Grand Designs

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By Dave Micciche and Carlie Wagner

In The Science of the Artificial, Herbert Simon writes,

“Design is the process of taking something from its existing state and moving it to a preferred state. This applies to new artifacts, whose existing state is undefined, and previously created artifacts, whose state stands to be improved.”

In this statement, the word “artifact”  can easily transform to any other word, such as “prototype,” “machine,” etc. But what about changing it to “people?” Of course, people aren’t “artifacts” and you can’t “design” them—at least, not yet.

In all seriousness, people aren’t inanimate objects, and we can’t just add them into an Inventor workflow. However, each of us is like an artifact in the sense that we have unique traits and tolerances that must be considered in order to improve our current state. Just like prototyping mechanical designs, every employee development project requires an iterative approach that frequently tests results and changes the design accordingly. In other words, one size fits one, not all.

With any number of new or existing artifacts, it is just as easy, and perhaps even easier, to completely miss the mark and end up with a less preferred state. That would mean wasted time, effort, and money for the company and an unrewarding experience for the employee. So, the question then becomes, how do we iterate people’s knowledge and skills so that it does indeed move forward?

Moving People Toward a Preferred State

Improving the individual knowledge and skills of every employee may seem like a tall task, but not to worry, we have a simple three-step process to help you design individualized plans for new or existing staff members.

Step One: Gather Data During the Hiring Process

The entire hiring process is geared toward defining the undefined. We try to determine how efficiently a candidate will work, what software skills they have, and how well they can utilize the resources provided to find a solution. So, to find out all of this important information, we ask them to send us a…résumé? A one-page, formulated-to-death, list of accomplishments without context, that seems to require as many buzz words as possible.

Historically, we have relied all too heavily on gut feelings from interviews to determine how we think a new hire will fare. Sure, interviews are valuable when determining whether an employee has the soft skills and traits required to be a good fit, but they are hardly a way to determine if an employee has actual, quantifiable skills.

Instead, we recommend using skills tests to verify that a candidate’s existing competencies align with those that are required for their proposed role. Now, you have real data to use in the hiring process, which saves time and has the added benefit of helping to build an individualized onboarding plan if you decide to bring them on.

Role-based evaluations don’t need to be limited to new hires. Targeted assessments also are useful when somebody transfers into a new department, is promoted to a supervisor position, or just feels like they need a change in direction.

Step Two: Upskill Across the Organization

A good process for evaluating and onboarding new hires is certainly a plus, but effectively upskilling your existing workforce can be even more rewarding.

Legacy technology and stale methodologies often leave us with few good options to close the skills gaps that truly matter. Sure, new features, best practices, and tips & tricks seem useful, but none of these options are easily measurable, nor are they at all personalized.

Just as with new staff, you need to first assess the state of each person’s knowledge. Then, you can easily spot their areas in need of improvement, align the appropriate content, and reassess to ensure the gaps are closed. This process should be constant and include incremental updates to both the content and the assessments.

We no longer live in a perpetual software license world, so we need to treat upskilling like a subscription too. Just because a new feature was added to a program doesn’t mean everyone will benefit from it, and if not, there is no need to waste their time learning about it. Efficiency is driven by knowing what you need to know, not by knowing everything.

Look for simple tools that already align assessment questions to the relevant content; this will save time and improve accuracy.

Step Three: Data-Powered Content Alignment

Now that you have harnessed all the data, you can really put it to use. Every manager wants to minimize the time it takes to learn new hard skills so that teams can just start being more productive already!

If you followed steps one and two, you now have an opportunity to expedite the process by strategically aligning the training program that you create with the exact skills needed for each current or future job role. Now imagine a system that allows everybody to log in, choose their job title, and automatically have the content they need to optimize their performance.

Because you have captured all this data, it can be even further aligned to each employee’s specific skillsets. So now, they can focus on just the content that they don’t already know, but do need to know, to succeed in their role.

Shaping Employees into a Preferred State

Employee development can be extremely challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. As new design tools emerge on a daily basis, it helps to have the right system in place to take advantage of the next big trends. Adopting the right support tools now will pay off greatly as you watch people embrace change because they know they have the resources to continue their mastery, no matter what comes next.

So maybe you can’t design “artifact-people” after all, but you certainly can use cutting-edge technology and forward-thinking methodologies to help shape today’s employees and the workforce of tomorrow into a more preferred state.

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