When we start working in our career, I think one of the first questions which comes to every person is what he knows or what we can work on. The answer could be technical competency like .net/Azure or could be a soft skill like public speaking or could be a subject matter thing like working on a system. All this can be called as the competencies.
Learning was always a passion for me as I grew in my career, and while we grow up, we feel we might have to learn less, we get challenged more, and the learning never stops. As I heard from one of my co-speakers in a conference Rich, we live in a VUCA world, so what we hear today might not be relevant 3 years down the line, which Is unbelievable but true.
I remember in my second company, one of the managers tried to collect competency levels (not the competency; that he defined himself, but just the levels) and it got a very negative feedback. People complained his boss that he was trying to shame people, and the whole exercise of collection was told to be never done in public. The manager had to apologize to some folks who felt bad and then the whole activity was done in 1-1’s. Traditionally competency management was always done, but it was a private thing, and then it wasn’t even shared with the team, because I heard once that Competitor might get it and pull people from company based on their competency levels. And we being developers back then used to think less of it.
Now when I did my management 3.0 workshop with Sarika, I heard about the Competency matrix, and I surely thought it’s very useful. But I remember her saying the team needs to have Psychological safety to do this. And I thought that it should not be that tough. Believe me, I never thought what all could I face, and no training prepares you for that. The people we get in real life while doing a practice are different than what you imagine, and that’s part of the game.
Now I remember preparing my first competency exercise, and kind of doing a role play. I knew at once, that it had to be gamified. No way a person will tell competency on where he/she is and go away, this needs more fun, this needs more intent clarification, this needs more purpose. I don’t remember it was a suggestion, but I got the aspect of growth inside the activity where people would tell where they want to grow. Also, I thought just doing on a board with marker might make it boring, so I ordered 3M flags. I also ordered some 4*4 for people to write names.
With gamification I didn’t want to lose the intent but have people more involved with what they are doing and be present in the room and the activity. In the end what I noticed was that the gamification helped them be more attentive.
So the activity started with a 15 minutes talk on what are competencies, what kind of competencies could exist ( like domain, technology, tools, process, soft skills ), and then make them realize the activity meant to collect this in a way where we as a team can reflect on where we are, and then individually we identify 3 competency where we want to grow. I took a color of blue for marking where we want to grow. I explained them the intent couple of times, because I don’t want the safety aspect out of picture.
This first 15 minutes was my testing period where I got questions of very high intensity. “Will we be fired based on this”, “Will our team change post this”, “What happens if I am bad at everything”, “I’m not sure where I am”, and many more questions which tested my maturity and knowledge. I was strong and was able to answer them in a way that the audience felt safe but said that I knew I had to grow stronger for coming sessions (I’ve done 9 till date).
The activity was done in a way where they first drew their face in a 4*4 post-it (yes you read that right, they drew), I thought name is too straight forward, why not draw. And I got people showing their creative side. Some drawings were so amazing that when they were stuck on the board on the columns, it made that board attractive (See images below for my favorite 3 drawings). Then as a team everyone came and identified competencies. This was a team defining the competency which made them think on what next is coming in market, what they know, where they want to grow. In my first 15 minutes I told them “We win as a team, there are no individual wins”, that’s the feeling I wanted to see here, and I was happy the team was good in this.
So, while getting approval from management, management had a fear what if I hired the person for Java, and the team didn’t put that, which I know sounds funny, but trust me could be true when the team is having some fun. So as part of the activity, I made a pact, that when team is done with competency, I’ll call manager for 5 minutes to check if the defined competency has the core competency or not. If not, we’ll add it.
Now when the team was done with competency and manager verification of competency. I asked them to roll 2 dices. Get 1 Six on either dice to get a turn, and the first two people who get turn go on the board. Again, now people mark their competency level with the team discussion, and as a team they define themselves to be an apprentice, journeyman and master (I did give them details on what all 3 means during the starting 15 minutes). Once they are done putting the right color flag against competency, they take 3 blue flag and put it against the things they want to learn or grow on. This was taken very positive, it was like telling the management, we want to grow here. Trust me it amazes me how much everyone was happy about it.
In my first session I was out of flags, so we ended up using marker, but later I ordered more flags. The more I did this activity, I felt psychological safety is such a big deal. Employees need to feel safe in order to do anything like this. Thankfully at least I felt I gave them that environment (the reality lies with the people who were in the session)
Looking at the whole activity, I feel it makes a team come together in a good way. They feel like 1 team delivering quality output and they self-organize on competency which is a great thing to see live.
I feel this tested me as a facilitator to the core and I felt that only if you are confident you should do this, else I would role play and try to answer all possible question. I felt super happy about the gamification and how it engaged the crowd. In the end, it’s all about where we are, where we want to grow and how we are fine with standing in front of the team and accepting it.
Below are 3 boards I felt which might give a good idea of the end result. Obviously I digitize this and then we get the manager need on each and then finish the activity.
I once even took the challenge of doing this for 2 teams together which was tough on me as a facilitator, but still the session went fine. Thank god I could do it in 1 single room. See below for the picture during the same:
If you want to learn more about Competency Matrix, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.