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Nurturing workplace expertise: companies must analyze critical jobs and understand how to nurture the expertise workers

need to perform those tasks.


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Link to this page WORKPLACE EXPERTISE is the fuel of an organization. Experts are good problem solvers in their field because they have a high level of training, skill, knowledge, and judgment concerning a specialized domain. Successful companies know this, and they learn to develop and foster expertise among employees. Consider the case of one large corporation that set out to increase the expertise of first-line supervisors in its manufacturing plants. The company determined precisely what knowledge plant supervisors needed to have to function as experts. Management then implemented a training and support system to develop and sustain this level of expertise among all supervisors. As a result, the business realized a 900 percent return on investment in two years. This strategy was not an academic approach, nor was the solution a generic off-the-shelf model of good supervision; it was production specific and company-specific. That made all the difference. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] In contrast, a large financial corporation used an expensive off-the-shelf program for ten years to improve management techniques. As an auditor for the results of the program, I could find no evidence that the program had any impact on the corporation. The generalities covered in the program were interesting but did not represent what people were required to know and do to perform well on the job. In other words, the program's generalities did not hone workplace expertise. Ads by GoogleHR Software Systems Global clientele over 300 companies Power your HR productivity process.
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Most organizations are ill equipped to develop and maintain expertise in their work force. Rather than learn to do so, many businesses simply decide to outsource work requiring specific expertise. Sometimes that's appropriate, but much workplace expertise is company-specific, and it is impossible to hire such expertise in the open market. Whether they outsource it or not, many companies fail to document the knowledge and skills that comprise the critical expertise needed to achieve the organization's mission. Without that documentation, when an employee leaves or when the outside expertise is no longer available, companies must start

over. Organizations that want to survive and grow must deal purposefully with the problems of procuring, developing, and maintaining workplace expertise. Managers must also be able to accurately gauge the expertise of employees. Organizations that overestimate the innate capacity of workers can pay a heavy price. In extreme cases, companies have been forced to close clown large scale operations when their work force had neither the expertise nor capacity to meet the demands of new processes. Conversely, underestimating the capacity of the work force can hurt performance. There are three aspects of workplace expertise that managers can document, thereby establishing a path that new workers can follow: the job description, task inventory, and task analysis. Job Description A job description defines the boundaries of a job. Consider the following job title as an example: corporate director of human re sources. Most managers would agree that this is an impressive title, but what does a director of human resources really do? Let's take a look at the job behind this title in one company and compare it with the job be hind the same title in a second company. In Company A, the corporate director of human resources heads the corporatewide human resource department, supervises 15 professionals, and manages a $2 million budget. At Company B, the HR director heads the corporatewide HR department, supervises an administrative assistant, and is responsible for proposing and implementing performance improvement programs with no budget. In two quick sentences, these seemingly similar jobs are shown to be very different. Task Inventory The task inventory will provide a list of the specific tasks a job entails. Managers can determine what these tasks are by conducting surveys or by having employees provide detailed reports of their activities. The most effective method, however, is for the manager to observe an employee's work and then compile the inventory. Task Analysis A task inventory highlights the discernible parts of a job or work process. After developing a task inventory, managers must place each task into one of three categories: procedures, systems, or knowledge. Observing procedural tasks can be relatively simple because these involve step-by-step processes. For example, developing a task inventory for a line worker on a manufacturing floor will consist of listing each step the employee must take to complete the work. Other task inventories can be more difficult to compile, however. Some employees are involved in systems tasks, meaning that they must rely on other employees in different departments to achieve their goals. Developing a task inventory for this type of worker involves interviewing the employee's colleagues and understanding the work of everyone in all of the interrelated groups. Even more difficult are task inventories on employees who perform knowledge tasks. These tasks are often related to management duties. Such employees rely on communications skills or an understanding of human nature that is hard to capture. For example, a knowledge task might be to develop positive working relationships with third parties. Though clearly a critical task, it cannot be directly observed and does not occur over a defined period of time. Despite the difficulty, each of these tasks should be formally documented in a standardized format. The results should be arranged in a matrix or chart that clearly identifies each applicable tool and lists each item from the task inventory and how it is used by the employee. The final documents, and many of the in-process documents, should be computerized, because they will

need to be revised. They can also be used as a basis for quality improvement efforts, training materials, and various forms of certification. For the documentation of expertise to be fully implemented, it should be readily available to as many people in the organization as possible. By following this process of documenting job descriptions, task inventories, and task analyses, every company can put itself on the path to developing and maintaining in-house expertise. Richard A. Swanson is the distinguished research professor of human resource development and the Sam Lindsey chair at the University of Texas at Tyler. This article is excerpted from his book Analysis for Improving Performance published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers of San Francisco. To order the book call 800/929-2929 or visit www.bkconnection.com. ILLUSTRATION BY RALPH BUTLER
COPYRIGHT 2007 American Society for Industrial Security No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder. Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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The Importance of Workplace Environment


An employees workplace environment is a key determinant of their level of productivity. How well the workplace engages an employee impacts their level of motivation to perform. This then influences that employees:

error rate level of innovation collaboration with other employees absenteeism

and, ultimately, how long they stay in the job. (See the results of research by Towers Perrin, BlessingWhite and Gallup Consulting.) The most important of these workplace environment factors that either lead to engagement or disengagement are shown in the following diagram. A close consideration of each of these factors is also very useful in ensuring that employees apply the skills they learn during training programs once they return to their workplace. Tending to the structural and interpersonal aspects of each of these factors enables employees to apply the required skills in a consistent and habitual way.

Figure 1 Workplace factors affecting employee performance

Workplace Performance Factors


What does each of these factors mean? The following is a brief introduction.

Goal-setting
Employees are involved in setting meaningful goals and performance measures for their work. This can be done informally between the employee and their immediate supervisor or as part of an organizations formal performance management process. The key here is that each employee is actively engaged in the goal-setting process and takes ownership of the final agreed goals and measures.

Performance feedback
Information on how the employee is performing is fed back regularly to employees. This consists of both positive feedback on what the employee is doing right as well as feedback on what requires improvement. The feedback is objective and delivered with the appropriate interpersonal and conflict resolution skills and can be a mix of both informal feedback and feedback delivered as part of a formal performance management cycle.

Role congruity
The role that the employee is required to perform is consistent with their expectations on joining the organization and any subsequent training. The organizations role expectations are typically reflected in formal documents, such as Job Descriptions and Role Specifications. These expectations are consistent with tasks allocated by the employees immediate supervisor.

Defined processes
The organization constrains the variability of how work is actually performed through documenting processes and communicating such expectations to employees. The organization verifies on a

regular or random basis that the work is actually performed in the way required.

Workplace incentives
The organization has determined what motivates its employees and has set up formal and informal structures for rewarding employees that behave in the way required. Rewards may consist of a mix of internal rewards, such as challenging assignments, and external rewards, such as higher compensation and peer recognition.

Supervisor support
Immediate supervisors act as advocates for employees, gathering and distributing the resources needed by employees in order for them to be able to do a good job and providing positive encouragement for a job well done. Supervisors display the interpersonal skills required to engage employees and enhance their self-confidence.

Mentoring/coaching
Skilled and respected people are available to employees to help them perform better in their current role and to assist them develop further into a future role. Mentors and coaches may be internal to an organization or external. Either way, they possess the necessary facilitation skills to assist employees develop and apply new sills.

Opportunity to apply
Time and material resources are available to employees, enabling them to perform to the best of their ability. Individual workloads and organizational systems and processes do not hinder employees from applying established skills or from practicing newly learned skills.

Job aids
The work environment is set up so that templates, guides, models, checklists and other such workplace aids are readily available to help minimize error rates and customer dissatisfaction.

Paying close attention to the above workplace environment factors will heighten employee motivation to apply their skills and hence improve your workplace productivity. To find out more about increasing the effectiveness of your training programs using these factors, check out our eBook From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance. << Click here to download today. The above factors are also important for getting the most out of your organizational change programs. For help in translating change initiatives into real organizational performance gains, check out our eBook Managing Change in the Workplace. << Click here to find out more.

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