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Raising the Bar on Workforce Development

Top performing organizations share one outstanding characteristic: they prioritize and support employee development. Whether executives, managers, skilled or unskilled workers, these organizations understand that employee development is key to their ongoing success.

Since the 1940s when the United States military initiated research-based training practices, human resource and training professionals have focused on hard skills. Soft skills received slight recognition or value. A common theme at corporate HR was: "We can't train soft skills. And furthermore, soft skills are unimportant compared to hard technical skills. We expect our employees to have these (soft skills) when we hire them."

From research out of Harvard University and other premier institutions, we now understand that those soft skills such as communication, trust and initiative are by far the critical success elements for all job categories. In fact, Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman suggests that the emotional intelligences account for 85% of job performance with technical/functional expertise accounting for the remaining 15%.

Competencies are a combination of skills (yes, hard skills) and personal characteristics (emotional intelligences) that are required to perform a job or class of jobs. Precisely identified through various diagnostic methods (for example: behavioral event interviews, focus groups), the job competencies are modeled and then used to anchor assessment, hiring, training, and development practices. The competency model becomes a blueprint for hiring, training, developing, and succession planning.

Once the competency model is constructed, employee competencies are assessed, typically using a 360° (multi-rater assessment) instrument: six to eight employees who are familiar with the performance of the individual being assessed rate each competency using a Likert scale format. These competency ratings yield information that enables training and development to more precisely target the needs of individual employee like never before.

The results of the 360° assessment are delivered to both the manager and employee, who together create an individual development plan.

An organization's development menu — trainings, coaching, readings, mentoring, videos etc — must be directly linked with the competencies. For example, there must be a specific developmental options for an employee with a low rating on initiative. At the onset of an organizational competency project, some organizations send all employees of a certain job classification (such as managers) to a series of competency-based trainings.

Competency-driven systems improve employee performance and result in increased productivity, retention, job satisfaction — resulting in greater bottom line success for the company. These systems are raising the bar for workforce and leadership development around the world.