Man and dog sitting in a car looking at a map

Mapping Out Your Company's Skills Set

November 23, 2022 Learning and Development
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

There's an old adage in business that says a company is only as good as its employees, and it remains true to this day. Companies that succeed invest in their workforce, in developing their skills and enhancing their knowledge base.

What that looks like on the field will be different for every company, based on their unique requirements, mission, vision and objectives. There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to learning and development, but that is essentially why a skills map — also known as a skills assessment or skills matrix —  is so valuable in helping to identify and plan for skills development.

What Are Skill Maps?

Skills mapping is a process by which HR and organizational leaders create a visual representation of the skills required for the successful execution of the company's strategic plan. It entails comparing the skills the company has access to today, what it needs to fill and what it will need in the future — and identifying all the gaps in between.

Skills maps are valuable tools in ensuring that a company is on the right path to meet its goals, at least from a talent perspective. Having a visual representation of the company's skills set helps not only develop more rounded teams but also plan for sudden departures by developing a robust roster, particularly in those mission-critical areas where skilled workers may be sparse or more prone to poaching by the competition.

It's an excellent way to circumvent situations like the tight labor market we face today, but it also helps relieve some of the pressure felt by recruiting experts and HR leaders to find a suited candidate in a hurry. Instead of reacting to a gap by seeking out a fit candidate to fill a role, companies that use skills mapping forecast the skills they will need a few years out and develop workers in anticipation of that need. 

But skills maps also have another important benefit: if they're used to increase learning opportunities they can improve company culture and the overall employee experience. A 2021 Gallup survey shows that 71% of employees feel that learning new skills improves job satisfaction. By conducting a skills assessment, team leaders have an opportunity to identify employees' specific strengths and weakness and support those who need or want to learn new skills to improve their contribution to the team and move into other roles in their career path. 

According to a 2022 PwC survey, only about 40% of companies invest in upskilling their teams. This is a missed opportunity for anyone seeking to improve their talent retention and employee engagement.

Related Article: Employee Journey Mapping: How to Get Started

How to Create a Skills Map

Skills maps are extremely valuable, but they aren't easy. Many steps are involved in creating a matrix that will truly make a difference for the organization. The complexities of creating and maintaining these fluid documents have inspired an entire cottage industry of skills tech providers to emerge, which aim to automate or remove most of the heavy lifting from the task.

But for those not ready to commit to a tech investment, here are five common steps to conducting a skills assessment:

Step One: Defining Required Skills

The first step when building a skills map is to define what is required, whether that is for a specific task, for a team or for the organization as a whole.

There are many ways to do this, but one effective way to start is at the bottom. Enlist the help of team managers to provide a list of the skills they need to achieve their goals.

Ideally, these should be recorded across three levels: skills that are essential, those that are nice to have, and those that would be a significant differentiator. While the task sounds relatively straightforward, understand that it is often the intersection of specific skills where true value lies, so constant reassessment and reevaluation of what skills are truly necessary will be an ongoing task.

Step Two: Identifying Individual Skills

Once the skills you need to get the job done have been defined, you need to assess the skills you have.

There are several ways to do that, too. You can evaluate them based on formal qualifications or experience, or you can assess them based on observations you or team managers have made.

Like in step one, catalog those skills across three levels: basic proficiency, intermediate, expert. Alternatively, you could use a scoring system like a 0-3 scale, where 0 is no skill and 3 is advanced.

Will Yang, head of growth at San Francisco-based Instrumentl, said he likes to conduct a skill assessment on each team member and put them side by side for comparison. Some companies instead use the grid developed in Step One to check whether the employee has the required skills, and to what degree of proficiency.

Note however that sticking to the required skills map from Step one may limit your assessment of an employee to the confines of that specific role. For instance, a salesperson doesn't need coding skills to get the job done, so coding would not appear on the skills map, but it would still be valuable for you to know that you have an employee with those skills in the company. Who knows, that salesperson may be looking for a role change and turn out to be the very master coder you'll need next year. 

Step Three: Assessing Interest Levels

While employees might have the skills required to complete a task, they still need motivation to do it well. For example, a marketing manager might have the skills to write effective blog posts but have more interest in managing PPC campaigns.

If an employee is not interested in the tasks, their performance will be reduced significantly. It's therefore important to rate interest level in the assigned job for each employee. 

Once again, you can use a three-tier scale to catalog this information. Say, from no interest to passionate.

Related Article: The Path to a Career as a Digital Workplace Leader

Step Four: Placing Data Into a Matrix

After all the data points have been collected, managers need to enter this into a matrix. All the information needs to be cross-referenced with the skills required.

Today, there are numerous software tools available to help create a skill matrix. However, a spreadsheet can often get the job done if cost is a constraint.

Consider using color coding to make the map easier to understand and faster to navigate. For instance, red cells might represent that the skill is present but the person is uninterested in the role, or vice versa.

Step Five: Filling Skill Gaps

Once you've found out what skills are missing from your team, you can start looking at filling those gaps and planning for the future.

"I've always found that upskilling your current employees to fill skills gaps is more effective than hiring outside help, where possible," said Dragos Badea, CEO of Yarooms.

There are several advantages to this. One, it can speed up the process of acquiring those skills. It can also be more satisfying for employees, thus improving motivation, retention and productivity.

Related Article: How to Win and Retain Developer Talent

Proactive, Not Reactive

Conducting a skills assessment and building a skills matrix is not easy. As with most projects, having accurate and thorough data from the start is key. The skills map will be rendered useless if the data it relies on is flawed.

So, make sure to invest time in collecting the insights, bringing in various leaders from across the organization to discuss needs and wants, and loop in employees as deemed necessary. One-on-one conversations can reveal a lot about a person's interest and goals; much more than a formal performance assessment.

There's a lot of work needed to get the mapping process right, but it is well worth the effort down the road.

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