Use this process to gauge the competencies of your new team

If you're a new manager for an existing staff, it's sometimes difficult to assign roles or compile training schedules because you don't know your team members yet. Here are some tips for tracking skills and competencies.

A TechRepublic member recently posted a question in our discussion area. We asked Bruce R. Hammond, Ph.D., an executive consultant with AchieveGlobal, to answer the question.

Member question
I recently took over an IT department with a staff complement of 13 people. However, I don't quite know the level of competency of the staff members in order to suitably assign each person a role and compile a training schedule for each person. Is there some kind of skills and competency test template that I could use?

Dr. Hammond's response
You are correct to recognize that one of the first things any new manager should do is assess staff competencies (skills, knowledge, traits). This serves two purposes: to create a department competency baseline and to develop the staff. The following is a basic process you can use to sort out this competency issue.

Create the ideal competency model
First, create an ideal competency profile for your department. A competency model is what it takes to perform a job. Start with the general outcomes you want the staff to produce and then back into the competencies. For example, if you want your IT staff to be readily available to solve the complex problems of end users, they should be customer-focused and able to multitask and solve complicated problems. This is your competency model.

Create and use a behavioral checklist
Next, create a simple behavioral checklist and observe the staff for a week or two. This will give you a good idea of how well they track with the departmentwide competency model. Perform your observations before interviewing anyone so you can get a clear, unbiased look at their performance. Figure A shows a sample checklist.
Figure A
Totally disagree
Totally agree

Customer focus

1. This individual demonstrates a willingness to help customers.�
2. This person takes sufficient time to help customers.�
3. This staff member provides friendly, courteous customer service.
1. This person successfully handled several assignments at the same time�
2. This individual is available to help customers when needed.
Problem solving�
1. This staff member is able to resolve complex customer problems
2. This person proactively solves customer problems.

Interview supervisor(s)
The third step is to interview a supervisor or lead technician to discuss the performance of the staff in terms of the established competency model. This allows you to take advantage of the supervisor's knowledge and experience to add to the department competency baseline.

Interview remaining staff
Interview the remaining staff members, using the behavioral checklist as a starting point and then discussing other aspects of performance as they surface. The outcome you're seeking is to gain a deeper understanding of staff performance strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Create development plans
Now you're ready to create departmental development plans as well as individual staff development plans. For example, after observing everyone, you may have realized that, as a group, the staff is rude to end users. As a result, you might have decided that the entire staff needs customer service training. At the same time, you might have identified individual needs related to upgrading technical skills and created individual staff development plans as well.

Perform six-month follow up
The final step is following up after six months to observe what has changed. By repeating the entire process, you can compare current performance to your original baseline.

Keep your competency assessment as simple as possible. For instance, creating the behavioral observation checklist only takes a few minutes, but is important for consistency and comparison purposes. It can also be used as the basis for an interview checklist.

The process outlined here may seem a bit involved for a small department, but it's well worth the effort. The important thing is to assess staff competencies systematically so that baselining and development plans are credible and useful and based on more than informal and subjective opinions.

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