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Why Performance Measurement for Development Professionals is Critical: Learning from Miller’s Pyramid

Tanya Gupta's picture

According to a training report  no less than $55.4 billion in 2013 was spent on training, including payroll and external products and services, in the US alone. The US and other countries spend a significant amount of money on employee development with the implicit assumption that training is correlated to improved on- the- job performance.   However, what exactly should we measure to ensure that this money is well spent? What is it that we need to measure to determine that employees are performing as expected and thus benefitting from these training expenditures?

Two responses that we often get to this “what should be measured” question are “performance” and “competencies”. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the United States defines  performance measurement as the “ongoing monitoring and reporting of program accomplishments, particularly progress toward pre-established goals.”  Performance measures, therefore, help define what success at the workplace means (“accomplishments”), and attempt to quantify performance by tracking the achievement of goals. Competencies are generally viewed as “a cluster of related knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Parry 1996), and are thought to be measurable, correlated to performance, and can be improved through training.  While closely connected, they are not the same thing. Competencies are acquired skills, while performance is use of those competencies at work. Measurement of both is critical.

Let’s look at competencies more closely by looking at the medical field.  In medicine, measurement of competencies and performance are taken very seriously as human lives are directly at stake. To bring in a somewhat dramatic example, an error in measuring the performance of a surgeon may lead to a death in the operating room down the road. Laxity in measurement is not an option! The required competencies in surgery are known as ‘hard requirements.’ In this blog we will discuss Miller’s Pyramid, which is commonly used in the medical profession for assessment (with a much closer look at related assessment findings in our next blog).

Workplace-based assessments refer to the evaluation of employees in the workplace.  Miller’s “Pyramid of Competence” (pdf) is a framework for assessment in the medical field that promotes the use of distinct assessment methods for specific developmental or learning stages. The ‘knows’ level of the pyramid can be assessed using simple knowledge tests, e.g. multiple-choice questions (MCQs). The ‘knows how’ level can be assessed using problems or essay questions. The ‘‘shows how’ level can be assessed through observation. The real challenge has been assessing the ‘does’ level, which equates most clearly to performance.  According to “The Assessment of Clinical Skills/Competence/Performance” by Miller, competencies relate to what people can do in perfect conditions, while performance indicates how people behave in their daily lives.

While the development profession does not appear to have hard competency requirements, it is quite possible and useful to borrow the principles and techniques of these models. We believe that while competency and performance gaps may not have an immediate dramatic effect like the hypothetical surgeon, it is however critical that we identify, measure and address competency and performance gaps in a manner that is principle based, rigorous and efficient so that development organizations continue to deliver world class service to our clients far into the future.

In the coming weeks, we will be writing a series of blogs on the science of measurement, with our next blog looking more closely at lessons from performance and competency measurement in medicine.

Image by Nature Reviews Cardiology, from the article Assessment of specialists in cardiovascular practice by Kamran Ahmed, Hutan Ashrafian, George B. Hanna, Ara Darzi & Thanos Athanasiou, Nature Reviews Cardiology 6, 659-667 (October 2009)

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