Thursday, October 28, 2010

Proficiency = Efficiency and Effectiveness

Dad and I worked years on a model airplane (not this one). We had fun doing this but proficiency -- that is speed, flexibility, quality and quantity were not high. As seen here, detailed attention did get us quality... but at a price -- a long time, and much painstaking rework.

As mentioned earlier, proficiency is not well understood. We tend to know it when we see it… and we know lack of proficiency when we see it.

Speed, quantity, quality, and flexibility are the hallmarks of proficiency. These we can measure, so why don’t we? Well… those who know the measures and are capable of doing the measuring are too busy doing the work. They have a personal scorecard in their head and they are constantly working to best their previous best by increasing the challenge. Everyone else is trying to catch up.

If that’s true, then only those who are proficient can actually evaluate proficiency – only a master knows another master. If only masters can define proficiency in their field and their too busy doing the work, how do we know what to train the next generation of masters?

There’s actually as simple tool, the proficiency indicator scale. This is a method for taking any complex task and defining the difference in proficiency based on experience level of the individual.

Try it for yourself. Think of a complex task where you either want to improve your performance. (Start with something you know well – it could be cooking a special dish, submitting a quarterly report, resolving a specific type of technical issue or anything that you are proud that you eventually mastered.)

Level 1: Awareness – describe the moment of awareness an individual realizes and truly internalizes the need to build skill. Educators call this “the teachable moment.” Learners at this level might say:

Level 2: Attempts– list one or two key action that exemplifies someone who is trying to do the work but is still struggling with the basics. Typically these statements will include the fact that the learner chooses the wrong tools, uses tools incorrectly, and has difficulty putting concepts to work.

Level 3: Semi-Independent – after completing a course or working with someone more experienced, we try tackling the work on our own only to find that we missed something key. Perhaps we did not really “get” the connection between basics and actions or perhaps we did not get enough practices to really integrate skills with real work. Regardless, at the semi-independent stage, we still need help, coaching, guidance, and someone to bail us out. We make mistakes and do a lot of rework. Quantity and quality are both low. Speed is still slow. We have a limited number of ways that we can work out problems (i.e., we’re not very flexible).

Notice that most training courses leave us at this level when we exit the course. In order to make our new skills work, we have to go through many days and weeks of working with limited skills. If our coaching and guidance systems are good, we move forward. If not, we stay stuck at this level and may even quit trying the new skills.

Level 4: Independent – at some point, we have done enough rounds of execution that we are comfortable with the skills in our work setting. We have acquired enough experience to need little coaching, redirection or “bailing out.” We know where to find the documentation and how to read it and apply it, but we don’t need it much. We have become independent.

Independent is the level that most employers want for all their employees. Anything beyond this level is gravy. In addition, an employee who attains this level in their specific role but shows specific skills in leadership often moves up to leadership with moving to the next there three (3) levels, which does irritate those who are not chosen for leadership roles and who do continue to hone their professional skills by moving to the next level.

Level 5: Fluent – over time and with much practice, we build add new skills, build speed, improve our quality and start increasing our output quantities. Around now, we become influential in working with others both within our work units and outside of them. We coach those coming up behind us, answer others questions, resolve problems, document work processes. If our particular work pays bonuses or commissions for quantity and quality measures, we are the top earners in our class.

People working at the Fluent level make great subject experts because they not only know what they are doing, how to do it and why they are doing or choosing to do certain steps, but they can explain it in ways that make sense to less experienced people. People at this level may become trainers or may begin making presentations at conferences about their company’s process, tools, or techniques.

Level 6: Natural – eventually, we have done the tasks so many times and in so many different situations that we do this complex work with our own artistic flair. Others say, “…but you’re a natural at this…” However, we probably still see ourselves as learners with much left to learn. We might (privately) note that many of our junior peers struggle with work that we find simple and basic. When others complement us on our work, we have difficulty accepting that complement because we see the flaws and imperfections that they do not see.

Not every makes it to the Natural level for all tasks. Nor is Natural the level that employers desire for all employees.

Note, also, that people at the Natural level are often tagged to be subject experts to develop training. However, they are not good subject experts because they simply jump to the solution for a problem and frequently are unable to explain why or how they chose that solution. Their own inability to explain it and someone else’s inability to understand frustrate them.

Level 7: Novel – Skills in one area blend with skills in other areas to create new and novel approaches, techniques, solutions to problems, innovative ideas and methods. We begin recreating the work tasks, work process, work tools… and, eventually, the field. At this level, we openly share our ideas, methods, and processes not only within our organizations but externally with our field. People at this level are writing the papers and making presentations at conferences.

Strangely, individuals at the Novel level can either become internal resources tightly focused on internal improvements or they become ambassadors for ‘new way’ (based on their improvements). In the ambassador mode, they may be great presenters and trainers.

Now, the question of mastery and proficiency becomes one of degrees of mastery or degrees of proficiency”. Since the advanced levels of proficiency require time and practice, the key performance development (training) question becomes, “what degree of performance and mastery is need and why is that level needed?”

What proficiency are you addressing today?