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Should firms pay more attention to employee competency management in onboarding?

Adrian Harvey, CEO - Elephants Don't Forget

The challenges associated with onboarding new recruits look like they are here to stay for the foreseeable future at least. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Productivity, hybrid working and the future of WFH: UK Survey’ reiterates the point that one of the long-term consequences of Covid-19 is the ‘new normal’ of working from home (WFH), with the findings from the survey stating that ’post-covid, British employees want to retain WFH for two days a week’[1].

Combine this challenge with the phased return to office planning for both new and tenured employees, and one thing is for certain: no matter where your workforce is going to be operating, the challenge now (re)issued to HR, Learning & Development (L&D), and Risk & Compliance professionals is to roll out systematic, inclusive, and consistent employee competency programs that subsequently improves in-role capability fast, maintains productivity, and protects their respective firms from unnecessary risk in both a remote and office environment.

Covid-19 has presented numerous challenges for professionals operating in the arena of employee development and wellbeing, especially when it comes to onboarding and training employees in a remote working environment. First impressions count; hence why induction to company culture – via vital office socialisation and peer-to-peer leaning – is often cited by HR professionals as the first meaningful milestone of a successful employee connection.

Yet adoption of company culture by both new recruits and tenured employees is inherently linked to employee competency; knowledge is power after all, and without a robust competency management system in place, it is inevitable that employee satisfaction and business productivity will ultimately suffer.

After all, if your employees are not learning, retaining, and applying the company knowledge that you need them to, how can your business thrive and be protected; especially in a period that now requires a hyper-focused awareness of individual competency levels to compensate for the loss of face-to-face training, socialisation, and governance controls – which are all predominant functions of the office environment.

As remaining furloughed staff begin their migration back into the workplace (or bedroom/kitchen/outhouse for now), organisations also must contend with getting these employees up to speed on new policies, processes, products, and regulatory compliance procedures too. Therefore, if firms do not pay closer attention to competency, it is inevitable that customer service, compliance and brand perception will suffer as result.

So, if you have been contemplating why the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) recently reported that customer satisfaction levels are at their lowest level since July 2015, or if you have been struggling with falling KPIs, first call resolution, and declining CSAT levels, it might well be time to review your approach to effective competency management.

The average competency level amongst tenured employees is just 54%, which effectively means that employees only really know half of what they need to in order to perform their roles effectively.

Adrian Harvey, CEO of Elephants Don’t Forget, said: “Our pre-Covid-19 study aimed to provide the organisations and thousands of employees we support with an overall baseline average of employee knowledge. We analysed over 74 million individual employee interactions from some of the world’s best-known brands operating across several business sectors.

If the average level of employee competency was just 54% pre-pandemic, when employees were predominantly working in an office environment – where training can be delivered in a peer-to-peer setting and policy and conduct can be monitored – in a work from home environment, this will have a serious detrimental impact on competency levels and instances of increased risk taking.”

In a recent research paperc ompiled by Harvey, the subject of remote working – which has polarised approaches to managing concerns raised around whether employees could remain productive and engaged from their own homes –  asserted that employees deprived of a WFO environment will be less inclined to complete self-selection training, become less competent in their roles, make more errors, and pose more of a risk to organisations.

From a positive point of view, the survey concluded that 92% of companies were now including a greater amount of digital content and virtual support in their strategies, with 84% stating that they are now offering an online knowledge store (LMS) that employees can access.

Worryingly, 65% of companies reported that the volume of their self-selection training materials had remained the same or has decreased during the pandemic, with just 3% of companies noting that they had seen a large uptake in employees engaging in self-selection training materials online.

68% said that their primary concern was that employee learning would suffer because of a lack of peer-to-peer contact.

Harvey added: “In other words, over half of the L&D professionals we surveyed noted that removing peer-to peer learning through office socialisation will have a detrimental impact on new and – over time – tenured employees. Our study illustrates that lack of peer-to-peer learning, coupled with an expectation for employees to self-elect to training, is a major concern. There is a danger that employees will be less competent, but they are also far less likely to operate within the documented and trained processes, leading to falling KPIs, levels of customer satisfaction, compliance standards and – ultimately – brand damage.”

From new research untaken by the organisation, it would also seem that heavily regulated sectors are also suffering from finding effective ways to implement consistent and evidential approaches to supporting the competency and development of their workforce too.

In a recent Training & Competence (T&C) webinar hosted by the company, 40% of compliance and risk practitioners polled from financial services firms stated that they had not changed their approach to T&C throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a secondary poll, responses from the participants established that 66% of firms were ‘not confident at all’, ‘slightly confident’ or only ‘somewhat confident’ that their Senior Managers could demonstrate a consistent approach and application to T&C, with just 10% of participants stating that they were ‘completely confident’.

Ranging from recruitment to record keeping, the top three primary issues for compliance and risk practitioners were collectively recorded as: ‘Attaining Competence’ (Induction, training timelines, how will employees attain competence and what happens if they do not), ‘Maintaining Competence’ (CPD, ongoing assessment, absence, and failure to maintain wider market, policy, process, and consumer considerations), and ‘Supervision’ (Evidence-based assessment of competence and compliance adherence).

Harvey concluded: “The recent feedback from our webinar polls and additional studies stress that attaining, maintaining, and evidencing employee competence is a commonality that a lot of businesses share in relation to both new and tenured employees.

Using a heavily regulated sector like financial services for example illustrates that, for all organisations, effective competency management is more business critical than ever. This means taking an objective look at the ecosystem of learning, development, and competency management models you deploy at the onboarding stage and beyond. It is imperative to stress test whether it is continually robust enough to evidence individual baseline knowledge, identify knowledge gaps, continually repair them, and improve the capability of your employees continually.”

The debate around the benefits of employees WFH or WFO is inconsequential. If necessary leaning functions, such as office socialisation, are missing, or if employees are simply not engaging with the training you are providing, it is essential that businesses look towards implementing effective solutions to help them compensate.

Hoping that competency does not slip or is not an issue is a sub-optimal strategy, especially if governance is reliant on it. Empowering employee development through competency management should be the first step towards effective, inclusive and supportive onboarding.”

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