How are You Measuring Investigator Competency?

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

Most organizations these days have at least thought about creating competency models for all formal job positons. Typically, these models focus more on defining skills that must be possessed and displayed on the job more than they do on ensuring the necessary competencies exist consistently on the job. In some cases, as is the case with measuring investigator competency, limited methods of assessing skill competency on the job exists.

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The Position Observation Checklist (POC) tool presented in this post is used by high performing organizations to help achieve both goals. By creating a POC for each job role, key tasks and behaviors are defined across the organization. Use of the POC tool on the job helps elevate the skills of all people who fill key job roles.

What is the Position Observation Checklist?

I discovered the Position Observation Checklist tool many years ago while researching the best practices of annual Baldrige Performance Excellence Award recipients. The Pal’s Sudden Service restaurant chain, which received the award in 2001, uses this tool to help ensure its staff consistently know and practice the right skills on the job. The POC is used both by the trainee and the coach, ideally 3-6 months after formal training has been completed (Kirkpatrick’s fourth level of learning evaluation).

At the Pal’s Sudden Service restaurant chain, people must score at least 75% on the POC three months after the initial training has been completed to satisfy that certification requirement. The tool can be used at any time, by trainee or coach, to assess current task competency levels. Scores can be trended over time, for a given skill, skill area, or the job in total, to demonstrate improvement towards a given set of performance goals.

In a recent TapRooT® 2-day root cause analysis course I was teaching, I was recently asked about the existence of a competency model for the incident investigator job role. Not knowing of one off of the top of my head, I sat down and created the example Position Observation Checklist for measuring investigator competency that can be found here. While it is based on the use of the TapRooT® incident investigation process, I think you can see how it can be tailored for the use of other investigative processes as well.

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How is the Position Observation Checklist used in measuring investigator competency?

The Position Observation Checklist (POC) is a great tool to use for self, peer, and supervisor evaluation. To create a POC, you first need to identify the 4-5 key skill areas that are core to a given job role. Second, identify 4-5 skills where competency needs to be demonstrated for each of the given skill areas. Third, field test the draft checklist with 2-3 ‘competent’ operators of various tenure. Finally, make the enhancements that these field reviews will help identify. An example POC for measuring investigator performance can be found here.

The goal of a well-designed Position Observation Checklist (POC) is to (1) define job expectations clearly, (2) provide a competency assessment tool for use in evaluating formal training, and (3) create a means for comparing performance perspectives between trainee, peers, and coaches. What would happen if you tried to introduce this concept at your facility for ALL key positions? Do you think it is possible to come up with a POC for your key supervisory and management jobs?

In the best organizations, tools of this nature are used to (1) evaluate the effectiveness of current training content and delivery and (2) help target personal and training developmental gaps. Use of the Position Observation Checklist (POC) should be integrated with strategic plan, annual training plan, personal development plan, and curriculum (training matrix) development efforts.

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How can the Position Observation Checklist help improve investigator skills?

All investigators have strengths in some areas and opportunities for improvement in others. For example, they might be great at conducting interviews, but poor at collecting other key evidence, such as photographs at the scene. The incident investigator Position Observation Checklist (POC) helps assess competency levels across multiple skill areas and performance dimensions. It can be used to help identify best practice sources as much as it can be used to target areas for improvement.

Many investigators will improve simply by being given a means to assess those skills that are considered important to performing effective investigations. Others may need to compare their self-assessments with those taken by a coach. The resultant gap analysis can then be used to create a personal development plan that is investigation skills focused. Without any feedback as to how well the investigator is currently performing however, little focus or effort will be placed on improvement.

Trending investigator assessments across a work site or business unit helps identify systemic learning gaps across investigation teams. Addressing such gaps will help better optimize the resource investments being made to conduct investigations and ultimately lead to more effective fixes. If you are interested in making such improvements in your organization, please contact me at

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Keep improving!

Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

This post is based on a chapter from Kevin’s book Error Proof – How to Stop Daily Goofs for Good. The book can be purchased in both e-book and hard copy form from

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