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

 

Is your skill profile up to date?

Almost certainly the answer is no. You may not even have a skill profile, though there are traces of your skills all round you. I obsess about skills as much as anyone, and track them in three main places: on the People Insights platform from TeamFit, on LinkedIn and in a spreadsheet that I have been maintaining for many years as an aid to memory. But I am pretty sure I have not updated any of these for skills so far this month, and I have not given my LinkedIn profile a good grooming for a couple of years, despite the improvements LinkedIn has been making.

Before we dig into the reasons that most skill profiles are mouldering, here are three things you can do to keep them up to date.

  1. Make time for reflection each week (I use early Saturday morning) and make updating your skill profile with new evidence part of this – it is important to build good habits.
  2. Have conversations with the people around you about their skills and what you would add to their profile.
  3. Connect skills to performance. Whatever your key performance indicators, and however you track them, make sure that skills are connected so that you can see what skills are driving your success.

Take a short survey on your critical skills.

Why do we all struggle so much to keep our skills profiles up to date?

There are organizational, individual and peer angles to consider.

It is often the organization that wants to document skills. There are many reasons to do this. With the growing importance of services and the rapid commoditization of most technologies (AI has moved from cutting edge innovation to commodity in almost record time) people are the key vector of differentiation. Organizations need to know what skills people have, how this supports their differentiation, where they have or will have skill gaps and how all this is changing over time. The challenge is to get this information. The most common way to do this is through some form of survey. Most companies are over reliant on surveys for this, and surveys are easily ignored or answered in a perfunctory way. Surveys are not the best way to gather data on skills. They are too far removed from the development and application of skills to give an accurate and current picture.

There is a path forward though. Organizations should collect data about skills as part of work and as part of learning. Slip short questions on skills into project updates and integrate this into your project management software. Listen in on collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams for skill conversations and glean evidence for current and new skills. Make a few questions about new skills, target skills (skills the person wants to develop) and new ways skills are being applied part of performance reviews (which more and more companies are conducting on a monthly or even weekly cadence). Connect skills to their application any way you can.

There is a problem with all this though. From an individual’s point of view there is no real answer to the ‘what’s in it for me’ question. If skill profiles are only useful to the organization and do not empower the individual, then data collection will always be difficult. In today’s environment, people are also concerned that the organization will use information about their skills against them in some way. Perhaps as part of workforce reductions. This is why many labor unions and work councils have resisted individual skill records. They see how collecting the data is in the company’s interest, but not how it helps the individual.

There are two ways to address this. Give individuals ownership of and control over their own skill profile.

Ownership. We should own a copy of data that is collected about us and this data should travel with us across jobs and companies across our career. Companies that want to excel in skill management need to support this.

Control. The individual should have direct control over their own skill profile. This means they can decide what skills are visible, indicate their core and target skills and even control who can see their profile.

My own core skills and target skills are shown below.

Even this is not enough. Skills are only meaningful when they are connected to how we use them and who we use them with. Application is key. It makes the skill relevant to work while providing evidence that I actually have the skills I am claiming. Skills also have an important social dimension. Who we use skills with matters.

The important of peers

One of the best ways to learn about one’s skills is to ask other people. Our co-workers and collaborators often have a better idea of our real skills than we do ourselves. And some of the most important skills we have are our connecting skills and our complementary skills.

Connecting skills are the skills that we use when we work with other people. Two people with no skills in common often find it difficult to collaborate. Knowing what our connecting skills are helps to build effective teams. Connecting skills are unique to each group of people. Building connecting skills is an important part of team building.

Complementary skills are skills that are not shared by two people but that are frequently used together to achieve some larger goal. Some examples are ‘user interface design’ and ‘frontend engineering’ or ‘market segmentation’ and ‘pricing model design.’ Understanding who has the skills that complement our own and cultivating relationships with these people is critical to long-term success.

Skills become meaningful as part of conversations

Let’s go back to the three suggestions from the top of this post and unpack them a bit more.

  1. Make time for reflection. Thinking about how our skills connect us to other people, how they will help us realize our dreams and how we are learning and developing is at the heart of skill development. Spend even fifteen minutes on this a week and updating your skill profile will become a natural thing to do.
  2. Have conversations. Reach out and help other people develop their own skills and you will find them willing to help you. We have to give before we receive. Most people are happy to be told about their skills and want people to be aware of their core and target skills. They will then reciprocate. Skill profiles should be woven into day-to-day conversations, and should live where those conversations take place.
  3. Connect skills to performance. Most of us are not developing skills for skills sake, just as we are not learning for learning’s sake. Sometimes we are, yes, and it is fun to build new capabilities. But skills become most relevant when we can connect them to the work we are doing and the outcomes we are getting. Imagine how powerful it would be to know that one critical skill that would make you successful on your next project.

Part of our work right now is to simplify the skill profile and connect it to experience, to conversations and to performance. We will be making a series of small changes over the course of the year that move us towards dynamic skill profiles that will stay up to date without effort on your part. Even as we achieve this, we hope you will take time to reflect, have conversations and connect skills to performance!