Competency Management

One of my colleagues, Hemant Sathe has started his new blog through which he plans to share his experiences in technology and project management. Now Hemant and I have worked very closely in the recent past and so I am quite familiar with the topic of his latest post, Thoughts on building technical competency. This is an area where we have focused a lot in the last year or so. Let me run you through how we run the Competency Management program for our group. As Hemant has put out, we look at Competency development as a multi-step process. The step 1 is what we termed the Gap Analysis. Quoting Hemant on the same:

In the first step, we collected data about our existing competencies. The way to do that was to identify three top most relevant competencies of each of our team members. This also included the project leads and middle management. The focus was on "relevant skills". This meant that if someone had worked extensively on a particular technology some 2-3 years back we may not consider it in top 3. We rated the skills on a level of E1 to E4. Then we also mapped the target levels of each of these competencies in the current project or quarter or half year. Although we collected data from the teams, it was validated by the leads to reflect the usable level of the skills.

Once we did this analysis, we started analyzing the data and listing the E3 onwards level employees. These were called as the champions of the skill area. This list is useful in few key business areas; recruitment, training, responding to proposals, estimation, solving problems of projects, knowledge management.

Along with identifying the champions, we also identified the laggards who are bringing down the whole competency level average for the group. We then looked at their past year's performance assessments and decided relevant competency levels they need to attain to stay in the group.

The next step in the process is Competency Upgrades. Now, this is the area where we did a lot and lot remains to be done. Some of the things we did right included,

  • Generating Quarterly training needs - This was done in liaison with Learning and Development (L&D) group. What it meant was coming up with the group needs based on the different competency levels and how we wanted to move people across these. Start of the quarter, you hand over the training needs for the entire group to the L&D team and work with them to schedule/conduct the training's. This helped L&D team to plan for the training in a better way and avoid ad-hoc requests which generally had very less lead time to close.
  • Strong Induction Programs - As a part of Induction we included few checkpoints. We interviewed and took test of all Trainees who joined the group. Since most of the desired competencies in our group required strong OOPS, Data Structures background, we made sure that we get people who are from Computer Science and IT education backgrounds. The Induction was also streamlined and we are now having almost 30 person days of Induction training. During this induction we have started assigning mentors to the new joinees so that they have somebody to talk to understand the work our group is involved with. Generally these mentors are from project groups where these new people will join. For experienced people, the induction is of lesser time as we recruit by identifying the competencies that we want in the new joining person(s). In this case also we have a strict Interview process which is championed by the E3+ level employees as Hemant mentioned in his post.
  • Certifications Tracking - This is another area we encouraged our employees in and are tracking this closely. There is a schedule which allows us to find out who is undergoing which certification in the next quarter. Some cool corporate initiatives like free certification drives and exam fee reimbursements helped our employees to go for the same without any fear of failures.
  • Knowledge Sharing Sessions - As Hemant points out,

    Our main focus last year was on conduction knowledge sharing sessions (KSS). For these KSS we had different types. These were,
    - Formal training/ presentation on a technology area
    - Workshops for areas like design
    Hands on sessions
    - Project showcase to demonstrate the in-house skills and build a sense of pride

    KSS went well for some time and then it started fizzling out for various reasons (including busy schedules, laggards outweighing front-runners, lesser incentives for the Knowledge sharers etc) but we are determined to make it happen. The importance of KSS is enormous and apart from what Hemant described, we want to do well because KSS sessions are a great step forward to improve Employee communication and presentation skills. This is so important in today's world with such great focus on outsourcing and working globally. 

The next steps will include the following:

  • Competency Assessment - We are assessing the employees by their performance in various projects, customer satisfaction surveys and various feedback mechanisms (peer and manager, half-yearly and yearly assessments etc). Also, we are planning to assess the competencies by engaging employees in different role plays working individually and in groups.
  • Incentivizing the whole thing. Some people will do all this because they will realize this as important to their career progression but not all fingers are equal, right :) We need to come up with different mechanisms to incentivize the ones who are the front-runners so that others also follow their lead.
  • Another thing we are doing is linking various sub group level competencies with the strategic focus of the group. Say for example, we expect to do business in forthcoming .NET 3.0 technologies like WPF, SilverLight, WCF etc while we currently are doing a lot of work in .NET 2.0 space. So in this case, we align each sub-group to the strategic intent of the complete group. What this will mean is that the chosen sub-groups will participate in the new training programs that we conduct.

Are we doing the right things? Are there any laid out processes we need to look at? How are you all managing Competency Development and Management in your orgs?