A friend of mine is a river pilot on the Mississippi River. He boards ships to bring them in and out of the port safely. His family has been river pilots for generations, and he intimately knows the twists and turns of the river. But he also knows what’s underneath the water – sunken barges, huge tree trunks and lots of uncategorized debris. Navigating the river is as much about knowing what you can’t see as what you can.

Running an organization is very much like piloting a ship. We use metrics to determine where we are going and what changes we need to make to get to our goal. If teams don’t account for some metrics, that can lead to wrong turns and potential disaster. One metric that organizations don’t often account for is time to competency.

What is time to competency and why is it important?

Time to competency is the time it takes for a new team member to be able to work independently or an existing team member to acquire a new skill. Organizations also often don’t measure this time to competency, even though it’s important. This time and effort has a significant effect on budgets and profitability. The team is less productive and, for those teams that cost their effort back to customers or the rest of the company, cannot bill directly for the time of the new team members. Their costs are pure overhead, significantly impacting margins.

How can you improve time to competency?

There are two levers that organizations can pull to reduce time to competency. The first is to change how you train new team members. Traditionally, organizations try to deliver all of the content that a team member might need before they start working independently. Knowledge-sharing practices suggest a different approach. Rather than training new team members in specific content, train them how to find, reuse, enhance and create knowledge in the team’s repository. This approach is productive in three different ways:

  1. Existing team members (often the stars) who used to spend their time mentoring can spend more time doing their jobs (and contributing knowledge to the entire team, not just the new team members).
  2. New team members can get access to the latest content and won’t rely on dated information six months into their new job.
  3. New team members can immediately start to contribute their own expertise and sharing experiences from other jobs.

The second way to improve time to productivity is to change when new team members are trained. Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson) suggest that there are five different moments when team members need their knowledge (http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/949/). Organizations need to deploy learning not only at the first and second moments of need, but also when team members are applying their knowledge or facing situations where their knowledge doesn’t fit.

Adapted from Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson


Each organization will address their time to competency differently, but everyone should start with these three simple steps:

  1. Measure what your time to competency is today as a baseline.
  2. Look at your training and rebuild any initial sessions to focus on the process of search, rather than content (don’t forget to explain why team members should search, reuse and create knowledge).
  3. Look at ways to deliver and reinforce initial training as close to the moment of need as possible.

If you make these three simple changes, you will uncover a critical measure and start using it to guide you to success. Take a look at Klever’s 30-minute training for new team members – Knowledge Sharing Skills Everyone Can Master.

So, how has your knowledge program affected your training?

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