Maximising performance

What now for training and employee performance management, following retrenchment?
By Shirley Barnes

With ongoing volatility in the price of oil and gas and retrenchment in the industry, what can operators do to maximise the performance of staff and therefore the performance of the business, while reducing risk caused by human error?

Or, after the axe has fallen, what next? Productivity rises of several percentage points [sometimes much more] are achievable across industry sectors where improvements in productivity have been implemented and then maintained after year one.

A formal framework that tracks an individual employee’s performance [and, optionally, attitude and behaviour] – and ability to meet objectives and targets – is a starting point, particularly where it highlights where training is required and ensures it supports the employee in meeting those objectives and targets.

The same framework can incorporate a competency framework, which is a specific set of competencies (covering how good staff are at given tasks) that relate to a job and the goals of the business. A competency framework can be used to define the blueprint for the best employee performance a business wants to achieve, and will comprise a number of competencies applicable to job roles. Hand in glove with it must be a clear understanding among staff of what best performance is. That understanding is the benchmark used for assessing, or measuring and analysing, the performance of an individual, team, project, department – or the entire user organisation.

A business that does not specify an expected standard of performance to its employees will be one where judgement by managers may be more subjective than fact-based, possibly leading to reduced, not enhanced, productivity. An industry standard competency framework provides a basis for performance appraisals and the development of staff, by training, mentoring or coaching.

A competency framework can play a pivotal role in disaster prevention, including incidents leading to death, injury, shutdowns and punitive financial actions. If training is to be implemented, should it be delivered as a standalone activity or part of an integrated employee performance and talent management approach that supports a competency framework? The standalone route can be useful for plugging glaringly obvious gaps in skill sets, but, medium to longer term, a full overview of employees’ performance – and training needs – offers the most well-informed and robust route to optimal business performance and ROI.

Even short-term, using paperless ways of measuring and analysing employee performance, a comprehensive picture can be built up of a workforce’s capabilities and whether those capabilities are meeting the requirements of the business or need to be developed. Results also quickly show if staff have the required understanding of what best performance is.

Those ways are either cloud-based or on an organisation’s own server. Whichever the organisation uses, the solution can produce analysis in real-time and pinpoint areas of weakness that require urgent or medium (and perhaps long-term) attention.

If a company uses the integrated route, thereby linking training to objectives and performance and other targets, what does it involve and what is at the heart of it? It should involve annual or more frequent employee performance appraisals, which can be ongoing for a time if the business wants to get the most detailed current picture of the performance of its workforce and see where, or if, performance needs to be improved and training introduced.

Where an organisation has a geographically dispersed workforce it may prefer an ‘always on’ cloud-based (online) system over an approach located on its own servers. Being online, a cloud-based system can be accessed from anywhere in the world via an internet connection, and at any time. Using industry best practice tick box questions, the system should aim to use as little time as possible of the person delegated with the management of it and by the employees answering the questions.

The answers are analysed automatically by the system to give the manager an instant snapshot of the workforce’s performance and competencies, and training requirements, if any.

Employee Development Planning
Employee Development Planning, or EDP, can operate at the heart of the system if the user organisation chooses and is particularly effective where the integrated approach is utilised. EDP requires more activity than simple box ticking, and therefore, being interactivity-based, helps to reinforce training.

What makes EDP interactive and therefore a useful addition to the training toolkit? It has a ‘notes’ function where employees undergoing training can comment on it at any stage of the training. The manager can view the comments and adjust the training accordingly, if necessary, and hold a meeting (face-to-face, in person or by video link) with any employees if there is a disconnect between expectation and result, or what the employees think of the training and how they are progressing with it.

Feedback by employees on training can also help them to ‘buy-in’ to training and give them a sense of ownership and control over it, which between them can also help with its reinforcement.

In addition to employees keeping a record about their training received, including their own rating of it and the results they attained – and why they rate it as they have – their manager can also comment. The objective of such activity by both employee and manager in the notes function is to ensure the benefits of training are realised as fully as possible and the performance of staff (and therefore of the business) optimised to the maximum.

The notes, with appraisals, can also show where, in the organisation, employees who are underperforming are likely to perform better in a different job role (see below).
With EDP, and the competency framework of which it is part, an important difference arises with traditional training – focusing more on employees’ performance rather than time spent in traditional training, i.e. EDP and the framework are learner, as distinct from delivery, focused.

High performers
Research shows that there is a tendency for people in classroom training to progress at the speed of the slowest member. The opposite applies in competency-based learning, where those of a higher ability progress more quickly, thereby either reinforcing their stature as high performers or helping them become high, or higher, performers.

Some staff might underperform because they are unsuited to their job role and/or have a resistance to change, while still being valuable employees, willing to be making a contribution to the business and progress within it. EDP not only helps identify them and the sort of roles they are best suited to, it can also identify those staff who are adaptable in nature and therefore able to handle different jobs – a crucial factor, perhaps, during times of retrenchment.

In addition to being embedded throughout employee performance management, EDP can link seamlessly to talent management objectives, giving a truly dynamic, real time and more holistic approach to the management of employee performance, upskilling, talent and competencies – and conformance to standards, regulations and new legislation.

Self service
To make optimal use of EDP (and the integrated approach) the culture of the user organisation needs to be attuned, or synchronised, to its self-service approach.
In the past, training and other organisational initiatives were seen as being ‘top down’ activities, led by management. Management was proactive, employees, anticipating instructions from management, passive. That is changing, as self-service evolves and gathers pace and employees take more responsibility for their actions including training and the overall contribution they make to the business.

User organisations of the EDP approach to training say they place great emphasis on training (or ‘learning’) because it enables them to meet all the specifications of their existing contracts – while future proofing contracts and framework agreements by being prepared in advance with the competencies and skills that might be required. I.e. those users train staff in advance of contracts expected to be awarded and keep a full record of the training within EDP, while linking the training to the corporate objectives, including those regarding compliance.

In addition to ensuring all contracts are met to spec, EDP similarly addresses contracts that are subject to change by ensuring employees are up to speed with all skills and competencies required by a contract – actual, possible and changing. The emphasis therefore is on closing all possible skill gaps and prioritising employees who demonstrate flexibility/adaptability and a continuous willingness to learn.

In conclusion
In parallel with a competency framework and delivery-focused learning, EDP helps to align staff, management included, to the objectives and business goals of the user organisation.

Each aspect of an employee’s performance can be attended to (and optimised, if necessary). As well as an individual’s attitude and behaviour being analysed, if required, their competencies and level of conformance to the organisations values can be addressed in order to further improve performance and compliance.

EDP is particularly useful in those organisations when, at year end, a performance appraisal is carried out among staff to see, in easily assimilated graphical form, how individual employees or teams have progressed over the previous 12 months (or however long it has been since the last appraisal) and how they have responded to any training provided.

Training will benefit an organisation the most where there is a clear understanding among staff as to what best performance is, because that understanding is the benchmark by which the performance of an individual/team/project/department or entire organisation is assessed.

Although EDP is part of a generic but customisable performance and competency framework solution, its capabilities are unique to each user organisation; they are created from requirements specific to the organisation’s business goals and deployed to ensure employees’ personal development plans are met – and that those plans meet those goals. Goals should not focus solely on business performance and related targets. They might also involve an understanding of an operator’s values and, of course, risk; failure in these areas can lead to costly financial penalties in addition to injury and death and impacts on share price.

An integrated and paperless approach to training gives clarity in addition to producing a raft of data that can be viewed as internal business intelligence; the more of that there is, the better it can help the organisation, provided it is deployed intelligently.

If the markets are correct, operators in oil and gas face an uncertain few years (or months, if optimists are to be believed) during which they will face the challenge of how to maximise the efforts of depleted workforces, retain shareholder value and seek to improve margins still further.

Time perhaps, to see how a competency framework can best be introduced, or enhanced if one is already in place, and then how the potential of operators’ human capital can be realised?

Shirley Barnes is client relationship director, Dinamiks Ltd. Established in 2010, Dinamiks Ltd was an early adopter of cloud computing for corporates and SMEs. Shirley has extensive experience of managing software and IT projects and liaising with customer organisations both nationally and globally. As customer relationship director of Dinamiks Ltd she oversees all elements of customer support for Dinamiks, the company’s cloud-based offering for managing the performance, appraisals and training (via employee development planning, or EDP) of customer employees.

Issue 122 July 2015