This is second in a series on Skills Management. It includes discussions on the establishment of a skills management program, skills assessment process, skills architecture, skills library, best practices, and case studies.
What Is Skills Architecture?
A successful Skills Management Program requires a solid architecture that is composed of a skills library and job families. A skills library is a database of skill groupings organized by functional categories such as human resources or information technology. A job family is a series of a company’s functionally-related roles that share a common set of skills aligned with proficiency expectations.
Skills modeling is used to develop the organizational skills architecture. Care must be taken that the process does not become an end in itself. Jobs and roles can be over-engineered and the process can become cumbersome generating excessive numbers of skills that can confuse and overstate requirements. There are numerous ways to build skills models. Many companies conduct a bottom up approach by identifying specific skills and knowledge and end up with a product that is comprehensive but very unwieldy in terms of numbers of skills and their classification. And, the focus is frequently the obvious – knowledge of tools, products, applications, and procedures rather than skills that offer growth potential often over a period of years.
A top down approach is a three step or three tiered process that first identifies the most common skills and knowledge that are required by everyone in the organization. The first two tiers are part of a job family; the third is added later. As a rule, the top tier can, optionally, contains behavioral and cultural competencies shared by everyone. The second step is identifying the skills that are shared only by those in a specific function or job family. This is the most critical part of the architecture since it identifies the core elements of your company’s business functions. Finally, the precise skills that apply to the employee are added by the individual to build his/her skills profile. Normally, those are tools, products and other assignment-oriented areas of knowledge that vary considerably from person to person.
Three Tiered Skills Profile
The most effective way is to start with a set of proven skills models that reflect industry standards. This is followed by a refinement and tailoring process that expresses the culture, technology and business goals of the company.
A robust skills architecture in the form of a skills library, the key to building a thriving skills-based organization, is a template that contains the kinds of skills that typical incumbents should be able to successfully demonstrate on the job. They are usually prepared as a group of functionally-related jobs called a job family. In a sense, they can be called a skills-based job description.
The key to skills management lies in skills libraries like SuccessFactors SkillsPlex® skills library that contains about 13,000 skills, skill descriptions, and roles. The SkillsPlex Library is a structured set of skills within skill “groups” by business categories that are used to build a skills-based hierarchy to meet the requirements of an organization. It contains a wide variety of content from very specific skill groups to lists of products and tools to generic “skills” that can be used in multiple ways. In addition, the library contains certifications and templates for content such as company-specific application systems plus behaviors and competencies. The SkillsPlex Library is available by industry-specific content such as Healthcare, Information Technology, Insurance, Finance, and more.
Effective job modeling looks at the core skills required for a series of functionally related positions, that is to say, a job family. Those mainstream skills, shared by everyone in that job family, become the building block for each incumbent to assemble a skills profile – or, perhaps, a skills-based resume for internal use. The flexibility for employees to add to their skills profiles reduces the need for extensive numbers of jobs to be modeled. It is important to note that a skills library contains functionally-oriented skill groups that are not necessarily related such as purchasing and manufacturing. However, with a business function, there are series of related skill groups from which a participating employee can select skills that can be added to their core job family skill set.
A good example of this approach is in the Information Technology area. An application developer can code and design programs and systems using a wide range of platforms such as mainframe, web, GIS, AS/400, Oracle, wireless, imaging and much more. The common theme here is application development. All of the jobs in the applications job family share programming, system design and system analysis among other mutual skills. A flexible job model allows each person to build on the common skills and select sets of skills and tools that are specific to their unique assignments and development. Instead of having potentially dozens of job models for each type of application developer, you now have just one.
Example from the field: A major payroll company decided to make all skills available to all people. Instead of focusing on areas of expertise, people were presented with so many skills to select that the average skills profile contained over 900 skills. People felt they had to show at least minimum proficiency in most of the skills. Poor skills modeling design along with inadequate instructions resulted in a useless set of data that benefited no one. The program was eventually dropped.
Another consideration in building job families is management and supervisory skills. Management skills form a critical part of any organization and its success rests on the grooming of new supervisors and leaders. The management cadre of any company makes it run smoothly and efficiently. It is important to introduce staff to management skills early in their careers. Management and leadership skills should not only be part of a manager’s skills profile, they should be linked to succession planning and executive development strategies.
The big question is: where do you introduce management skills to employees? The company’s skills structure needs to have management skills as part of functional (line) management, project management, team leadership and other areas. Also, the determination needs to be made where in the hierarchy management skills begin to replace and/or augment functional and technical skills as part of an incumbent’s job responsibilities.
Example from the field: In a telecommunications company, high turnover, employee dissatisfaction and frequent project failure was becoming evident. Investigation showed that people became accountable for management skills at the moment they were promoted to supervisors or managers. By introducing management skills and appropriate training early as part of a skills initiative to people who displayed management potential as individual contributors or technical team leaders, those issues began to change in a positive way.
Finally, an effective skills architecture requires a method to determine proficiency. As mentioned in the previous blog, a skill must be able to be measured and verified. This is typically done on the job by demonstration. (Best Practice: skills are assessed within the context of training and development and not performance; that is the function of the performance appraisal. If employees believe that promotion and/or raises are based on proficiency assessment, they often inflate their assessment and limit their opportunity for training while also raising the level of performance expectation.)Associated with each skill is a skills description on a scale from 1 to 5. A skill description can be unique or generic as long as it consistent throughout the company. This “common benchmark” assures that everyone assessing their skill is using the same yardstick. This assures that skills data, whether used for skills gap analyses, workforce planning or talent searches, is reliable, rational, and useful.
It is important to select skills that shape and influence specific results. This not only builds a road map for people to understand what is expected of them, it also provides a guideline for measuring assignment, team and unit outcomes. In addition, a good skills model not only reflects employee expectations but also identifies standards that are consistent throughout the organization, and can not only be used for employee training needs assessment, but also for recruitment, succession planning, workforce planning, and more.
In our next Skills Management blog, we will discuss best practices relating to building a skills-based organization. .
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Steven Venokur is a managing partner with People Sciences, Inc. and a contributing partner with SuccessFactors. He has built innovative skills and talent management solutions for more than twenty-five years.