflect what students are able to do.
An employee earning 90% on a traditional training course may be deemed to have effectively learned the material. However, has he learned 100% of the material with 90% accuracy? Or has he learned 90% of the material with 100% accuracy while having no understanding at all of the remaining 10%? The difference could be crucial in certain skill sets.
With an outcome-based curriculum, there will be a series of learning outcomes that either will or will not be achieved by the student. If all are essential in order for the employee to perform his or her job safely and efficiently, then that employee must show that all outcomes have been achieved in order to successfully complete the program. Outcome-based curricula allow students to proceed at their own pace with a clear view of the desired outcome. This system lends itself to independent, student-focused learning and self-evaluation.
Learning outcomes are basically 'can-do' statements, focusing on what a learner can actually do. Learning outcomes will not only focus on technical skills but will also include soft skills such as: attitudes, ability to work without supervision, decision-making ability, problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, values and ethics, etc. If organizations already have competency-based training in place, the learning outcomes will be closely correlated with the competencies required for a particular position; they are not, however, the same thing.
Competencies define the skills and knowledge — including soft skills — that are essential for the effective performance of a specific task. Learning outcomes require that the learner has demonstrated and proved understanding of a particular skill. As an example, for a student whose employment requires them to greet and socialize with clients in a second language, a desired competency could be 'understanding short social exchanges and small talk, including introductions and leave-taking'. The learning outcome would be that the student would be able to identify factual details and inferred meanings in a short social exchange and make appropriate responses.
Shift iQ offers online learning and talent management systems and solutions for your business. Its Learning Management module enables employers to use learning-based outcomes in their professional development and training programs and to make online training programs available to anyone, anytime, anywhere through cloud computing.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Gamifying Corporate Training and Education

At first, this headline might seem curious; after all, corporate training is a serious business, how would games come into it? Gamification is used, in many forms, in the school system to help motivate and engage students. How does this translate to corporate training and professional development? The same aspects that engage children also help motivate adults. Games make work feel like play, provide instant feedback and an element of competition.
Games exercise the same skills that are valued in the corporate world: rapid decision-making, planning, teamwork, strategizing and competing with others. Turning a desired learning outcome into a quest, giving rewards and earning points are just a few ways in which games can enrich the learning process. "Gamification uses game mechanics and game design techniques in [a] non-gaming context — it's a powerful tool to engage employees, customers and the public to change behaviors, develop skills and drive innovation." — Gartner Research.
Benefits of gamifying corporate training and professional development include:
  • Engaging students intrinsically in the learning process
  • Allowing students to see lack of knowledge/skills as challenges and obstacles to be overcome, learning as they go
  • Reinforcing student-centered learning — already in place in organizations committed to outcome-based curricula and competency-based training
  • Leveraging students’ natural competitiveness and desire for achievements to be recognized
  • Allowing learners to practice repeatedly until they achieve perfection
  • Enabling differentiated instruction so learners can progress at their own rate until mastery is achieved
  • Providing constant and rapid feedback
  • Using behavior-motivating techniques that transfer to management strategy
  • Introducing real-world tasks and projects in a controlled, virtual environment
For gamifying to be successful it must have high-level, challenging content that is informative and useful. Games must be well designed and seamlessly integrated with content. Leaderboards and virtual rewards are just two ways to encourage competition and offer rapid feedback. This can be highly motivational in an industry where feedback may only be given at an annual performance appraisal.
CEO of Dopamine Inc., Gabe Zichermann, claims that employers who have implemented gamification techniques internally have increased the productivity of their employees by 40%. Many major corporations already use gaming to recruit and motivate their employees; Marriott, for example, has developed My Marriott Hotel, a Farmville-style social game for use in recruitment. The game, available in multiple languages, puts users in various parts of a hotel; players earn points to move to harder levels or other locations in the property.
Gartner predicts that over 70% of Global 2000 companies will have incorporated some form of gamification by 2017; uses include employee engagement in corporate training, recruitment, marketing and customer retention. Games have become serious business!
Shift iQ offers an integrated suite of applications that provide an intuitive, cost-effective way to deliver online learning, including competency-based training, and performance management.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Putting Your Competency Dictionary to Work

And Now for Some Good News...

You can put that competency dictionary to work after all!

Since we launched Shift iQ we have worked with a wide variety of businesses, government agencies and associations looking for a better way to deliver technical training, manage employee records, and report on core HR data. Given this is what we do, and we do it rather well, we thought this was why industry gravitated to our space so quickly.
Yet, nothing is as simple as it appears, and before we started feeling heroic, we thought it would be worthwhile to look more closely at some of the issues common to our customers. For instance, we discovered many of our customers have spent an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and resources developing elaborate competency models, only to come to the same conclusion after completing their work: "Now what do we do with it?"
Being on the front-end of implementations, I have seen some of the world's largest Word documents, PDF's, and Excel spreadsheets, in a variety of styles, layouts, and formats. The content is often excellent — we work with a lot of amazing people — but it is almost impossible to implement (let alone maintain) a competency model outside a system that is designed specifically for that purpose.
Make no mistake, developing competencies and competency models is important work — it needs an ambitious and progressive team of subject matter experts, and it is a necessary first step toward the many personal and organizational benefits of a comprehensive skills development program.
However, without a strong system to manage and administrate your competency dictionary, the intrinsic value of the work will never be properly applied. It's unfortunate, but those valuable documents can become obsolete surprisingly quickly.
Shift iQ was designed from the start to manage and track fine-grained learning requirements and experiences, and so our customers find it tremendously valuable for building and managing competency statements and assembling these into job profiles, which in turn become components to employee and contractor training plans. Before I describe how this works, we should take a step back so you can see our approach to skills development and competency-based training.
One of the most interesting aspects to our work on Shift iQ over the past four years has been the amount of time and attention our team gives to the language we use. A lot of effort goes into ensuring that our terminology is as simple, clear, and unambiguous as we can make it.
The technology industry has a poor track record helping non-technical people understand exactly what their solutions do, particularly when there are many different vendors in a given market referring to similar features and workflows in completely different ways. (Anyone want to comment on the LMS space here?) This is something that has always been important to us, and I think the Shift iQ development team continues to do a great job here.
In simplest terms, Shift iQ has these key components:
  1. Everyone in the system is assigned one or more Profiles
  2. Each Profile is comprised of a set of Requirements
  3. Requirements can be linked to various training Resources
  4. After the Requirements within a Profile have been met, they become Capabilities
  5. When you are 100% capable in your Profile(s) you are workforce-ready
(That last point is especially important in industries where the employer is required to demonstrate that its employees and contractors are compliant with regulatory training and education requirements.)
All of this can be tracked and reported and future articles will discuss this in more detail. For now, let's return to the topic of how we can put your competency dictionary to work.
We see competencies as a type or category of learning requirements. In other words, all competencies are requirements, and not all requirements are competencies. Requirements might also include:
  • Codes of Practice
  • Orientations
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Tasks and Assignments
  • Time-Sensitive Safety Tickets
A profile is a set of learning requirements, like the ones listed above, and in Shift iQ, we use libraries to manage, edit, copy, compose, and apply competencies to Profiles. Your competency dictionary is simply the aggregated set of all your competencies, managed and tracked in a simple library.

Screenshot: Edit Requirement

Here is an example of the screen you use to edit a learning requirement in Shift iQ.
Screenshot: Edit Requirements

Screenshot: Compare Profiles

Here is an example of the screen you use to compare the requirements in two different profiles.
Screenshot: Compare Profiles

Closing Thoughts

After presenting this concept to folks at the recent ASTD TechKowledge Conference in Las Vegas, I am pleased to say there were several people (more than five!) that really "got" what we are doing with Shift iQ. They really seemed to appreciate the clarity and simplicity we bring to the game. That said, there were some who had a hard time understanding why we wanted to do something different in the world of LMS. (Please see one of our previous articles on this topic: Shift iQ = LMS 2.0.)
Suffice it to say if you are one of the many looking to apply or implement your (Word, PDF, Excel-based) competency dictionary in a skills development solution, then we can probably get you started faster than you think, and we can promise you this: it won't be confusing!

About Shift iQ

Shift iQ offers an integrated solution that provides an intuitive, cost-effective way to deliver online learning, including competency-based training, and performance management.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Learning Management Lexicon Redux

In an article I wrote earlier this year, I described some key concepts to improve the lexicon for learning management. One of the concepts I discussed was that of a "learning profile". In that article I defined a learning profile as a distinct collection of learning activities, and I discussed (briefly) their many different shapes and sizes — necessary to satisfy a diverse range of business, institutional, and government needs. Unfortunately, it is a term that comes with a lot of unwanted baggage.
Increasingly, we have found the term "profile" problematic. It is used so many different ways by so many different people in so many different contexts that it begs constant interpretation. Worse, when people use the term "profile", whether in conversation or in writing, it tends to imply a rather narrow definition — one that carries limitations and constraints which our solution simply doesn't have. In other words, we sometimes discover there are unspoken assumptions about Shift iQ: that it can't be used to manage some of the very things for which it is best-suited. We interact with a wide variety of organizations, including educational institutions, large corporations, and government agencies... and our use of language seems to become more more important every day.
So what did we decide to do with the term "profile" in our own lexicon for skills development planning and management? First we gave a lot of serious consideration to finding a good replacement. Then, when nothing satisfactory presented itself, we made the simplest possible decision: we removed it.

Elements and Compounds: A helpful analogy

Learning activities can be managed in Shift iQ at any level of detail, matching whatever level of sophistication best matches the activities of the organization using it. One organization might require extremely high-fidelity technical competencies in order to comply with regulatory activities. Another organization might require only loosely-defined job descriptions. In both scenarios the fundamentals remain the same.
Consider an analogy. The periodic table of elements identifies atomic elements: indivisible units of matter. We can use elements to create compounds. For example, we can create a very simple compound like salt using two elements: sodium and chloride. We can also take elements from the same periodic table and use them to create a very complex compound: like a grand piano, or a hospital, or a space shuttle.
We take the same approach with learning activities in Shift iQ. A learning activity might be a specific fine-grained technical competency like this:
Able to competently and independently perform the following radiological procedures: adult and paediatric fluoro studies, lumbar puncture, as well as image-guided venous and arterial access.
Or, a learning activity might be a coarse-grained job description:
Able to use radiology equipment including x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, PETs, and CTs to diagnose diseases, injuries, and other disorders in patients.
Or, a learning activity might be something in between:
Phlebotomy Assessment Checklist for Venipuncture
a) Organizes supplies and selects appropriate tubes before going to the patient's bedside[Successfully Completed][Not Completed]
b) Examines appropriate areas for most prominent vein and applies tourniquet tightly[Successfully Completed][Not Completed]
c) Appropriately cleanses puncture site[Successfully Completed][Not Completed]
d) Correctly anchors vein and ensures the needle is bevel side up[Successfully Completed][Not Completed]
As you can see, learning activities can be 'elements' or 'compounds' — or even 'super-compounds' assembled from a combination of elements and other compounds.
Learning activities can (and should) be planned and developed and managed at whatever scope and scale best suits the organization. They can be nested like the layers of an onion, or levelled like the rungs on a ladder, or organized into formal hierarchies like a scientific taxonomy, or networked like the pages on a web site with interconnecting links to define the relationships between them.

Occam's Razor: The simplest solution is often the best solution

It's simple. Learning management begins and ends with a learning activity. Set the expectation and then build the skill to meet that expectation.
With Shift iQ you:
  1. Define a skills development plan in terms of organizational expectations, industry best practices, and/or government regulations
  2. Deliver those expectations to the individuals within your organization (specifically) and within your industry (generally)
  3. Provide the knowledge and the tools people need to follow your plan, building and improving their skills
  4. Track and measure progress made by individuals, teams, departments, organizations, and industries
... all in one place, and within a framework that is simple to understand and flexible to meet the needs of a changing environment. You can imagine the possibilities, of course, with endless scalability and extensibility at your fingertips.

Boxes inside boxes inside boxes...

Can we use Shift iQ to manage occupational profiles? Yes, absolutely. Just remember: an occupational profile is itself nothing more (or less) than another learning activity. Depending on the needs of your organization, this might take the form of a simple 'elemental' learning activity — or it might take the form of a complex 'compound' learning activity assembled from collections of subordinate activities.
In fact, we can use Shift iQ to manage any number of compound learning activities, including competency assessments, learning curriculum milestones, national occupational standards, job positions, career progression ladders, accreditation programs, and formal academic certifications.
Remember that learning activities can be shared, too. This enables teams and departments and organizations and governments to manage sets of common 'shared' expectations (in addition to unique 'private' expectations), with regard to their skills development. After all, learning activities which have been satisfied in one context and in one environment might be equally applicable in others.
So, is Shift iQ still an LMS? The short answer is still Yes... more than ever. In fact, our customers tell us this is true in a way that simply doesn't hold for any other learning management system on the market today.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Augment Your Technical Training Programs with QR Codes

QR codes are everywhere. You can find them on everything from billboards to diesel generators to laundry detergent boxes. Scan a QR code and you get instant information on your mobile device. Increasingly, QR codes are finding their way into the workplace, and there are many opportunities to leverage them for improving your business.
Did you know you can use QR codes to deliver skills development and training programs for using the equipment in your organization?
If you are familiar with Shift iQ, you know we are how particular we can be about the language we use to describe skills development planning and training program activities. Learning requirements (which might include technical competencies, SOPs, training guides, etc.) are attached to occupational profiles (or job descriptions), which drive your training and education programs, and a training program can include any number of learning objects. For example, an equipment-related competency might have many different skills that together define safe and competent use of that specific piece of equipment.

Tying it all together

A QR code might appear on a small stainless steel plate fixed to a piece of equipment in your hospital laboratory. Staff members can scan the code to access training guides, operational information, maintenance history, warranty information, and contact information for the manufacturer.
For example, imagine a cardiovascular ultrasound system in your hospital. A staff member can scan the QR code attached to the equipment to access all of the training information associated with it.
QR Code on Medical Equipment
Shift iQ organizes learning objects into learning requirements that can be incorporated into the equipment information assigned to individual QR codes.
Suppose we have a learning requirement that states, "Demonstrate practical instrumentation and use of ultrasound controls." The training resources needed meet this requirement become available on your mobile device after you scan the QR code. These resources might include technical documentation, video instruction, and a competency assessment or quiz.
After the learning requirement is met by a member of your hospital staff, his or her training records are automatically updated for compliance reporting.
It's that easy.
And it gets even better. Shift iQ can track the time from the QR code scan to a completed competency checklist. If your organization needs a comprehensive log of minutes and hours spent on training and skills development (whether in broad, general terms, or in very narrow, specific areas) Shift iQ can help.

An increasingly common practice

Skills development and training programs can be augmented using QR codes in any setting, ranging from hospital laboratories, to mine sites, to aircraft maintenance facilities, to petroleum facilities and renewable energy operations.
QR codes provide a great anchor to technical training on specialized equipment.
Shift iQ is the software that takes learning management to the next level using simple and accessible technology to revolutionize skills development and training programs.