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Strategies to measuring competency from

Jason Carney gives details on how to measure competency along with additional HR strategies. Check out his tips in this article from


Measuring competency one badge at a time?

By: Lin Grensing-Pophal

February 2, 2012

Some organizations are talking about awarding badges to demonstrate skills, but the practice is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, HR leaders should make sure hiring managers are aware of this potential new trend. CHROs may also want to consider using badges in their employee-development activities.

As children, earning badges through organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts showed tangible evidence of proficiency in activities as far-ranging as archery, bird watching and wilderness survival.

Today, badges are again becoming sought-after signs of competency — but for adults.

According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “educational upstarts across the web are adopting systems of ‘badges’ to certify skills and abilities.”

Even some traditional colleges and universities are considering badges and other alternative forms of credentialing. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, recently announced the creation of MITx — the opportunity to take online tests and earn certificates after watching free courses offered through MIT, according to reports.

While the concept of badges opens up opportunities in a rapidly changing world — in which recently earned formal degrees may quickly become out of date — there are drawbacks as well.

For those earning these badges, there is the risk that money and time spent will have little or no impact in convincing employers of the merit of their achievements. For employers, there is the potential they will be wooed into a false sense of security about candidates’ competencies based on a seemingly content-rich list of badge achievements.

Badges — a New Focus

Diane Gayeski, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., says the concept of badges is “an interesting concept, but in some ways I don’t know that it’s a very new concept,” point to the use of certificates and various types of certifications for continuing education that have existed for a long time.

At Ithaca, for instance, says Gayeski, who consults on training issues through her firm, Gayeski Analytics, “We offer an online certificate in strategic communication management — and one might just as easily call it a badge.”

“I think ‘badge’ maybe has a more contemporary sound to it,” she says. “The idea of a badge is kind of a cool thing.”

It is also possible, she says, that badges may reflect a more narrowly focused accomplishment than certificates — that it will likely be “more granular” than other forms of certification.

Ann Latham, president of Uncommon Clarity, Inc., an Easthampton, Mass.-based consulting firm, says there is an increasing interest in what badges represent. “People are looking for certification,” she says. “And people are granting certificates. You can get a certificate for almost anything if you pay your fee.”

But, Gayeski notes, not all opportunities are created equal.

“Sometimes people get these certifications literally for just sitting in a workshop or sitting through an online webinar,” she says. Contrast that to the types of certificates that educational institutions offer.

From a recruitment standpoint, it may be a moot point.

“I work a lot with both clients and, as I recruit for some of my positions as well, I don’t really see badges yet,” says Tina Woita, director of strategic learning solutions at SilkRoad technology Inc., based in Chicago.

Ditto, says Jason Carney, director of human resources at WorkSmart Systems, a human resources outsourcing firm based in Indianapolis — although he has heard of the concept.

“I haven’t seen any resumes coming through with badges,” he says, adding that “I’ve talked to some colleagues, too, and it seems like kind of a fad.

“There’s never a substitute for verifiable experience, especially in this day and age. I’m going to look a heck of a lot more for genuine educational background and verifiable experience.”

He acknowledges, though, that badges may have some value and relevance in areas of “micro-skills” — such as individuals who develop iPhone apps or specialize in other emerging technologies.

From a Hiring Perspective

Even if badges start to gain traction, how meaningful will the information be to hiring managers and HR professionals?

A badge in SEO from Google, say, will probably offer more meaningful information to a hiring manager than, for example, a badge in teambuilding from Mom and Pop’s Corner Store, experts say. And between those extremes, there will be a wide range of perceived value along such a continuum.

What’s yet to be determined, experts say, is whether a badge will indicate competency or simply attendance at a workshop.

“Who certifies the certifiers?” adds Latham. “How do you know it means anything at all?”

“Given the absence of regulations on badges,” Woita says, “I do not anticipate a significant impact to the perceived credibility of resume content.”

After all, she says, there appears to be little difference between providing a list of badges or simply a list of skills, experiences and achievements. And, she adds: “Both can be overdone, misrepresented or falsified.”

But, Gayeski says, a badge from industries, professional organizations or educational institutions that are recognized sources of accreditation will “probably has a little more weight to it.”

We see that in HR or in project management,” she says.

Mike Ryan, senior vice president for marketing and strategy at Madison Performance Group in New York, says a badge would be “like any other accolade that you bring to the table through the resume or interview process. A good interviewer will be able to judge if there’s real meat behind that badge.

“Some businesses have a great reputation for developing talent; others not,” he says.

HR professionals and hiring managers should ask about what was involved in the process of being awarded a badge, Gayeski says: “Explain to me how many hours of instruction and what you had to hand in. Was there some assessment of your work? Was there a test that you took?”

More important than paying attention to badges, certifications or even degrees, says Latham, is asking the right questions. “Candidates get really good at telling you what you want to hear so you have to ask them questions that get them out of that comfort zone — that surprise them.”

From an Employee Development Perspective

One area where badges may benefit organizations, Carney says, is employee development. Companies may wish to issue badges, for example, once an employee masters a particular piece of equipment or successfully completing training on leadership skills.

Ryan says there are also opportunities for organizations to leverage the concept of badges to give employees a “pathway to improve, learn and grow.”

“The badge concept is definitely picking up in a virtual world,” he says. “One of the things we see is that, when an employee becomes certified or earns some other type of acknowledgement of having a proficiency in a particular area, the concept of attaching a badge to their profile or email signature is something that is catching on.”

In addition to offering badges to employees for the completion of certain types of learning activities — Six Sigma training or learning specific computer skills, for instance — Ryan says badges could also be used to encourage busy employees to step up to participate in teams and other collaborative projects.

“One of the things that I think organizations right now are struggling with is how do you get employees [who] are definitely maxed out [with work] … volunteer their time and insights to a project that may not be within their specific daily work responsibilities?

“Giving badges to people [who] have come to the table to offer their experience and insight, and to exchange ideas in the context of a particular project is a good way to not only get people to participate and do more, but to also promote an environment of cross-functional learning.”

While the concept seems in its infancy at this time, it’s certainly something HR leaders should be aware of and monitor — and, perhaps explore potential uses from an internal perspective.


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