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What can organisations learn from their Covid-19 competency management?

Adrian Harvey, CEO, Elephants Don't Forget

The announcement from the UK Government that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until September 2021 will have helped to the alleviate the financial strain and anxiety caused by the pandemic for many furloughed employees and their respective firms. However, now comes the challenge of planning to re-onboard employees that have lost mission-critical in-role knowledge. So, what can professionals learn from their existing Covid-19 competency management processes?

Professionals operating in the arena of HR, Learning & Development (L&D), and Risk and Compliance have played a crucial role in mobilising and supporting the wellbeing of their furloughed and working colleagues during the pandemic – especially when it comes to migrating a workforce to remote working.

However, with hybrid working becoming increasing desirable (The World Economic Forum’s ‘Productivity, hybrid working and the future of WFH: UK Survey’ notes that ’post-covid, British employees want to retain WFH for two days a week’[1]) combined with the challenges of organising phased return-to-office plans for both new and tenured employees, one thing is for certain: no matter where your workforce is going to be operating from, organisations will need to focus on implementing systematic, inclusive, and consistent employee competency management programs that subsequently improves in-role capability fast whilst bolstering protection from unnecessary risk.

What can professionals learn from their efforts during the pandemic so far, and what could this mean for a returning workforce?

At the end of 2020, a survey* of over 2,000 L&D professionals with the objective of understanding the primary achievements and issues they faced whilst working remotely through the pandemic.

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 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.

Adrian Harvey, CEO of Elephants Don’t Forget, said: Over half of the L&D professionals we surveyed stated that the removal of peer-to peer learning through office socialisation could ultimately have a detrimental impact on tenured employees and competency levels. Our study illustrates that lack of peer-to-peer learning, coupled with an expectation for employees to self-elect to training, has been a concern during the pandemic.

There is a danger that employees will be less competent as a result, but they are also far less likely to operate within the documented and trained processes, potentially leading to falling KPIs, decreasing customer satisfaction levels, and possible brand-damaging compliance issues.

If the sentiment of our survey study can be seen as an indicator of what has happened within some organisations in terms of their Covid-19 and work from home (WFH) competency management process – with employees not necessarily being supported or engaging with new learning materials online – there is a contentious argument posed that default learning models may have simply been ‘lifted and shifted’ online in the hope that employee competency, KPIs and productivity would remain the same as in an work from office (WFO) setting.

If organisations are going to support returning employees more effectively in terms of getting them up to speed with new processes, policies, and governance obligations, they may need to focus on individualised learning solutions to help them benchmark and evidence individual competency levels to repair the knowledge fade and extensive competency gaps caused by furlough.”

Alarmingly, it would also seem that heavily regulated sectors are experiencing difficulties implementing consistent and evidential approaches to supporting the competency and conduct monitoring of their respective employees too.

40% of compliance and risk professionals polled stated that they had not changed their approach to T&C throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

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: “It is also relevant to note that we conducted a three-year, pre-Covid-19 study, analysing over 74 million employee competency interactions from some of the world’s best-known brands.

Analysis of the data indicated that the average level of tenured employee competency was 54%. This indicates that, on average, most employees only knew half of what they needed to even before Covid-19 landed.

The pandemic has thrown a lot of challenges at businesses, which – for the most part – we have all adapted and coped with. However, there is an underlying issue highlighted by our studies that employee competency and development has been neglected over the last 12 months. There has been a collective sense that firms, employees, and consumers are ‘all in this together’, but exacting consumer expectations are more prevalent than ever, and Covid-19 can no longer be used as an excuse for poor service.

With a returning workforce to accommodate, businesses are a critical juncture with juggling the challenges of maintaining and monitoring employee competency and governance; especially if hybrid working does indeed become one of the lasting legacies of the pandemic.

At the end of the day, your business is only as good as your people, and the way you support, train and develop their in-role capability needs to be a primary focus right now or there are likely to be brand damaging consequences as a direct result.”

[1] Source: World Economic Forum, ‘Productivity, hybrid working and the future of WFH: UK Survey, available  here:

*survey from Elephants Don’t Forget

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