Employee misunderstanding: Use assessment technology to rate confidence and competence

Employee misunderstanding in the manufacturing industry comes in many forms, and can result in devastating consequences. For a line worker who misunderstands how to operate a piece of machinery, this unrealized knowledge gap can lead to wasted materials, degradation of product quality, and even serious injury.


Employee misunderstanding in the manufacturing industry comes in many forms, and can result in devastating consequences. For a line worker who misunderstands how to operate a piece of machinery, this unrealized knowledge gap can lead to wasted materials, degradation of product quality, and even serious injury.

But the errors resulting from employee misunderstanding concerning job tasks is a vastly overlooked area in most organizations, according to new research by Framingham, Mass.-based IDC . It's also a source of staggering costs.

In groundbreaking research surveying 400 U.K.- and U.S.-based corporations with 100,000+ employees, IDC estimates costs to individual companies at $62.4 million annually. It pegs the total cost to industry as high as $37 billion a year resulting from lost productivity due to downtime that could have been avoided, and to employee and corporate negligence and litigation.

“The cost of employee misunderstanding is an issue for enterprises in all industries, and provides a clear rationale for investment,” the report authors state.

While additional employee training is typically seen as the first course of action, IDC says it begins with a detailed assessment of workers' competence and confidence in performing their tasks. Most organizations cannot state with certainty which employees will cost them money without proper assessment.

“The biggest area is loss due to downtime,” says Lisa Rowan, IDC director for HR and talent management research. “We all go about our jobs thinking we're competent, but that assumption is never tested. Assessment is critical to 'know what you don't know.' The worst-case scenario is when you are confident in your understanding, but not competent. It's far better and less risky if you're unsure and ask someone for help.”

"Many customers come to us after there’s been a disaster. The better course is to initiate competency assessment as an ongoing practice."

—Mary Clarke, CEO, Cognisco

Cognisco, which sponsored the IDC study into this under-explored issue, is a supplier of automated assessment technology. The 10-year-old British-based vendor works with pharmaceutical suppliers, distribution and transportation companies, utilities, banks, and large consulting firms. Milestone, its flagship automated assessment software, comprises the services platform, but designing and developing detailed job assessment templates involves close work by Cognisco's team of occupational psychologists to interview workers and capture competency models for targeted job areas.

“Many customers come to us after there's been a disaster,” says Cognisco CEO Mary Clarke. “The better course is to initiate competency assessment as an ongoing practice. It gives the organization a clear view of who is noncompliant in a dynamic sense so you can proactively manage the situation.

“We typically start by asking management what issues are keeping them up at night,” Clarke continues. An assessment template focusing on key areas takes one to three months to design, “though a single issue can be crafted very quickly,” she says. “We pinpoint issues down to the exact detail. If you're assessing a team, a division, or an entire company, you can identify problems and address them to always be in compliance.”

Cognisco effectively links competency and confidence.

“What we're looking for is where they might know a lot, but are not confident,” explains Clarke. “We're looking at where they need coaching and mentoring.”

But Cognisco also is looking for individuals who aren't knowledgeable, but are highly confident. “It's this circumstance that is likely to cause you more problems,” says Clarke. “It's always important to look at these two things together.”

Assessment limited to the hiring phase alone isn't sufficient, nor is simply running everyone through a new training program.

“It's a typical process that if new equipment is installed, a company will provide training for it. But they don't often go back and assess whether workers understood the training,” says IDC's Rowan. “Regular assessment is the best practice. It assures that workers know everything they need to perform their jobs properly. It's a practice that must be thorough and ongoing.”

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