Analysis Day 2: The Skill Assessment

Posted on

Well, we got over the initial examination, and found a need for training. But what needs to be taught? We may know what the problem is, but that's only a quarter of the battle. Now we need to know what to do about it.

Identify the Skills
The first thing to do is to identify the skills. This starts with understanding what the duties of the employee is, and how the deficiency relates to those duties. Then you need to break that duty down into specific tasks that outline what the employee needs to do in order to fulfill the duty. Then, you break those tasks down even further, identifying each sub task that accomplishes the task. Finally, you can outline the skills and knowledge needed in order to accomplish the sub task. Does this sound like overkill? You bet! It also represents a one-time deal. Once this is done, you never have to do it again (unless the skills change).

The good news is that the outline, or list of duties, should be defined by your Human Resources department in the job description, and maybe some of the tasks. This means the work has been started, and it gets you that much closer to the end. Check with HR to see if those documents are available. If they are not, they should be, and the work you are doing is something that HR can use. Do I hear a potential funding from another department's cost code? Whatever gets the job done, go for it!

The Duty
Duties are general descriptions of what is expected for the learner to get done. In previous postitions I would count a duty as a program that is being used (Open Office, Management Software, etc.), and then build the task list from there. But it can also be a specific realm of performance (Employee Career Development) that represents specific tasks. Keep in mind that every job has a number of duties, and duties are generally not associated with active verbs.

A Quick Word on Documentation
Once you identify the duty, start your document. What?!? Document?!? Yes, you need to document this process, or you are going to get lost in the details, run screaming out of your office/cubicle, and bludgeon a poor defenseless door to death with your Cup of Noodles. Keep yourself on task by documenting everything.

Now documentation is best if it's intuitive to you, and another version of documentation may not work. But here is what has worked for me. I start with a single document that represents the Job. Then I outline the duties within that job, and occasionally some tasks. Throwing that into a folder with the Job title, I then start a new document with the name of the Duty, and number the document. The Duty would be, for instance, I. I then create a task (numbered A), and create a two columned table below it. In the left column, I outline my subtask in the first cell (1), and then in the second cell I outline all the skills and knowledge that is required (i). Once that is complete, I start with the next sub task (ii), and so on.

The Task
Every duty has a list of tasks that need to be completed. These tasks are action words, which upon completion will satisfy the duty. This is where analysis can get hairy, because you need to distinguish between the task and sub-task. How do you do it? Well, keep in mind the hierarchy: sub tasks fulfill an action for Task, and the task fulfills the duty.

Ultimately it's your decision what gets put where. There isn't an Inquisition that will rate your material. Just be sure it's logical to you, and you are fine. The key to this process is modularization of the training, with each task being a module that can be taught as a separate section. This makes it easy when putting things in sequence, and it makes it easy to provide refresher training on sections without going through the whole duty again. This is the strength of the skill assessment, when done to this degree of detail.

The Sub Task
Sub tasks are action verbs that accomplish another action verb. For instance, in order to "Drive a Car", you need to "Use the Ignition". Using the ignition is just one part of driving a car, as is watching the road, using the pedals, etc. What's interesting is that this task doesn't represent a particular skill, like putting the key into the ignition, putting the car into park/neutral, etc, but rather it focuses on the action, which completes the task (driving the car), which satisfies the duty (Delivery). Keep this breakdown, and you should be fine.

The Skill
The skill represents individual expectations that can otherwise not be broken down into smaller skills. For instance, typing on a QWERTY keyboard would be a skill, as opposed to texting from a phone. Putting a key into the ignition as opposed to putting a key into a door lock. These examples represent skills that are needed to complete a task (or in our case, a sub task).

For your breakdown of skills, focus on the needs of the learner, specifically someone that has not done the job before. What would they need to know? For instance, in teaching a class that introduces Mac OS X, you need to start with skills that people may not have, particularly if they have never used a computer before. What does that mean? That means moving the mouse, turning the computer on, changing the background. All these skills are expected when using a Macintosh computer, as with a PC with Windows, or *Nix installed. Focus on the lowest common denominator. Remember that the instructor can always avoid that material if not needed, but may not be able to cover it if it's not included in their curriculum.

Why But Up With the Monotony?!?
This is a really long, time consuming, and flat out boring job. That goes even for anyone that lives for analysis, too. There is only so much the human mind can take before it cracks. Don't take it too seriously. Take some time to multitask by focusing on another aspect of your job, such as organizing your pencils, taking inventory of books, juggling stress balls, whatever you need to do to keep sane. If your boss doesn't think you are working hard enough, show them what you have been doing. Generally they will understand (while being very impressed), and suggest something for you to do that isn't so thought-intensive and analytical.

Just remember that you are doing this for a reason: modular training that can be put on the shelf, prepped by anyone with reasonable understanding of the subject, and then taught within a relative short amount of time. That makes all this work worth it. Also, you can make your HR department very happy if they don't already have this information, which can score you a lot of points come leave time. And finally, the impression this makes overall within the department is huge. Respect will be given, recommendations for raises can come, as well as eventual promotions.

I'm Finally Done! Now What?
Unfortunately, completing this section doesn't complete the analysis portion, at least not yet. There is one more section to cover before we get on to the fun part, Development. Stay Tuned as we talk about Analysis Day 3: The Objectives.