All posts by Mairi Thomson

is competence critical to your core business?

L&D Managers:  are you effectively managing competence-related risks?

Many businesses, particularly those governed by legislation or regulation, rely on the competence of individual employees or contractors to continue operating safely and effectively.

It definitely makes sense for every business to have a focus on hiring, developing and retaining competent leaders and employees.  But for some industries, including mining, manufacturing, aviation, road and rail transport, utilities and construction, it’s often a legal imperative, and there can be serious consequences for employee, customer, community and environmental safety if company executives get it wrong.

Regardless of the jurisdiction of regulators, most of the legislation relating to safe and effective business operations will refer to the operator/business owner ensuring the effective management of risk. So it makes good business sense for organisations to analyse and manage employee or contractor capability using a Risk Based Competence Management approach.

What is it?

Risk Based Competence Management is a process for identifying, analysing and prioritising the competence related controls (human knowledge, skill and behaviour) that help to manage or mitigate the risk of incorrect task performance.

How to get started with Risk Based Competence Management

1. Understand the risk context

The logical place to start is with your company’s risk statement, risk policy, matrix, or whatever you have in place that captures your operating risks.  Most organisations will also have some kind of risk quantification analysis, which, bleak as it is, defines the likelihood of a risk actually occurring, and what the consequence or impact would be.  Don’t get too hung up on the corporate risk documents at this stage – you will need them later on in the process.

2. Understand and analyse the ‘risky roles’

Now you need to get down to business with the competence related aspects of your model.  You have two choices here – you could start from the macro-level, and brainstorm the critical aspects of your business that would be affected by a failure of competence, or you could start with those roles that are most critical to your business operations and work from the bottom up.  Either way, it would be useful if you ended up with a list of critical roles that could be maintained for easy reference and cross checking in the future.

3. Understand and analyse the tasks that the ‘risky roles’ are responsible for

Because competence is always dependent on role and task context, your next step will be to break down each critical role into tasks that can be analysed more deeply.  The information needed includes the technical and non-technical skills required to perform the task correctly, how difficult the task is, and how frequently it is performed.  Difficulty and frequency are important factors, as they weigh heavily on how competence is maintained over time.

4. Analyse the controls already in place, and identify control gaps

This is an important step, as many risks are effectively managed by controls other than training or competence.  In fact, on the scale or ‘hierarchy of controls’, human competence rates fairly low, behind more effective controls that can eliminate, substitute or engineer risk out of a process.

Learning or competence related controls should only be used when no higher control mechanism is available, and should then be prioritised to firstly manage the risks that relate to high task difficulty, and infrequent task performance.

5. Identify learning, assessment and competence management requirements

This final step is where the process bears fruit. With the rich information you have previously gathered and analysed, you will now be able to rigorously quantify and justify what the learning and competence management program should be.  An important part of this analysis is the level of ‘fidelity’ that the program of learning and assessment requires.  Fidelity is just a fancy way of saying how realistic the program needs to be compared to actual task performance.  For example, if the required fidelity level is low, then a theoretical or hypothetical basis could be used to support understanding and future task performance.  However, if the required fidelity level is high, then learning and assessment activities should be performed in a real-task, real-world, and real-time context.

The value of a Risk Based Competence Management process

Learning, assessment and competence management is an important process for many organisations who need to manage the risk of incorrect task performance across critical roles.  The use of a process that methodically analyses and quantifies risks, tasks and competence requirements can significantly reduce overall risk, through ensuring that high priority competence is assessed and maintained effectively and efficiently.  L&D Managers can also use Risk Based Competence Management to generate a sound evidence base for reducing the time, cost and effort spent developing and delivering learning and assessment programs that may be targeted to low priority areas.

Need help?

Contact Open Access Learning if you’d like more information or support to implement Risk Based Competence Management in your organisation.

See the resources page for an overview of our Risk Based Competence Management model.

Printable PDF: is competence critical to your core business

revitalise your induction program by going social

L&D Managers: Is your corporate induction program putting new employees to sleep?

Inducting new employees is an important process.  You have the opportunity to maximise engagement at this critical time of the employee lifecycle, and get people started on their career in the way you intend them to continue – collaboratively, with an open mind and a willingness to learn from others and take self-responsibility for their contributions to your organisation.

Why then do so many corporate induction processes focus on bombarding new employees with information that has little practical relevance to them at this early stage?  Or worse still, starving them of the information and connections that will help them work more effectively and navigate their way around your company.

There is another option – go social!

Social learning is about designing learning experiences within a socially collaborative context that more closely resembles the way people actually learn and go about their day to day work – interacting with the information and colleagues that will help them get the job done.

I’m currently participating in the Guided Social Learning Experiences workshop with 23 other people from around the world.  The program is deftly facilitated by Jane Hart from the Modern Workplace Learning Centre.  One of the activities is to develop a social learning experience that will address a learning or performance problem, and I chose to re-design a standard corporate induction and orientation process, using a hypothetical company – GreenLight Manufacturing.  Here is what I have developed:

The learning/performance problem

The induction and orientation process for new employees to GreenLight Manufacturing is static and linear, with a hard copy welcome pack, and a traditional scheduled classroom session. While the process is information rich, it does not maximise opportunities for social engagement between employees, on-demand interaction with content or learner choice.


The induction and orientation process has been redesigned using the Guided Social Learning Experience Model, utilising a blend of Social Online Workshops, regularly scheduled Social Classroom ‘Welcome Workshops’ and an opt-in/opt-out Learning Flow via the company portal. This provides a flexible open-streaming model, allowing new employees to hop in and out of the GSLE induction and orientation process as it suits them and their new work schedule.

Performance Outcomes

  • Early engagement with new employee cohort
  • Learner-directed interaction with company information
  • Establishment of collaborative employee social network

Evaluation Strategy

  • Pre- and post- learner and hiring manager engagement survey
  • Post-event social network mapping

So what would the program look like?

Here is the overview, summarising each element of the program from a learner perspective.

example social learning induction program overview

Could this work for you?

If employee engagement and improving the effectiveness of your induction and orientation process is a key metric for your organisation, consider the possibilities of revamping your program to incorporate social learning elements.

Printable PDF: revitalising your induction program by going social

managing your learning assets

L&D Managers: How well do you manage your learning assets?

Learning programs are valuable assets that require significant effort to design, implement and maintain, but organisations often don’t have a consistent or efficient way to strategically manage the entire set of programs they own or use.

Curriculum frameworks are common documents in the P-12 education space, but seem to be not so common in workplace contexts. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I am very sure that having one will give you the helicopter view you need to help  analyse your overall learning needs, reduce design and development time, manage the accuracy and validity of learning content and get improved value from your suite of learning programs.

Consider a curriculum framework like an asset register, to help you and your team to manage the entire lifecycle of your learning assets, from cradle to grave.

Why would you bother?

Have you ever:

  • been asked to design a new program that is really not ‘new’, but just a slight variation on an existing theme?
  • encountered out-of-date or incorrect information in one of your learning programs?
  • had difficulty navigating your way through the current learning content or programs on offer in your organisation?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then maybe you should consider if it would be worth the effort of capturing some basic information about your current learning programs into a framework that can be easily referenced and maintained. In my experience, this project would be in the ‘spend a little time now to save a lot of time later’ category.

Isn’t this just a fancy name for a ‘Course Catalogue’? We already have one of those…

Not really. A Course Catalogue is generally more of a marketing and communications document, structured for the consumer, rather than the manager of learning programs and content. And unless you and your L&D team routinely search the entire catalogue before analysing, designing or decommissioning learning programs, you’re probably not using it to effectively manage your learning assets. If you do have a catalogue, then this would be a great place to start with your information gathering work.

How to get started.

There’s not too much rocket science required to build a framework. A simple spreadsheet (see sample template attached below) will be all you need to start with, and some basic types of information that would be useful to capture about each of your learning programs could include:

  • Learning Program Name
  • Purpose
  • Learning Objectives
  • Date of last review
  • Date of next review
  • Target Audience
  • Content Owner
  • Subject Matter Experts
  • Program Designer
  • Duration (HH:MM)
  • Delivery Mode
  • Provider
  • Assessment (Y/N)
  • Assessment Method
  • Pre-Requisites
  • Post-Requisites
  • Reaccreditation Required (Y/N)
  • Reaccreditation Timeframe
  • Legislative/Policy References
  • Any other information or tags that will help you manage the lifecycle of the programs you have in your organisation.

Depending on how sophisticated you want to be, you could also include metadata about each of your programs, like assigning topic categories or labels to make searching and sorting easier.

Capturing the full range of information about all active programs could become a bit of a treasure hunt, so it would be worth considering this activity as a project, and assigning someone to do the work. Content owners and SMEs will need to be engaged, so someone with stakeholder management skills will be an asset here. And you’ll need to work out how to manage the outputs of the project, which will likely include updating and/or decommissioning of programs.

How to use it once you’ve built it.

Once you have catalogued all of your programs into your curriculum framework, consider making it a mandatory check-in point for all learning analysis and design requests. After all, no point reinventing the wheel, particularly once you have a good view of all the wheels that you’ve already got!

If you’re able to publish the framework on your company intranet/portal, you could also direct people who are considering requesting a new learning program to do a search before they engage the L&D team.

Perhaps most importantly, keep it up to date! Ensure that all design and development activity is entered into the framework as it happens, so you’ve always got a current view of the learning programs you have on offer.

curriculum framework template

Printable PDF:  managing your learning assets