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

One of our clients defines a lot of its most important business processes using key business questions. These are the questions that need to be answered to establish goals and objectives and then develop the strategies and tactics needed to achieve them.

What are the key business questions for skill and expertise management? There are six questions that the leaders of knowledge-based organizations need to be able to answer.

  1. What skills are available to our organization?

  2. How are these skills being applied?

  3. Do we have the skills we need to meet today’s goals?

  4. Will we have the skills we need to meet tomorrow’s goals?

  5. Are there hidden pockets of potential we can deploy?

  6. Who are the critical people on our team?

Let’s look at each of these questions and see how TeamFit helps to answer them.

What skills are available to our organization?

Knowledge-based work is dependent on the skills available. Skills and the tools we use today to get work done. Skills form complex networks in which they support each other. A simple list of skills is almost meaningless for today’s complex work. TeamFit’s default categorization system divides skills into Foundational, Social, Business, Technical, Design and Domain skills and then builds a skill graph to show how they are connected.

Skills that are available are those that are visible to the people in the organization (if no one knows I have a skill it is not really available) and that can be applied to actual work. Skills available are not limited just to employees, most companies today have an extended talent network of consultants, contractors and partners that they draw on.

TeamFit is a skill discovery system. It helps individuals and organizations discover what skills they have, makes skills searchable and visualizes them in a skill map. Below is the skill map for one of the business leaders at TeamFit.

How are these skills being applied?

Skills that are not applied are not really meaningful to the business and tend to have a short half life. Skills are like muscles, you have to use them to keep them.

Leading knowledge workers means knowing how people are applying their skills and giving them the opportunity to develop new skills. At TeamFit we call these ‘target skills’ and encourage users to differentiate between ‘target’ skills, the skills they want to develop, and ‘core skills’ the skills they use over and over again to get work done.

Much of knowledge work is done on teams. TeamFit connects skills to projects and roles. Not from the top down. External experts seldom understand what skills are really being used on a project. This needs to bubble up from the context of project work.

Mapping skills to project work and roles is critical to understanding the skills required for successful projects.

Do we have the skills we need to meet today’s goals?

Skill gaps constrain growth. One can only take on work if one has, can develop or otherwise access the people with the skills needed to deliver the work. Managing utilization may determine the profitability of  professional services companies, see The ROI on Skill and Expertise Management Part 2: Utilization, but it is availability of skills that constrains growth.

By mapping skills to projects and providing granular analysis of the skills available and the skills being used TeamFit helps discover skill gaps so that the people in the company can take steps to fill them and assure that growth can be delivered.

Will we have the skills we need to meet tomorrow’s goals?

Today almost all companies are looking for skills in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Two years ago this was seen as an esoteric niche, something that only cutting edge companies would need or could afford. To lead our organizations into the future we need to be able to detect weak signals and separate the signals from the noise. TeamFit acts as an early warning system for skill-based signals.

We do this in a number of ways. We are developing a dashboard that shares skill trends from inside and outside your organization. By tracking skills searches and emergent skills (new skills being claimed by consultants and applied to projects) we get an indication of what skills are coming into demand. We also conduct regular research into emergent skills in areas that are important to our customers, such as design thinking and service design, Internet of Things, business model innovation, the circular economy and other emerging themes. We are always working to understand what skills will be needed to support new capabilities.

Are there hidden pockets of potential we can deploy?

Most of us do not apply all of our skills. There are pockets of skills that are cut off from our work. We also have many potential skills, that we could develop based on our foundational skills (the skills we use to develop other skills such as Learning or Critical Thinking) and experience. The unused and potential skills often hold the key to our future success. The same is true for organizations.

Uncovering these skills is a critical part of skill management. TeamFit helps you do this in three ways.

  1. By making skills visible we make it easier to find them and put them to work.
  2. Inviting people to suggest skills to each other and suggest skills for projects surfaces new and potential skills.
  3. The Skill Inference and Skill Recommendation engines work together to suggest skills to people.

Failure to understand and deploy the skills available to an organization leads to lost opportunity, lower utilization and higher costs. In a competitive environment, companies cannot afford this. TeamFit provides the tools needed to tap hidden potential.

Who are the critical people on our team?

Identifying the critical people in an organization is not always obvious. From a skill and expertise perspective, the critical people will be those that contribute the trace skills that provide differentiation (trace skills are like trace elements in food, they are present in small amounts but are critical to health), the connecting skills that help people on teams and across teams work together, and the emerging skills on which future capabilities will be built. Most companies do not know who actually has these skills and how they are being applied to work. Ignorance is not bliss. Companies who do not know who their key people are risk losing them. This is especially true during mergers and acquisitions, where talent is at risk and the most important people to success are also the people most likely to walk out the door.

Skill and expertise management is focussed on answering these six key business questions on skills. Management should be reviewing the answers to these questions every month. Guiding skill development, and putting new potential to work, is a core responsibility for today’s leaders.