Confident competence

The model of train and tick to meet targets and compliance is no longer acceptable, Owen Ashby says

In any typical organisation, as much as 30 per cent of the workforce misunderstands some part of their job or function to the extent that it poses a serious risk to their organisation.

Surprisingly, this figure can be applied equally to organisations that invest significantly in training, learning and development, knowledge management, talent acquisition strategies, values based recruitment, quality processes, handbooks and procedures, to those who don’t.

It might be that organisations have lost sight of the real objective and instead count the actions, investments and activities designed to meet it rather than whether they have achieved the objective itself.

They assume, perhaps, that these initiatives are evidence in their own right that their people will understand their roles and that they will behave appropriately.

However, experience would tend to suggest that it doesn’t – by a long way.

If it was simply a factor of the level of investment in training and development then you would expect that some of the largest, most complex and well-known organisations in the world would have few problems. Their people would follow processes, perform consistently to high standards and certainly not act or behave inappropriately.

Yet, almost every single day, we hear news about organisations where there have been serious errors and oversights, malpractice and misunderstandings, and these incidences occur in every industry sector. 

One of the things that companies seem to have forgotten is the key objective should be to achieve and maintain confident competence, not to train as many people as possible or to invest as much as you can in workforce development. Being confidently competent is something you can measure and evidence. How many training courses someone attended, how much the company has invested in L&D, a new LMS or in workforce development, is largely irrelevant.

It’s easy to fall into the trap though. Most organisations organise themselves in  a way that means individual departments are measured on volume of activity (the number of people attending training or the number of e-learning courses delivered) and project completion rather than achieving the collective objective of developing and maintaining demonstrable competence. And who owns that responsibility?

The traditional approach of train and test doesn’t help much either. In fact, while it might meet an individual productivity KPI, it provides an entirely false sense of security about whether the individual is really competent and will act and behave accordingly when called on to do so. Typical post training tests only serve to evidence that people can recall facts. They do nothing to indicate whether someone actually understands how and when to apply their knowledge or that they are likely to do so, with confidence in any given circumstance. 

Assuming that a record of attending training is the same as evidence that someone is currently competent is an all too common mistake and can pose a serious risk to the organisation.

Perhaps the most tangible example is the NHS in the UK.

When an organisation like the NHS spends £100K a minute on training (take your time and read that again) and has no way of measuring the effectiveness of that investment, it begs the question whether or not it’s time to stop and re-think traditional approaches to achieving and maintaining confident competence amongst our workforces.

The NHS is not alone of course, this model of train and tick (to meet targets and compliance) has become dominant over recent years across many different sectors. But it is clearly not working and it is no longer acceptable.

Regularly bodies are now seeking evidence of both capability and confidence.  

One example of how the tide is turning is in the care sector. In April, The Care Act will be introduced which will demand far greater levels of information and transparency over standards of care.

Angela Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care for the Care Quality Commission, was recently interviewed[i] about the new Care Act 2015 and discussed the need for care home managers to be able to both identify and evidence levels of capability and confidence in their staff.

Her views were echoed by Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England and independent dementia champion recently said: “With Increasing transparency needed in the care sector, it is really important that care providers are able to show evidence to both regulators and also residents and their families that they are delivering a high quality and bespoke, personalised care service.”

Care Home managers need to adopt a fresh approach. They will need to go beyond a record of training, they will now need to evidence people’s current level of competence and confidence in order to mitigate risk to service users or residents as well as avoiding operational and reputational damage to the organisation.

The time to stop and re-think what we’re really trying to achieve, is now.




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