Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Knowledge does not equal skills does not equal behaviour

This post and the ensuing comments had previously been removed at the insistence of my manager. Since I no longer work for them, I feel no qualms about reinstating the post. Unfortunately, I am unable to reinstate the comments.

One of the things that really bothers me about compliance type training is the whole assessment model and the conclusions that are drawn from it.

Increasingly, it seems to me that the way we demonstrate to the marketplace our excellence in a particular area is to acquire accreditation. We acquire accreditation by complying with the stated behaviours as laid out by the accrediting body. We demonstrate compliance with the required behaviours by... well by passing a multiple choice test, of course!

The thing is, the multiple choice test is usually so facile that pretty much anyone can pass it, so essentially is assesses nothing. Well, that's one of the things anyway.

The other is that a multiple choice test... or any written test for that matter, is not evidence of behaviour.

Let's say the matter at hand is people management. We can put our manager through any number of training interventions, ranging from boring to highly engaging. What we test at the end (if the test is written) is knowledge. As I have said several times in meetings over the past few days - if knowledge equalled behaviour, our jails would be empty.

Let's say we really branch out and devise a role play test of some sort, presenting our friendly manager with a whole bunch of scenarios in which he must acquit himself. Even supposing some of those tests are blind, they test skills. Being able to do something and actually doing it are not always the same thing.The only way to assess whether behaviour matches up to standards/expectations is through on the job assessment, which brings us back to our performance review process.

Far too often, the appraisal/review/call it what you will process is seen as something that a manager does to a staff member. Almost as often, the manager resents having to take the time away from the day job to carry out these reviews.

Over the past few days I have had to look at ways that make clear the following two points:

  • A manager is supposed to manage people. A manager is not just an operative with a higher salary. Supporting the personal development of staff members is the day job. Sadly, managers' own KPIs seldom reflect this.
  • Managers do not review staff members' performance. Managers and staff members discuss past performance, future development and long term career planning together and set in place together some objectives to help each staff member realise their potential.
In the movie Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman's character is a numeric savante. He can perform the most spectularly complex numeric calculations in his head. He knows numbers. But when asked how much change he should get from a simple purchase, he didn't have a clue. He simply could not transfer his numeric knowledge into a practical skill, let alone a behaviour.

Knowledge ≠ skill ≠ behaviour.

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