Are You Building Competencies (or just doing training)?

It’s a common mistake made every day by managers who seek to develop the skills of their team and mitigate performance issues. Got a skills gap? Training. Got a development need? More training. Got a performance issue? Training . . . training . . . and still more training. Training is defaulted as the solution to every problem with little thought given to whether it’s the right solution to the problem or the right fit for the current development need.

This may seem rather odd coming from someone who is part of a training and development company. But as an Organization Effectiveness practitioner, I’m really not saying anything new. Nor am I suggesting that training is not within the purview of a solution. But when it is part of the solution, it is always only the beginning of the development process, never the end game. Training is not development, and the sooner we come to terms with that the sooner we will rid ourselves of the false expectations and attendant frustration we create when we rely too heavily on a training class to enhance competencies or cure performance woes.

Training has a seat at the table, but it is not the head seat. That belongs to outcomes. When clients approach me requesting training for their group my first response back to them is, What are you hoping this training will fix? What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals? What are your desired outcomes? What things need to change? What needs to look different at the end of it? My goal is always to get the client to think about future-state outcomes. Training may be the road to those outcomes, or it may be something else–or (more typically) a combination of things of which training is merely one component. The point is, to be successful at development we need to think in terms of outcomes rather than in terms of how much training we want to buy.

This has no better application of this principle than in the area of competency building. Let me restate for the record that training is not development, and no training class can build a competency. A competency is a combination of SKAs, or Skills, Knowledge and Abilities. A training class can impart rote knowledge, a change in thinking, and a call to commitment to do something different or improve a current practice. It can even build some initial rudimentary skills around that knowledge, and provide tools for applying it to a post-training environment.

But ability comes only when skills are consistently applied and developed in a real-world setting. All too often there is an initial spike in performance following a training session as the graduate begins to try out the new skills he’s learned. But then real-life takes over–the demands of the job, emerging issues, upcoming deadlines, general stress, etc.–and the graduate puts the new skills on the shelf and reverts back to the old familiar way of doing things. Once the crunch time is over, the initial “buzz” of the training has faded and is no longer strong enough to sustain further development.

That’s why training should be viewed only as the initiation toward a competency. It needs to be followed (in a timely way) by a systematic development program that includes a competency model (the desired outcome), on-the-job training, performance observations and coaching, and some form of performance test that validates the SKAs of the graduate against the competency model.

Hopefully this helps to explain why our goal at SCInc. is performance and outcomes, why all of our programs and certifications are performance-based, and why we do not approve of or recommend organizations that offer stand-alone “training” classes without a built-in competency-based development process. Such a “product” is simply a directionless transactional commodity that has no place in the world of learning and development.


Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is principal and lead consultant of SCInc., a learning and development consulting company. Eric has over 20 years experience in creating and executing results-oriented, outcomes-based learning and development initiatives aligned to corporate goals. He specializes in leadership development and coaching, and leading organizational culture-change initiatives around customer support and safety leadership.  Eric was personally involved in the development of certification standards, performance standards, exam validation, competency models and training for the customer-support and technical-support industry, and was instrumental in the creation of the only performance-based certification in that industry.

Leave a Reply

Error, no group ID set! Check your syntax!