We changed the headline on the TeamFit website recently.

“To Manage Your Talent. Know Your Talent.”

Why the focus on talent? Well, talent is central to team performance. Yes a talented team can screw up (the Stanley Cup playoffs are on and I live in Vancouver) but you are not going to get far without talent.

Do companies really understand the talent that surrounds them? All the evidence says no. If you ask HR directors and talent managers the question directly “Do you know what talent you have in your organization?” most will respond “Yes.”

But probe a little deeper and the situation clouds over fast.

Some probing questions to ask, or to ask of yourself.

  1. How do you know what skills your talent has?
  2. What talent is available to your organization?
    (What is in your talent network?)
  3. What skills did people in your organization use on their most recent project?
  4. What skills did people have before they joined your company?
  5. What skills have people gained since they left your company?
  1. How do you know what skills your talent has?

I mean how do you really know? Do your annual performance reviews tell you this? Can you suss it out from the records on your learning management system? Do your competency models really capture how people think about the skills they apply to their own work, and what they look for in their teammates? In most companies, you are better off going and looking at LinkedIn. But how valid are all those skills and endorsements you see on LinkedIn anyway? See ‘What is a skill and how do you show you have one?

  1. Who is the talent available to your organization?

It may make sense to start with this question. You can’t really ask ‘What skills does your talent have?’ if you do not know who your talent is. So who is your talent? If it is just the people who are your employees you have set yourself up to fail. In a contingent economy, your talent pool has to include not only your current employees but the pool of contractors or freelancers that could be working for you, the people who are not yet your employees but who could be, and your past employees who have now matured and would be great to lure back. Some companies rely on employment agencies and recruiters to give them access to the contingent talent pool. This is a cop out. Agencies do not know enough about people and their skills, or about your requirements, to really put the best fit people in front of you. In a contingent economy, you need to track the skills of freelancers directly, and be able to incorporate them into your teams, not just hire them as random individuals. People with talent are self-organizing into talent networks.

  1. What skills did people in your organization use on their most recent project?

Skill requirements change quickly today. Two years ago how many tech firms were looking for people with AngularJS? When you look for a pricing expert, do you check their market segmentation skills? (If you don’t you are going to mess up your pricing strategy as market segmentation and pricing strategy are now tightly coupled.) The best way to track your organizations requirements is to know what skills are being used on projects and where the gaps are. This requires a project-centric view of skills data, something most skills management systems do not have.

  1. What skills did people have before they joined your company?

Why does this matter? Because even those few companies that do have a good view of the skills of their talent pool are seldom aware of the full range of each person’s skills. You can’t get this from résumés. And your internal systems will, at best, give you a partial picture of the skills that have been applied while a person was at your organization. Is that enough? Or do you need a wider picture of a person’s skills, and their aspirations, so that you can take full advantage of your talent pool and build an adaptive organization.

  1. What skills have people gained since they have left your company?

‘After they have left! Who cares?’ Someone actually said that to me recently. But think about this. In many cases the people who have left your company will become part of your talent pool, as independent contractors, or as future hires. And it is good to understand how a person’s skills grow (or atrophy) after they are outside your walls. Understanding this is part of understanding skills trajectories, how skills evolve as people mature in roles and move across roles. Something that is essential for holistic talent management.

The current generation of skills management systems fail to fully represent skills at any level: not for the individual, not for the team, nor for the company. And they are backward looking. To survive in today’s ultra competitive and rapidly changing markets systems need to enable open talent networks.

The next generation of skills management software will predict skills gaps and help to fill them before they cripple growth. That is what we are building at TeamFit.

Read what HR expert Rita Trehan has to say about “Remaining Relevant In the Workplace of the Future. Focus on skills, not jobs.

Photo of Henry Moore’s Working Model for Reclining Figure: Internal External Form