I wrote in previous post that most of the organizations are targeting proficiency as the minimum desired level of performance of their employees. In general the time taken by an individual to acquire the skills necessary to reach to a level where his performance can be deemed as “proficient” (or exhibiting ‘desired proficiency’) is called time-to-proficiency (Pinder and Schroeder, 1987). This is generally measured either from his day of hire or from the day he takes first training course. This time usually also involves time spent on OJT and other allied activities to gain proficiency.
Carpenter, Monaco, O’Mara, & Teachout (1989) appears to be first one to develop first Time-To-Proficiency model in military context which established relationship between actual performance, aptitude, experience, costs and minimum acceptable level of job proficiency for recording airmen proficiency (as cited by Faneuff et.al, 1990). It took time for the same concept to make way into business world.
Over the last decade every one of us has seen tremendous changes in technology and learning across the industries. If you are in hi-tech industry, you might agree with me that organizations are trying to squeeze (or accelerate) Time-to-market of new technologies, services, products and solutions to gain competitive edge over others. Talking to several thought leaders in the industry; it appears to me that there is a large lag between speed with which organizations can build capability of employees and the speed of time-to-market of products, services, solutions, technologies. For example, hi-tech industry is at critical point with dire need to build capabilities of their engineers at or more than the speed of time-to-market.
This business challenge of squeezed time-to-market has led to a new business challenge for training experts how to drive workforce to achieve full productivity at equally fast pace. This is how the time-to-proficiency (expertise) concept becomes crucial for training experts to be aware of.
Why Accelerating Time-to-Expertise is so Crucial?
Now the organizations have started understanding the business value of time-to-proficiency (expertise). The purpose of achieving faster time-to-proficiency is financial and competitive. Having employees coming to a desired proficiency level faster allows organization to have competitive edge in the market and the may be more effective faster in handling their customer’s needs.
Williams and Rosenbaum (2004) state in Learning Paths that “You need to know the level of performance required to do the job and how long it takes to get there…..when you can get employees up-to speed in far less time, productivity rises at far less expense”. Learning Paths (2013) puts the advantage of accelerated time-to-proficiency in terms of financial value to organization as “Every minute, employees are less than fully proficient, has a direct financial impact on the organization”. (p.13)
Very basic essence of the concept of time-to-proficiency is that proficiency level stays same, but by accelerating the time taken to achieve same proficiency, organization gain dollar value, productivity, customer satisfaction and overall effectiveness of the business.
Some of the leading training thought leaders have been pitching for importance of time-to-expertise of employees.
– Rosenheck (2005) also emphasizes the importance of time-to-proficiency: “If we can reduce the time it takes to become expert or at least proficient performers, we can save our organizations a lot of money, increase retention rates, reduce errors, and improve customer satisfaction”.
– Reiterating it further, Jay Cross (n.d.) wrote in his blog on “how to reduce time-to-proficiency” state the importance of making employees proficient faster: “The faster a worker becomes proficient, the more profitable the firm. Companies that focus on shortening the time employees complete formal, explicit learning are looking at a drop in the bucket. Improving the effective of experiential, tacit learning adds much more to the bottom line. Managers who make apt stretch assignments produce productive workers sooner.”
– Stephen Lisby (2010) commented in his blog about increasing awareness about time-to-proficiency by stating that: “North American businesses usually expect newly hired or promoted personnel to reach job proficiency within 90 days. This is of course only feasible if they have received excellent training and integration into their new work environment. Proficiency will naturally take longer to achieve if new job responsibilities are highly specialized or if inadequate or unsuitable training is given to the new staff.”
As stated before, for organizations time-to-market is reducing and that results in heightened expectations of organizations to develop their employees to ‘desired proficiency’ in shorter time.
What if organizations do not pay attention to time-to-expertise of their employees?
The poor time-to-proficiency may result in higher costs to organizations. Dimension International (N.d.), cites Williams Byham, President and CEO of DDI stating that: “Getting off to a weak start in a new job costs organizations in three ways: 1. It takes too long for the new hires to reach full job proficiency. 2. Job engagement decreases as individuals experience early failure or misunderstandings. 3. Individuals start to consider moving to a new job”. (p.2)
How Long Does it Take to Reach Expertise?
Measurement of time-to-expertise has long intrigued researchers. Allow me to share angles from various renowned researchers in regards to time-to-expertise.
– Raskin (1936) in early research found that time interval between scientists’ and authors’ first accepted publication and their most valued publication averages about 10 years which amounts to even longer preparation time. Since then 10-year rule to achieve expertise has been empirically tested in many studies.
– Simon and Chase (1973) argued that similar to chess, several other domains exhibit the patterns of achieving expertise in 10-years.
– Hayes (1985) later also commented that literature appears to have accepted the classic estimate that the development of very high-level skill in any complex area takes at least ten years of concerted effort.
– Studies by Bloom (1985) and Hayes (1989) reinforced the observations that a decade of intensive preparation is necessary to become an international performer in a broader range of domains including chess, sports, and the arts and sciences.
– Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Romer (1993) further found that it takes 10,000 hours or 10-years (20 hours for 50 weeks a year for ten years = 10,000) of intense training and ‘deliberate practice’ to become an expert in almost anything.
However, most of these studies focused on time it takes to reach word-class ‘expertise’. However, proficiency is the correct term in context of professional organization work settings which refers to exhibiting superior performance during daily jobs at full productivity and goal is not to reach world-class expertise.
As an example, typical airline pilots takes about 5-6 years to reach ‘desired proficiency’, a corporate manager may reach the ‘desired proficiency’ in 2-3 years. Thus the time to ‘desired proficiency’ varies from job to jobs and from organization to organization. However, there is general consensus that time taken to achieve certain level of proficiency to do the job consistently and reliability with high degree of repeatability is generally very long.
Latest in the research is Hoffman, Andrews & Feltovich (2012) which raises this issue as: “empirical fact about expertise (i.e., that it takes a long time) sets the stage for an effort at demonstrating the acceleration of the achievement of proficiency.” (p. 9). They further make a point that by accelerating the progression to proficient the organization can reduce impact due to lose of an expert and may be able to bring another individual to desired proficiency faster.
What it means to Training Designers and Strategists?
Irrespective of the fact how long it takes for employees to reach expertise or irrespective of the method of measurement of time-to-expertise, it is general consensus that it takes long time to build expertise. And this makes a case to reduce time-to-expertise of employees.
Scanning academic and practitioner literature indicates that there is lack of any proven knowledge base or simple practical training techniques available to corporate training professionals to accelerate time-to-expertise of employees. As Ericsson & Charness (1994) pointed out, “Although these studies [on expertise] have revealed how beginners acquire complex cognitive structures and skills that circumvent the basic limits confronting them, researchers have not uncovered some simple strategies that would allow nonexperts to rapidly acquire expert performance.” (p.737).
Recently, the founders of ‘accelerated expertise’ concepts, Hoffman, Andrews and Feltovitch (2012) appealed to research community that: “Our vision is that methods for accelerating the achievement of proficiency, and even extraordinary expertise, might be taken to new levels such that one can accelerate the achievement of proficiency across the journeyman-to-expert span post-hiring.” (p. 9)
Through my subsequent posts I am hoping to bring out research-based proven knowledge base of training strategies that worked in different contexts to accelerate time-to-expertise which may be of practical value to training practitioners and training strategists.
Note: Most of the literature appears to use term time-to-expertise and most training professionals appear to relate to it well. However, in organizational context usage of time-to-proficiency term is more appropriate. For this post I used the term time-to-proficiency and time-to-expertise interchangeably while I will establish the differences between these two along the way.
- Bloom, B. S. (1985). Generalizations about talent development. In B. S. Bloom (Ed.), Developing talent in young people (pp. 507-549). New York: Ballantine Books.
- DDI International (n.d.) Strong Start to Success: What Leaders Can do to Shorten time to proficiency, increase job engagement, and reduce early turnover. White paper. Byham W.C. available at: https://www.ddiworld.com/DDIWorld/media/white-papers/strongstarttojobsuccess_wp_ddi.pdf?ext=.pdf
- Cross, Jay (n.d), How to shorten time-to-proficiency, http://www.internettime.com/2013/02/how-to-shorten-time-to-proficiency/#more-18420
- Ericsson, K. A. & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance – Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist 49, 8, 725-747.
- Faneuff, R.S., Stone, B.M., Curry, G.L., Hageman, D.C. (1990) Extending the time to proficiency model for simultaneous application to multiple jobs. Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, Brooks Air Force Base: Texas. AFHRL Technical Paper 90-42
- Hayes, J. R. (1985) Three problems in teaching general skills. In Chipman, Segal, & Glaser (eds.): Thinking and learning skills: Vol. 2 Research and open questions (391-405), Hillsdale, NY: Erlbaum.
- Hayes, J. R. (1989). The complete problem solver. Philadelphia, PA: Franklin Institute Press.
- Hoffman, R. R., Andrews, D. H., & Feltovich, P. J. (2012). What is “ Accelerated Learning ”? Cognitive Technology, 17 (1)
- Simon, H. A., & Chase, W. G. (1973). Skill in chess. American Scientist, 61, 394-403.
- Raskin, E. (1936). Comparison of scientific and literary ability: A biographical study of eminent scientists and letters of the nineteenth century. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 31, 20-35.
- Rosenheck, M. (2005). Case-Based Learning : Accelerating the Path to Expert Performance, SITE Journal. Available at http://www.cedarinteractive.com/pdf/RosenheckSITEArticle.pdf
- Stephen, Lisby (2010). 3 Tips to reduce time-to-proficiency. Blog Post. Humanizing the Transition Experience. http://www.libbystephens.com/blog/organizations/18-time-to-proficiency
- Williams, J., Rosenbaum, S. (2004). Learning Paths: Increase Profits by Reducing the Time it Takes Employees to Get Up-To-Speed. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.