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We are trying to measure competencies of the people in the company for different kinds of technologies. The ultimate goal is to identify areas that we need to have some competency improvement programs. What we need to make sure to do is to let people to know that this is not an evaluation which will affect their appraisals, therefore we need to be careful here.

We are not sure of the way we are going to measure it. Our ideas are:

  1. We could have an interview with each person and ask interview questions on different topics
  2. We could prepare a question paper and give everyone an exam
  3. We could ask everyone about their weaknesses

Which would be the best way to get an accurate measurement without making people uncomfortable?

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    Be weary of the Dunning-Kruger effect. In order to accurately judge competence in yourself and others you need to actually be competent in that area. – Philipp Apr 4 '14 at 7:57
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    Also be aware that what may or may not make people uncomfortable is very individual to them. Some might not mind any of those approaches while others will take offense to the smallest insinuation that they might not be very competent in their area. The only people who can tell you ways to measure these things without making anybody uncomfortable are those that you want to interview/test/measure. – CMW Apr 4 '14 at 9:57
  • How about option 4: Create a side-project that employees could perform using the different technologies you want to test. Make it something fun and exciting and you will see who not only contains the skills but who has the passion for using those skills. – Paul Muir Apr 4 '14 at 14:32
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Your effort will be greatly hindered by the Dunning-Kruger effect. This theory of psychology says that:

  • Incompetent people tend to overestimate their own skill
  • Competent people tend to underestimate their own skill
  • Incompetent people fail at accurately estimating the skill of others

That means just asking people where they see their strengths and weaknesses will not give you any meaningful results, because people are notoriously bad at self-estimation of their skills.

Making an exam or interview to test the skill of people requires that the one who prepares that test is actually highly-skilled themself in that skill. Otherwise their questions and their rating of the answers will not accurately judge the skill of the people who are tested. Also keep in mind that such an exam will likely be rather unwelcome by your workforce: They are long out of school and university and likely feel that they grown up from the age where having such tests is expected from them.

So what can you do instead?

One way would be to look just at formal qualifications.

  • What level of education do they have
  • What certifications do they have
  • Which training did they receive
  • How many years of experience do they have with different technologies

This might give you a good estimate, but could still paint a wrong picture of certain people. There are people who are highly skilled in their field and never saw an university from inside, taught everything themself without having any official training and never bothered to get certified because they were too busy with getting real work done. On the other hand there are people who visited tons of training courses, somehow cheated their way through various certifications, have decades of experience and still don't know what they are doing.

Another more accurate way is to measure peoples skill is by measuring their success through benchmarking. Measure how successful they are at different projects and how productive they are at certain tasks. Important criteria for benchmarking are:

  • Total time taken
  • Resources used
  • Number and criticality of defects
  • Customer satisfaction

Then compare these numbers to those of similar projects and tasks at other companies. Depending on what your company is actually doing, accurately measuring performance in a meaningful way can be quite challenging. But it's the only way to objectively measure skill. There are business consulting companies which specialize in this kind of benchmarking. The advantage of hiring an external company is that they have access to the numbers of all other companies where they did the same and can compare you to them to give you a good estimate how well you do compared to others in the same business.

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