HPISC Client Impact Stories

Upskilling Technicians

to Meet Performance Demand and Values Expectations


To generate the technical up-skilling requirements for Production Operations Technicians.


The client lacked the resources and methodology to capture SMEs tacit knowledge learned while on the job. The first vendor they hired delivered results that did not meet their needs.

Background Situation

The original project was deployed in a different manufacturing department and yielded disappointing results.  An equipment vendor was hired to identify the missing knowledge and skills needed for expert status.  Instead of conducting a performance analysis, a training needs analysis (TNA) was performed.  When you begin the project with a TNA, it assumes that there is a lack of knowledge and skill and that “training” is the right solution to close those gaps.  From there, the content is determined, and the result is a training course recommendation complete with the what (topics), the how (skills demonstrations and some practice) and hopefully the why (WIIFM, benefits, link to Initiative or a Corrective Action Preventive Action.)

Perhaps, there was a misunderstanding between client and vendor or both parties shared the same the training assumption.  None the less, their needs assessment was resource intensive and lengthy.  Their recommendations listed all the courses that were needed to close this gap and happened to be provided by them.  Yet their report did not yield a baseline of technical expertise needed at defined intervals ie. Novice, Apprentice, Journeyman, Expert, which was the original requested work. 

A performance cause analysis would have started at the original performance gap and examined what was getting in the way of technicians achieving key performing indicators (KPIs) and whether missing knowledge and skill was a contributing factor.   Performance analysis helps determine what to recommend only after data is collected and examined.

HPISC was contacted specifically to work with SMEs to capture their tacit knowledge and hidden secret sauce for operating manufacturing equipment.  Of particular interest, was the use of the human performance improvement approach which keeps the performance consultant solution agnostic until the data is collated and evaluated.

Performance Objectives

The Operation Department was not hitting their KPIs; they were incurring an increase in errors leading to waste.  In a lean manufacturing environment, this is the opposite result that is desired.  After lengthy management discussions, a new request was generated: If required knowledge and skill could be extrapolated and mapped out along a continuum of job classifications, all operators could perform at optimal performance thus hitting their department metrics. 

In addition, this Upskilling Project was linked to another highly visible strategic human capital project.  Rather than duplicate efforts, the deliverables from the Upskilling project would be leveraged by the Skills Alignment Team to execute their scope and implement the initiative deliverables.

Human Performance Improvement Method in Use – (Key Performer Analysis)

Exemplary performers are those subject matter experts (SMEs) who are sought after because of their expertise, their legacy knowledge and their ability to meet and often exceed performance targets.  They just know how to perform better than their peers.  Having these exemplars can tell us how much competence we already have in the organization.  Well, at least in theory.  But it can also tell us much potential we have for improvement.  Thomas Gilbert in his book, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, refers to it as PIP: potential for improving performance. 

To leaders, the opportunity to capture exemplars knowledge and skills and teach it back to others is the like finding the holy grail of an SMEs brain.  If only we can put their brain on paper and reproduce this again and again throughout the department, then we can have optimum performance, possibly even beat the metrics is a very popular belief.  And indeed, it can be done.  It’s called a Key Performer Analysis and it is one of the phases within the HPI Methodology.

The Technical Upskilling Project began with Key Performer interviews to:

  • Create key performer best practices models for each job classification title/level.
  • Develop qualification tools to establish proficiency standards for each level to determine accurate proficiency results before automatically promoting an employee based solely on “time in job”.
  • Capture tacit knowledge and equipment trouble shooting scenarios from the key performers.

Biggest Challenge – What Wasn’t Happening as Expected

During the interviews with key performers, it was discovered that there wasn’t much differentiation of knowledge and skills after proficiency is achieved.  So, if there wasn’t much differentiation, then what differentiates a novice from a journeyman from an expert?  The second project was now in jeopardy.  The fundamental premise of their scope became flawed with this unanticipated discovery.  How would they be able to leverage different job description classifications, conduct accurate job placement of existing fulltime employees into the right level i.e. Novice, Apprentice, Journeyman, Expert and refine hiring criteria for future new hires?

Primary Cause(s)

Site leadership and team members believed that knowledge and skills were acquired from a well-defined curricula of SOPs (standard operating procedures) and time on the job.  While that is true, what is learned on the job is not necessarily captured and certainly not linked to a specific point in time of an operator’s career path. 

Additionally, the length of time in a job role, does not automatically mean that all senior operators in an area possess the same knowledge and troubleshooting experience.   Quite honestly, it comes to down to luck of the draw of being assigned to that workstation when anomalies occur, one SME said.  And the insight gained may only be documented if the incident resulted in a formal deviation or CAPA investigation in which a procedure was revised.

This discovery also brought to light that the promotion process did not specify the performance expectations regarding the Company’s values and behaviors.  It also uncovered inconsistent application of the proficiency evaluations.  Promotions were pretty much granted based on automatic time on job and a perfunctory review of proficiency demonstrations. 

“Performance analysis recognizes that performance occurs within a system. No matter the power of a course or the rightness of the selection of a person for a job, continued excellent performance depends on integrated components that wrap around people.  That’s the performance system, comprising of standards, feedback, knowledge, skills, incentives, recognition, access to information, management, sponsorship, technology, tools, processes, and more,” (Rossett, 2009, p. 44).

What the key performer analysis did was to identify what else was not working in the HR system and to alert Project # 2 team members.  Moving forward without aligning with the Upskilling Project would not yield desired results despite their project milestones were coming due fast.

HPI Solution – End Result

The solution that best matched from the causes was to improve structure and process for training Technicians, Job Skills Advancement and additional role clarity.

After a review of the company’s vision, mission, and values documents,  the client and I identified the top 7 values expected from Technicians. Then we defined the performance attributes for a new hire, novice, journeyman, and expert for each of the 7 value categories into a matrix-like table with the values running down the left side and the job classifications across the top.  As the progression moves across to the expert, the attributes increase in expectation and in intensity.  The Developmental Progression Review Tool was developed to educate the employees and assist the evaluators on the additional performance criteria for company values.    It is through these expectations for values, that a technician would grow and fine-tune his/her performance. 

The Upskilling Transition Implementation Plan also included:

  • Continuum Curricula Level Maps
  • Equipment Performance Models to be used with Job Shadowing ( + troubleshooting tips)
  • Equipment Proficiency Assessments
  • Developmental Progression Review Tool. 

Value Added to the Business

Capturing the “secret sauce” from subject matter experts is more than interviewing them and putting their brains on paper.  The interviews revealed that there was no “real” process for training, assessments, and promotions.  There was an overreliance on the client’s esteemed experts and the assumption that SMEs’ expertise could be segmented into job advancement levels.  


“I want everything in this project wrapped up in a go-to document that I can deliver to the other team with a bow on top.  Can you do that for me?”


  • Thomas Gilbert. Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance.  Pfeiffer, San Francisco, 2007
  • Allison Rossett. First Things First: A Handbook for Performance Analysis. Pfeiffer, San Francisco, 2009.
  • Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson. Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training. Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1996.
PDF VERSION: Alignment of 4 levels of Organizational needs Map included.

A related Theory vs. Practice Blog can be found below:

White Paper: Performance Analysis: the “lean” approach to solving performance problems

Who is Vivian Bringslimark, the Author?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

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