At TeamFit we spend a lot of time talking to people about their skills, parsing through skill and competency models, and looking at skill maps.

One thing that often comes up is concern about overly general skill terms. One frequently sees skill terms that are so abstract or generic that one does not know what to make of them or what action one might take with this knowledge.

If a person claims a skill like “Design Thinking” or “Critical Thinking” what am I to make of this? Or as we often see, people claim a skill like “Knowledge of XYZ ERP system”. Knowing a system like IBM WebSphereor even Microsoft Server 2016 will mean different things to different people.

Digging into this, we find two basic reasons for the confusion around abstract skill claims.

In some cases, people have fundamentally different views about what a skill is and how to apply it. This is important to uncover to avoid causing much angst and breakdown in communication. How to work through clashes in belief systems and find some common ground is a theme for another day.

In most cases, the confusion rises from different roles having a different view on what skills underpin the more abstract skill. One can clear the confusion by matching skills and roles and looking at the differences, and overlaps, in the component skills.

Let’s look at a common example, a high-level skill claim about an ERP system. Breaking this down, we find the component skills for a sales consultant, business analyst and a systems engineer are quite different.

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The sales consultant needs to know a lot about the system in order to sell in. There are a lot of skills needed here. A good sales consultant knows how to position a solution relative to the competition, knows how the customer buys (and what levers to pull), can relate the business architecture to the value propositions, can get the contract done and knows what to upsell. These are all the system specific skills and knowledge. A good sales person has a much deeper skill set than this.

The business analyst can also link the business architecture to value drivers; then map these to use cases, the workflow design and how the system will be configured. The business analyst also has a lot of technical knowledge, and can move fluently between the business and technical architectures, understands the security model, and can even have an informed conversation on the data model and what it can support.

Systems engineers are the people who really understand how the system works at the level of the database and programming. They also know how to connect one system to another.

A critical question is what skills are shared between different roles. Generally one needs to have two or three skills shared between roles to facilitate collaboration. People who do not share skills (have no connector skills) have trouble communicating with each other and sometimes fail to recognize each other’s expertise.

Let’s look at another example. Design Thinking is a popular meme these days and there are many people who claim to engage in design thinking. (The LinkedIn Design Thinking Group as more than 55,000 members from many different backgrounds).

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A User Experience (UX) expert, a User Interface UI) designer and a design consultant all bring different skills to bear. The roles of UX and UI are frequently blurred, but in fact they require distinct skill sets. That said, UX and UI people to have shared skills, including the ability to create and work with wireframes and workflows.

Traditionally role-specific skills have been managed through top-down competency models that map roles to skill requirements. TeamFit takes a different approach as we have demonstrated that the best way to understand skills is to let them bubble up from actual work. This is the only way to ensure that the skills are in the languages of the people that use them.

We are going to handle the problem of generic and abstract skills in three ways:

  • By mapping skills to project and job roles
  • By making it easy to connect component skills to a higher level skill
  • By letting organizations and individuals add skill definition to any skill

Expect to see all of these new functions in Q1 of 2016 as we continue to build the world’s first true skill management platform.

Feature image from Max Braun. This image was originally created by Douglas Hosfstadter for the cover of his famous book ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid‘.