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What You Know

Sow the seeds of ISO 9001:2000 success
with competency-based training.

________________
by Craig Cochran

 

Training requirements are about to change dramatically for most organizations registered to ISO 9001. The change will be for the better, but it won't come without some planning and effort. ISO 9001:2000 now mandates that training be based on competency needs. This requirement goes far beyond that of the 1994 standard, which stated only that training must be established. Training needs were often broad-brushed across entire departments or facilities and were seldom based on anything remotely resembling the true competency needed to perform a task or function. The new approach, training based on competency needs, implies something much more robust.

What is "competence"?

 Competence is defined by ISO 9000:2000 as the "demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills." In other words, it's the condition that enables a person to carry out a task in a manner that meets the required performance standard. ISO 9001:2000 further clarifies the issue by establishing that competence is the practical application of four variables: education, training, skills and experience. The mix of these four variables will obviously differ depending on the type of job being analyzed. A college professor's competency needs are overwhelmingly concentrated around education and training, with relatively less emphasis on tangible skills and experience. A glass blower, on the other hand, probably requires a great many more skills developed through experience. Just as the college professor and glass blower have drastically different competency needs, most employees' competencies span a wide range, depending on the activities being performed.

Who needs training?

 It's the organization's responsibility to determine the necessary competence for all of the personnel performing work that affects quality. ISO 9001:2000 uses the term "personnel performing work affecting quality," but the standard really doesn't specify which functions fall into this group. So who, exactly, are we talking about? Basically, everyone: All functions have the ability to affect quality on some level. The training administrator must make sure to consider the full range of personnel performing work affecting quality, including:

  Top management

  Salaried personnel

  Hourly personnel

  Supervisors and managers

  Temporary employees

  Research and technical personnel

  Recent hires

 

 Many employees can be grouped together based on common roles and job functions; two employees with different job titles won't necessarily have different competency requirements. The converse is also true: Personnel working in the same area, doing ostensibly the same job, may actually have differing competency requirements. The bottom line is that organizations need to break down existing paradigms regarding the way work is performed and who performs it. It's helpful to think about the organization as a series of processes rather than as a collection of departments. The determination of competency requirements is often an eye-opening exercise when performed in a thoughtful manner.

 To be fully effective and useful, competency requirements should be:

  Realistic. Competency requirements must reflect the true needs of the activity being performed. Venerable job descriptions, although dog-eared and handed down through the years, may not provide any guidance whatsoever. Go out and watch the jobs being performed and then talk to the people performing the jobs and to their supervisors. If practical, get input from the customer (internal or external) who receives the job's output. Be careful not to overstate competency needs; make sure that a job really requires a college degree and two years of experience before designating these as competency needs.

  Demonstrable . The person performing the activity must be able to demonstrate the competencies, particularly as they relate to skills. This means that the training administrator must be specific and descriptive when defining competency. "Excellent communication skills" is very vague. Take this statement and deconstruct it into its demonstrable elements: "ability to prepare written reports using computer word processing programs; ability to prepare and deliver formal presentations to top management using audio/visual tools." With clearly demonstrable competency needs established, it's much easier to identify gaps.

  Forward-looking. The organization should consider future needs, as far as they can be predicted, as well as present needs. This is where training and strategy begin to intersect. Of course, if strategy hasn't been communicated throughout the organization, this intersection will not be possible. (See "Using Quality Objectives to Drive Strategic Performance Improvement" in the November 2000 issue of Quality Digest.) Keep in mind that the forward-looking view of competence must still be based in reality. Competency needs probably can't be projected more than a year into the future and still remain realistic.

  Documented . ISO 9001:2000 does not specifically require that competency needs be documented, but common sense does. Without documentation of some sort, how will the organization ensure consistent application and communication of competencies? Document control would most certainly apply to documented competency needs.

 Once competency needs have been determined for the full range of personnel performing work affecting quality, the organization must compare individuals to the competency needs for their functions and identify where gaps exist. Training and other actions are then applied where they're actually needed, based on the gaps in competency. This approach can result in significant cost savings because it eliminates unnecessary training. The approach also sends a valuable signal to employees that the management understands the needs of a given job or function and is willing to ensure that employees possess the requisite education, training, skills and experience to succeed in their roles.

 

Fill those gaps

 The ISO 9001:2000 standard requires that the organization "provide training or take other actions to satisfy these [competency] needs." A wide range of actions can satisfy gaps in competency, and the action taken may actually be a combination of individual actions to constitute training. Examples include:

  On-the-job training

  Classroom training

  Self study (traditional, audio, video and Internet-based)

  Degree and certificate programs through colleges and universities

  Coaching and counseling

  Opportunities to attend seminars and conferences

  Apprenticeship programs

  Assignment of mentors or role models

  Transferring to other jobs in order to gain experience

 

 Obviously, the training should be applied in as timely a manner as possible after the competency gaps have been identified. Allowing a significant amount of time to pass will only diminish the relevance of actions. Keep in mind that training is a complex undertaking and should not be implemented randomly. Just like everything else in the management

system, training must be carefully planned. Even on-the-job training must be planned and carried out in a controlled manner. In fact, due to the wide range of variables that interact in the job environment, on-the-job training usually requires even more planning. The planning will specify time frames, expectations and measures.

 Once the planning has been carried out, the details should be communicated to the person slated to receive the training. Proactive communication will provide answers to employees' questions related to training, including:

  How long will the training take?

  Should I do anything prior to the training to prepare?

  Exactly where is the training, and how do I get there?

  What are the start and stop times?

  Will breaks and meals be provided?

  Are overnight accommodations necessary? If so, how do I make arrangements?

  What sorts of materials or tools will I need to bring, if any?

  In the event of emergency, how can someone reach me?

  Are there multiple phases to the training and, if so, what are they?

  Will there be a test or examination? (If the answer is yes, then a whole new range of questions become relevant. Test-taking can be a traumatic experience for many adult learners. Some typical questions include: When will the test take place? How will I prepare for the test? How long will I have to take it? When will I know the results? What happens if I fail?)

  What are the ultimate objectives of the training?

 

 It's vital that the person undergoing the training have a clear understanding of why the training is necessary and how it relates to job competency. If effective communication has taken place, nobody will ever be heard saying, "They sent me to this training, but darned if I know why!" Communication should also portray training as a two-fold opportunity: First, it allows the employees to increase their skills and knowledge and possibly broaden their career options; and second, it provides an avenue for the organization to invest in one of its most important resources and pave the way for its long-term success. If presented and delivered in this way, training becomes the epitome of the win-win relationship. Training should never be portrayed as punitive, unless management is fond of wasting money. Punishment in any form is rarely received willingly.

 ISO 9001:2000 also mandates awareness training on the relevance and importance of an employee's activities and how they contribute to reaching quality objectives. This is more complex than it sounds. Awareness training of this sort, when correctly applied, will have three results: First, employees will have a full understanding of the measurable objectives their departments or functions are trying to achieve; second, employees will understand how their actions--whether packing boxes, driving a forklift or processing contracts--contribute on a day-to-day basis in working toward their area's measurable objectives; and finally, employees will gain "big picture" understanding of the organization and its competitive environment, which is a perspective that is often lacking at all but the highest levels.

Competency-Based
Training System

1. Determine required  competency for each job or function.

  •     Education
  •     Training
  •     Skills
  •     Experience

2. Compare individuals to the competency standard.

3a. Take action to close competency gaps.

3b. Train on relevance and importance of activities.

4. Evaluate the effectiveness of training.

5. Maintain records.

Was it all worth it?

 ISO 9001:2000 mandates that once training has been carried out, the organization must evaluate its effectiveness. This evaluation can take place in a number of forums, but one of the most obvious is the periodic performance review. Most organizations already use performance reviews of some sort. As long as a logical connection can be made between the training and the job performance, the system will work. One caution, however: Make sure to separate the record of performance review from the record of training effectiveness evaluation, as every organization seeking to keep or gain ISO 9001:2000 registration will be required to provide evidence of the evaluation to its third-party auditor. Showing performance review records to outside parties will create ethical (as well as legal) problems, so you're far better off maintaining separate files.

 Other methods can also be used for evaluating training effectiveness, including the inspection of an employee's work or product. For employees who produce a tangible good or deliver a service, this is often a reasonable indicator of whether training has had the desired effect. Many organizations already have existing systems for inspecting their products, and these systems can be channeled into the training program. But this will only work if the product's inspection is traceable back to individual employees.

 Tests and examinations can be used to evaluate the training effectiveness, too. Be aware that many individuals simply don't perform well on formal tests or examinations, regardless of the quality of the instruction and training materials, so this may not be an ideal gauge of effectiveness. Another drawback is that tests are heavy on administration, requiring someone to spend a great deal of time creating the tests, making sure that all learning objectives are addressed, creating answer keys, creating a grading scale, taking time to grade the tests, dealing with test anxiety and disappointment, and so on. Tests and examinations do have the advantage of resulting in a numerical score, which is easy to quantify and track over time.

 Finally, it's possible for trainees to simply rate the effectiveness of the training themselves. This is obviously not the most objective manner of evaluating effectiveness, but ISO 9001:2000 doesn't require that the evaluation be objective. Certain kinds of training, such as attending seminars and conferences, make asking the trainee to rate effectiveness a practical and user-friendly approach.

For the recordů

 Record keeping is the last major issue to consider within the training program. ISO 9001:2000 specifically requires records of four things: education, training, skills and experience. This can be accomplished in a single record or four separate records. The fewer individual records, the better--particularly if the records are kept on paper. Make sure that all four of these variables are reflected on the record or records. Also, keep records of personnel's training on the "relevance and importance of [their] activities." Finally, the record of training effectiveness evaluation--another record that's not specifically required by the standard--is almost certainly required to demonstrate objective evidence of meeting the standard's requirements. Without the presence of a record, it will be virtually impossible to show that effectiveness was evaluated.

 Electronic training records are a huge boon for many organizations. They clearly and quickly show what training has taken place or is due to take place and make gaps in training obvious. Anyone who has been through an ISO 9001 audit of paper training records will understand the pitfalls of that approach. Relational databases and even spreadsheets can be used to maintain training records, and a standard PC is the only hardware required. The long-term costs of administering electronic records are usually less than the costs of administering paper records, as well. If you do decide to take this route, however, make sure to maintain appropriate backup of all electronic files.

What's in it for you?

 The benefits of competence-based training are many: focused training that addresses individual needs, lower overall costs, more effective training, and a better understanding of the jobs and activities being performed within the organization. The additional planning required to implement such a system will easily be offset by the benefits, and the end result will be the improvement of the organization's overall performance through a better-trained and more competent workforce.

About the author

 Craig Cochran is a project manager with Georgia Tech's Center for International Standards & Quality, (800) 859-0968 or www.cisq.gatech.edu . Cochran has a master's in business administration from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor's degree in industrial management from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and he is an RAB-certified QMS lead auditor. Cochran can be reached by e-mail at ccochran@qualitydigest.com .

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