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


Many people think of their careers as a series of roles. We get a job, build skills, and then parlay those skills into a new role; hopefully, one with more responsibility and pay. The connection between skills and roles is a critical one. People often need to know things like…

What skills are needed for this role?
Given these skills, what roles are available?

The question becomes, how does one map skills to roles and roles to skills?

Once upon a time, we built large complex competency models, that covered the skills, attitudes and even the experience required for specific roles. We had smart people gather, often from outside the company, to develop these models, which were introduced on Powerpoint presentations and managed in spreadsheets. Some limited version of these models was then implemented into a learning management system or talent management system and it was used (or mostly ignored) to build things like career paths. This top down approach is crumbling for three reasons:

  • The pace of change – large top down competency models are outdated by the time they are implemented.
  • Cross functional work – most top down competency models are function specific, they cover marketing or services or IT. More and more work today is performed in cross-functional teams, and it is difficult to map from one model to another (I have had to do this several times and the cognitive dissonance can be extreme).
  • The natural language of the workplace is usually quite different from the terms used in the competency model. This makes it difficult to apply in the day-to-day work of building teams and understanding the people we work with.

An alternative approach is bottom up, inspired by the folksonomy movement. In this approach, the skill terms are extracted from work product and the systems used to perform actual work. People are free to use their own language to describe the skills of the people around them and their own skills. Software is then used to normalize the terms in the background, (MS Excel is the same as Excel or Microsoft Excel) and find the relations that exist between them. This bottom up approach adapts much more quickly to changes in the skills people use and how they describe them. Software can be used to find the patterns of what skills are used together, how they are applied to roles and projects and what combinations of skills are driving performance.

Turning this around, my own skillset can be applied to many different roles. The skills around critical thinking, design innovation and value-based pricing are equally applied to the work I do at TeamFit and to my activities as an angel investor with E-Fund and to the pricing work done at Ibbaka. Each of us has the skills we need to do new jobs and play new roles. We have a lot of potential we are not yet putting to work.

Another interesting question around the relation of skills to roles is whether there is one set of skills that is required for a role or whether there could be multiple different skillsets that would each satisfy the role in its own unique way. There is more than one way to perform most roles, and no one way that is best in all circumstances. Companies that are trying to develop resilience and adaptability will want to have multiple skillsets in the same role. An example is project management. There will be some project managers who are very good at developing and managing budgets, making sure that deliverables are delivered and generally  driving a project forward. Another project manager may focus more on the team dynamics, making sure that people are communicating and understanding each other and that all the different task streams are aligned. Both skillsets are valuable in different contexts and an organization will want to include project managers with each of these skillsets. To require that every project manager have both skillsets is not realistic.

Pulling this together, there are two critical axes to the development of skill and competency models.

1. Is the model driven top down or does it arise bottom up?
2. Does the model assume one-to-one mapping of skills to roles or does it support many-to-many mapping?

Let’s look at these four alternatives.

Fixed – Top down with the one-to-one skill to role mapping

This is the model used in most organizations today, at least in those organizations that are using formal competency models. It is slow to evolve, locks people into roles, and does not represent the language used in the front lines.

Flexible – Top down with the many-to-many skill to role mapping

This is a step forward from the Fixed model in that it recognizes that different skills can be used for the same role and that the same skills can be used for different roles. This promotes diversity and flexibility. It is still resistant to change and frequently foreign to how people actually think about their jobs.

Evolving – Bottom up with the one-to-one skill to role mapping

This is the model of the newer generation of skill management platforms like TeamFit. The skill library (or in TeamFit’s case our Skill Graph) is constantly growing in response to the skills people are actually using.

Dynamic – Bottom up with the many-to-many skill to role mapping

This is where we need to go: open, bottom up skill libraries (supported by strong human and AI curation tools) that discover the different skillsets that can be applied to roles while helping people discover the many different ways they can develop their skills and put them to work.

TeamFit is developing a skill management platform that supports the Dynamic approach. We let people enter their own skills and suggest skills to their colleagues. Our skill extraction and skill inference engines work with all sorts of natural language documents, and use this data to add new terms to the Skill Graph and to add connections between them. We are layering in role management technology that helps identify the different skill patterns or archetypes that are used in different roles and will be adding a role discovery function that suggests possible roles based on skills. Join us on this journey.