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Boost Organizational Resilience by Expanding Your Knowledge of Employee Skills

December 08, 2020 Learning and Development
China Martens
By China Louise Martens

Organizations must continually assess the best fit between employee skills and business needs to ensure they have the resources in place to address uncertain and changeable markets.

To optimally deploy staff and their talents, they need access to up-to-date and in-depth employee skills profiles. Without that insight, they risk making employee decisions without full knowledge of an individual’s past, present and potential capabilities.

The impact of such decisions can negatively affect their ability to retain skilled employees as well as damage the organization’s ability to effectively respond to unforeseen events such as the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

Gain Better Insight into Employee Skills and Willingness to Reskill

Recent research indicates a fundamental disconnect between how executives see employees’ adaptability and how staff assess their own ability to change. In a worldwide talents trends study by consultancy Mercer, the executives polled said only 45% of their workforce is adaptable to the new world of work versus 78% of surveyed employees who said they are ready to reskill.

According to the report, two in five of the HR leaders polled said that they don’t know what skills they have in their workforce today. Insight into employee skills profiles and motivations, along with strategic workforce planning, are critical factors in building sustainable talent pipelines.

Clearly, organizations need to ensure they’re capturing employees’ skills, whether acquired in or outside of work. They need to store that information in a single easily accessible place – an employee skills profile – where that information can be referred to and regularly updated by all relevant parties, notably HR and the employees themselves.

Related Article: Upskill and Reskill for a Better Employee Experience

Create Employee Skills Profiles

Ideally, an employee skills profile centralizes and combines all information about a specific individual’s roles, responsibilities and performance with the employee’s own skill additions and updates as well as relevant third-party data.

“A modern employee skills profile should include work history, skills, education, top work artifacts, performance history, collaborative strengths and weaknesses, and their social reputation,” said Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “We’re getting closer all the time to this goal as HR systems, social networks and talent analytics converge to collect this information.”

What constitutes an employee skills profile should depend on how the organization intends to use that information, according to Dani Johnson, cofounder and principal analyst at RedThread Research. “More and more organizations are looking for lots of detail that will help them both guide the employee and make better decisions about mobility, succession, workforce planning and development,” she said.

Johnson noted the active discussion taking place at many organizations about how best to verify employee skills. “Is a self-assessment enough or is a more in-depth approach needed to understand proficiency levels?” she said.

Determine the Primary Purpose of Skills Profiles

The answer to the verification question is linked to the primary purpose of a skills profile for the organization. For instance, do the requirements for promoting an individual employee rest largely on the scores they’ve achieved in specific certifications? Or, is the organization looking for potential as signaled by a staff member who’s audited a variety of classes outside of the work environment, which may speak to their continuing curiosity, adaptability and ongoing willingness to acquire new knowledge?

It’s also important to note the upheaval and disruption to normal business operations caused by the impact of COVID-19. As many organizations already realize, the fallout from the global pandemic will be long-lasting and will result in a fundamental resetting for most, if not all, businesses. Now is a time for the organization to truly understand the impact each employee had, currently has, and will have on the bottom line.

Related Article: Designing the Digital Workplace for Resilience

Use Existing Technology to Build Out Employee Skills Profiles

Gaining as much knowledge and understanding about employees is a valuable exercise. So, how are organizations going about building more complete skills profiles of their individual employees?

“Organizations are building personal profiles, analytics models, detailed personas and more,” Hinchcliffe said. “These are vital to ensure that the employee experiences they are designing actually meet the needs of the workers, the way they work, their relevant skillsets (or lack of), and how they deliver value to the business.”

In examining organizations and their goals, Johnson sees them taking different approaches to augment employee skill profiles based on the type of technology they’re using.

Some businesses continue to rely on the traditional HRIS (human resources information system) they already have in place and are “more aggressively encouraging employees” to keep the skills information stored in those applications up to date, Johnson said.

Organizations might also consider the completion of a skills profile to be a key task for new hires during onboarding and then schedule regular updates to that profile on every employee’s calendar. HR could provide guidelines and examples for the type of information required for an employee’s skills profile and also request feedback from employees to determine whether or not they think their entire skill set is accurately captured within their profile.

“HR tools tend to have a record-keeping and/or focus on learning, and less function on operational side,” Hinchcliffe said. “Yet skills are clearly highly operational in nature, so having accurate and updated views on worker capabilities/skills are essential in accurately staffing projects that deliver value to the business in a repeatable, timely way.”

Johnson has also seen organizations bypassing their HRIS in favor of a simpler way to gather skills data. “In some cases, since COVID, we have also seen a quick-and-dirty version where employers are actively asking for employees to list their skills in something as simple as a spreadsheet so that they can more quickly move folks around the organization,” Johnson said.

Apply Newer Technologies to Infer Employee Skills

Other organizations are deploying new technology which takes advantage of "latent" or "passive" data to draw inferences about the skills employees have at their disposal. “We see great potential in some of the tools that gather and use latent data,” Johnson said.

As examples of latent data about an employee, she suggested looking at past projects that individual has worked on, understanding the proficiency they have gained over time in each of their roles within the organization, and the number of projects on which they have worked. By applying artificial intelligence or organizational network analysis (ONA) to this kind of data, they can look for tangential skills.

However, relying purely on latent data to arrive at skills determinations without confirmation from each individual employee isn’t always an ideal approach. “We expect that we’re at the beginning of this movement and it will get better over time as the technology gets better and as the data becomes more complete,” Johnson said.

Josh Bersin, author and global industry analyst at Josh Bersin Academy, noted there is a new category of internal tools, known as "skill clouds" or "skills ontology builders." These tools examine all of employee data to identify trending skills with the organization. “They ‘infer’ skills by looking at job experiences, performance reviews, learning patterns, and the resumes of high performers,” he wrote in a blog. Effectively, the skills cloud functions as a “search engine for skills within your own company,” according to Bersin.

Among the players lining up skills clouds, Bersin listed Degreed, EdCast, LinkedIn and Workday, as well as Cornerstone following its acquisition of AI company Clustree. Potentially, a skills cloud could end up at the heart of an HR system providing data on which skills the organization needs to hire for, which skills existing employees need to attain or perfect, and present a way to match up skills of potential acquisitions with those within the organization.

Related Article: Knowledge Graphs: Adding the Human Factor to Unlock Real Intelligence

Make It Easy for Employees to Update Skills Profiles

While technology can be helpful for HR professionals in pulling together a good sense of an employee’s skills, it’s equally important that organizations give employees the means to access their profiles and to keep that information current.

“Many HR tools are the purview of the HR department more than the employee,” Hinchcliffe said. “So skill profiles are often locked down and managed by HR, which have limited capacity or knowledge to keep them fully updated.”

He recommended that employees should have as much input to their skills profile as HR, as well as the broader work communities of which an individual employee is a part. “Work together is increasingly a shared medium model, and skills profiles are very much a part of this shift,” Hinchcliffe said.

Johnson highlighted the importance of organizations surrounding skills profiles with external messaging, guidance and leadership encouragement which speaks to the benefits of such profiles. “If you have the tools and it shows no real benefit to the individual, chances are there will be little usage,” she said. “If you have the tools and employees can see an active way forward, chances are better that they’ll use the tool and provide the data.” 

Ideally, employees see the value in maintaining their skills profiles as a key way to communicate where their strengths lie and how they might best serve both their own career ambitions and help grow the organization.

Facing continued business uncertainty, organizations needs to take stock and nurture employees by gaining a fuller understanding of their prior experience, their current skills, and their potential so they can maximize current and future work performance.

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