Creating Worker Competency Roadmaps

Article excerpt

Internal consulting drives employee selection, performance management and development tools at Valspar.

At Valspar Corporation, developing worker competencies is like thumbing through the Yellow Pages. Managers can find what they need in a flash. It's easy, systematic and comprehensive, says Gary E. Gardner, vice president of human resources and public affairs at the Minneapolis-based painting and coatings firm. However, Valspar's tools for employee development and training didn't come about without spilling buckets of HR sweat. "[Our management tools] weren't conceived in a moment of trumpets;' says Gardner, who has worked for Valspar since 1979. "We didn't know what we were doing when we started this effort."

It began when Valspar's Chairman Angus Wurtele delivered a speech to employees a few years ago. He noticed people talking at the back of the room. Upon further inquiry, he discovered that the Spanish-speaking workers required a translator. He thought, "If they can't understand memos or read signs, how could they function effectively in their jobs?" The incident launched a discussion by management about how to improve the competencies and skills of its 3,833-person global workforce. Valspar, which reaped $1 billion in revenues last year, has faced the broader issue facing companies all across the world: A knowledge-based economy increasingly requires workers who demonstrate basic literacy, occupational skills-and winning personal traits.

Valspar's HR thus began addressing this corporate imperative in 1993. By establishing a strong partnership between HR and company managers and employees, managers now are better equipped in the areas of employee selection, performance management and professional development. This wasn't an easy endeavor considering that Valspar's employees (from manufacturing workers to chemists) serve four distinct business groups: consumer, packaging, industrial and special products. Today, managers can refer to printed binders that walk them through every stage of worker competency development for every job in the company. And, yes, each one comes in a different color to boot.

The first collaboration began with Gardner and psychologist Tim Follick, president of Consulting Psychologists Inc. (CPI), a Minneapolis-based organization of industrial and organizational psychologists. The latter had already worked with Valspar for 16 years. Between Gardner's business and functional knowledge, and Follick's expertise in articulating the skills and attitudes that drive effective performance, the two men created a manager's game plan. It's for that achievement Valspar has been given the WORKFORCE Magazine Optimas Award for Service.

Aptitude tests improve the selection procedure.

Gardner and Follick were concerned that many companies, including Valspar, failed to state job goals succinctly, offer feedback on accomplishments and evaluate employees based on the hiring and job goals. That's why they initially focused on the manufacturing and production division: Turnover was high, and the quality of worker was disparagingly low. New hires were still costly, time-consuming-and a risk. Therefore, the two men decided to use aptitude tests as a way to begin measuring the desired competencies and skills. They consulted with successful managers and employees to create a list of desirable traits.

The aptitude tests, managers acknowledged, were helpful not only in screening, but also in placing workers. For example, if a manager learned from the test that an employee performed well with numbers, he or she could be placed in the warehouse where orders were fulfilled.

Once the manufacturing managers saw the benefit of these tests, word got around to the other departments. Within time, the entire company began to take notice. "Once we had those two successes [in manufacturing and sales], the organization went nuts," says Gardner. To meet the increasing demands for similar service, he and Follick reexamined all of the job descriptions and clustered them into 12 job families, such as industrial sales, manager, chemist, technical service, administrative support and hourly production worker. …