Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.

 

There is a subtle dance between skills and learning. We learn to develop new skills. Learning itself is a type of skill. The use of a skill is one of the best ways of learning it. Most corporate learning and development groups have led with learning. They track learning (not really, they track use of learning resources and test taking), provide learning, and the best of them connect learning to career paths. They have invested in learning management systems (these systems are designed to help managers and not the learners) and are considering adopting learning experience platforms (which at least are more learner focused than the typical LMS). If performance is your goal, and you are concerned with outcomes, you need to reverse this.

 

Skills are the foundation of performance.

Why should skills come first? You will not get where you want to go if you do not have a destination. Most of us are not learning for learning’s sake (though that is a worthy thing). We are learning to achieve a goal. The learning does NOT make a direct contribution to performance. Learning makes its contribution through skills. It is the Skill-to-Performance axis that is the most important here.

Let’s unpack each of the relations in the above diagram.

  1. The central axis is Skill-to-Performance – it is skills combined with attitude and determination that drive performance. Skills are the foundation.
  2. Supporting performance is the Team-to-Performance connection – most important goals rely on a team. Our performance is not solely our own. We are supported by those around us.
  3. Complementary and Connecting skills build the team – given that performance is the outcome of the team, it is important to understand how individual skills combine and reinforce each other.
  4. Learning is one way to build Skills – we all need to learn; continuous learning has become part of the knowledge worker’s life. Learning is not the only way to build skills, and formal learning is only one aspect of learning. The 70:20:10 model is an approximation, but a good yardstick. Seventy percent of learning happens in the context of work; twenty percent through social interactions; ten percent through formal learning.
  5. Learning can be a team thing – too much of our learning investment is focused on the individual. We also need to invest in team learning. Give teams the opportunity to learn together, to build complementary skills and uncover their connecting skills. This usually only happens in the context of work. Performance can be accelerated by team learning.

How can you build a skill-based learning program?

There are some simple first steps.

Begin by helping people understand the skills they have. The fastest and most accurate way to do this is with a skill management platform. Help people build a map of their current skills. Have them classify their core skills (the skills most important to doing their work, the ones they use all the time) and their target skills (the skills they want to develop).

Look for skill gaps. These gaps show up in many different ways. There are personal gaps. What skills does the individual need to develop to achieve their own goals? This is where formal learning plays the largest role, but even here it can only play a small role. Getting people on the teams where they can learn more skills is more important. There are also skill gaps on teams. These are usually covered by bringing in new people as team members or coaches. Finally, there are skill gaps at the organizational level. Does the organization have the skills it needs to deliver on its strategic plan? Making sure that the answer to this question is “Yes” is the most important job of talent management. Talent management is about uncovering and realizing potential skills and using these to achieve organizational goals.

Achieving target skills and closing skill gaps

TeamFit is amping up its ability to support learning. We are doing this in three ways.

Making target skills more visible – today you have to go to each individual’s profile to see target skills. We plan to add a dashboard that will let everyone see the target skills in the organization, to help people with related target skills to find each other, and we are giving the organization a way to indicate what leadership thinks the target skills should be. This will improve alignment, and open new opportunities for people to learn together.

Uncovering potential – most of us have the ability to develop new skills based on the skills we already have. Often these are the skills that are missing in the organization. Let’s connect our potential skills to our target skills and use this to fill skill gaps. Hiring in new skills is a risky and expensive proposition. It is often better to develop the potential skills of the current team.

Enabling skill-based learning – this is the biggest investment we will be making. More on this to come, but the first steps are simple: (i) Create a page for each skill, (ii) Connect learning resources to each skill page, (iii) Help people to form learning communities around the skill.

We plan to help people build these skill-based communities. This will be driven bottom up, but there are already some communities that are signalling interest. Design Thinking, Product Management and Service Design are three connected skill sets where people have already asked how to build these communities. Let’s get started. Contact us if you are interested in contributing or learning more.