Steven Forth is a co-founder of TeamFit. See his TeamFit skill map here.

Many of us will spend a lot of time in November and December preparing plans for 2018. We are deep in strategic planning season. As you work through your planning process, make sure you are considering the skills in your organization:

• What are our current skills?
• How are we applying our current skills?
• Which potential skills should we develop?
• Where will we have skill gaps in 2018 and how will we fill these gaps?
• Where are the future gaps?

One of the most powerful frameworks for strategic planning is the Cascading Choices framework developed by Roger Martin. In this framework, as recently popularized in the book Playing to Win by Roger Martin and A.G Lafley, one works through a cascade from Winning Aspirations, through Where to Play Choices, How to Win, Capabilities and Systems.

At first blush, it may seem that skills and skill management belongs at the Capabilities level and that Skill Management is a System. That is a bit too simple in a world dominated by innovation and the creations of knowledge workers. Understanding the skills and even more importantly the potential skills you have in your company is a key input into strategy. The potential skills within your organization are a pointer to the places where you could go.

Winning Aspirations: Building capability can be an aspiration in itself. This is especially true today when one of the most important. Of course no company, no matter how big, can be good at everything. One has to make Where to Play choices. This requires a very clear understanding of the baseline skills you need, the skills that your major competitors also have, and your differentiating skills, the combinations of skills that let you create value in ways that your competitors cannot. One can get a glimpse of this in our analysis of skills at three of the world’s leading design agencies Skill insight can clarify your competitive position – comparing Fjord, Frog and IDEO.

Once you understand your Winning Aspirations and have decided Where to Play, you will need to build your How to Win Tactics. With skills and expertise, this means building up the skill network you need to win. This includes decisions on whether to develop skills internally or whether to outsource or partner. Training and performance management decisions take place at the How to Win level. All these decisions cascade down to the Capabilities you have to base your strategic plan on and then deliver on it in the coming years. Capabilities are the building blocks of strategy for professional services firms.

Given the importance of skills across all levels of strategy and execution it makes sense to have Systems in place to manage skills and provide skill insight. At TeamFit, we have connected the strategic and execution levels to make sure that the strategic choice cascade remains connected.

Let’s look a little deeper into the strategic questions for skills.

What are our current skills?

A dynamic skill inventory of current skills is central to any skill-based strategy. Jeff Hesse of PwC recently wrote about this in his article in Strategy+Business Why Companies Need to Build a Skills Inventory. The skill inventory is the baseline and it is something that is constantly changing and transforming. Without this it is hard to develop and then act on any skill-based strategy.

How are we applying our current skills?

You cannot know how important a skill set is unless you know how it is being used. In a world where most work is done on teams, who are often delivering projects, this means you must be able to connect skills to projects. If you can’t do this your skill management system is functionally meaningless.

As part of your strategic planning for 2018, list up all of the critical projects for 2017 and see what skills were used, paying special attention to the differentiating skills. Then look ahead into 2018. What are the critical projects? What skills are needed for these?

Which of our potential skills should we develop?

Each of us has potential skills that we could develop and apply but have not yet done so. The same is true for companies. Most companies will have deep pockets of potential skills that they are not applying or in many cases even aware of. Potential can be found in three places. The skills that people already have but are not being fully applied; the skills that people in the organization could develop given their foundational skills (the skills used to build new skills) and existing skills; and the new potential that can be created by combining skill sets that are seldom used together (one example is Pricing and Design Thinking). Uncovering potential skills is an important step in strategic planning.

Where will we have skill gaps in 2018 and how will we fill these gaps?

Once you have documented your current skills, understand how they are being applied and know where your potential skills are hiding, it is time to look for skill gaps and plan how to close gaps. Are there any emerging shortfalls in the base skills that your industry requires (the bottom right quadrant above)? Will any of the skills in the top left quadrant become strategic in the coming year?

Take the list of critical projects for 2018 and identify the skills needed to deliver on these projects. Use a tool like the TeamFit Team Builder module to see if you can build these teams. Find the skill gaps and see if they can be covered by potential skills. Look at the potential skills again and see if they suggest new areas you should be exploring and market testing in the coming year.

Where are the future gaps?

It can take more than twelve months to realize potential skills and develop new markets. In your strategic planning you need to be looking out beyond the edge of your planning horizon (for a small SaaS company the planning horizon is generally three years, for a company delivering long-lived infrastructure it could easily be 70 years, Softbank is said to plan out for 300 years!. At TeamFit, we are conducting skill research to try to understand the skills that will become critical to our users in the future. Contact us if you would like to work with us on one of these future skilling projects.

TeamFit can help with your strategic planning in three ways.
1 . Build a dynamic skill map for each individual, project and team in your organization.
2 . Connect those skills to the projects they are being used on.
3 . Probe for skill gaps by building future teams and seeing who could staff them.