How are You Measuring Investigator Competency?

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

Most organizations these days have at least thought about the need to create competency models for all formal job positions. Typically, these models focus more on skill definition than they do on consistent daily skill application of the necessary competencies. In some cases, limited methods to assess skill competency on the job exists. This is often the case with measuring investigator competency,

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The Position Observation Checklist (POC) tool I share in this post helps high performance organizations achieve both goals. When you create a POC for each job role, you define key tasks and behaviors across the organization. Plus, 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. I was researching the best practices of annual Baldrige Performance Excellence Award recipients. The Pal’s Sudden Service restaurant chain, a 2001 award recipient, uses this tool to help ensure its staff consistently know and practice the right skills on the job. Both the trainee and a coach use the POC, ideally 3-6 months after the completion of formal training. (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 initial training completion 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. This helps demonstrate improvement towards a given set of performance goals.

In a recent TapRooT® 2-day root cause analysis course I was teaching, I was asked about such a competency model for the incident investigator job role. I did not know of one off of the top of my head. So, I sat down and created the example Position Observation Checklist for measuring investigator competency you can find here. It is based on the use of the TapRooT® incident investigation process. However, you can shape it to use with other investigative processes as well.

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How is the Position Observation Checklist used to measure 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 to demonstrate competency for each of the key 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.

There are three goals for a well-designed Position Observation Checklist (POC). First, you want to define job expectations clearly. Second, you want to provide a competency assessment tool to help evaluate formal training. Third, the POC creates a way to compare 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 help (1) evaluate the effectiveness of current training content and delivery and (2) target personal and training developmental gaps. Integrate the use of the Position Observation Checklist (POC) with your 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 conduct great interviews, but need to improve their collection of 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. You can use it to help identify best practice sources as much as target areas for improvement.

Many investigators will improve if you simply give them a means to assess their investigator skills. Others may need to compare their self-assessments with one that a coach completes. Use of the resultant gap analysis helps create an investigation skills focused personal development plan. However, without any feedback as to how well one performs as an investigator, one can place little focus or effort on improvement.

Trends of investigator assessment scores across a work site or business unit helps identify systemic learning gaps across investigation teams. If you address such gaps, it will help better optimize your investigation resource investments. Plus, score improvement should lead to more effective investigations and better fixes. If you want to make 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. You can purchase the book in either e-book or print form from  

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