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Your team is responsible for the training of 1,200 people in the commercial division of the U.S. operation of a Fortune 500 company. You’ve been asked to define the return on investment of existing training programs and to propose new programs. How do you do this when there are no clearly defined measures of success? In short, you don’t. You push pause on the great ideas for new training initiatives. Then, you take the time to engage the business in defining the expected functional competencies and levels of proficiency for key role. That way, you can begin to measure the gaps in the current workforce and target learning and development on those areas of greatest need and impact on business results. Before you design more training, you define what you are training to and turn to Vivayic for help in creating that definition.

The number of needs was extensive. The newly installed manager of the company’s learning and development team knew he had an abundance of opportunities to revitalize the team’s standing within the company. Requests and ideas started immediately. But one issue in our conversations with this manager came up over and over again, How does a company justify more training efforts when it’s not clear what’s needed, what works and what the business needs in the future? We know from past experience that clearly defined outcomes are key for any learning solution. In this case, the challenge was a lack of clarity and consistency in what knowledge and skills, as well as performance levels, were expected of the company’s employees for three key roles in the commercial organization. Further, this manager’s team supports multiple brands, each with a unique brand promise to their customers. We suspected that sales representatives for different brands would require different levels of proficiency in key competencies. We knew the process had to engage leadership and in-field top performers in order to be valid and authentic. And, we knew that the end deliverable had to have very high degrees of clarity and utility in the field or it would linger “on the shelf” as another corporate initiative.

We took the basis of a competency modeling process and modified it to produce multiple levels of proficiency and specific indicators for each level. These levels of proficiency could be used to create different levels of expectations depending on which brand the employee supported. This custom process took the company’s corporate culture into account. The process was designed to ensure buy-in from key leaders and input from important subject matter experts. We knew the process had to allow for the results to be part descriptive (What were the expectations for performance currently?) and aspirational (How will those expectations change based on foreseeable changes in technology, business strategy and customer demographics?). The outcome was a process with key activities, but flexible enough to respond to changes and discoveries along the way.

Initially, our client was skeptical that such an effort—one involving so many people across teams—would be widely accepted, but the results have spoken for themselves. The final product—competency rubrics for three key roles—are being used to create a baseline assessment of workforce competency. The rubrics are also being used to inventory all available training programs so that gaps and redundancies can be addressed. And, the development process spurred ideas for how the outcome could be used to drive other talent management efforts such as coaching, performance management and career pathing. This solution received so much interest from others within the company’s organization, that we modified the process for another division of the company. Apparently, it just makes sense to have a clear definition of the target before investing in the resources to get there. Go figure.