Embracing the future of work means creating an employee skill set matrix that combines workforce development and workplace demands.

Workforces are evolving. From the growing gig worker economy to the rapid uptick in remote staffers to the shifting skill requirements for employees being brought on by technologies like AI and automation, there is a massive movement underway. On top of this movement, recent economic volatility has caused employers to look inward at their employees' skill sets. When headcount fluctuates, businesses need to know who on the team has the skills to fill the gap. They are increasingly pressed to make tough decisions about talent and prioritize the skills and roles most critical to maintaining business continuity.

If we want to remain employable and relevant, and our businesses successful, profitable and sustainable, there is no doubt that we will have to accelerate the pace of skilling and reskilling of the workforce. Some people will lose their current jobs, others will see their jobs dramatically transformed, and for some jobs we may not find the skills needed to optimally perform them.

Your ideal starting point: the employee skill set matrix — evolved.

Mastering a better skill set matrix

The employee skill set matrix isn't a new concept. Creating level-based charts to categorize competencies and identify potential top performers is a decades-old practice that has steadily paid dividends across deployments. However, the practice is outdated. Existing forms don't account for the social interplay of talent, technology and team recruitment, which relegates many matrices to relic status.

But that doesn't mean these constructs are completely without value. By building a better matrix — one that accounts for both the evolution of work and the development of the worker — businesses can create staffing solutions that address the needs of their evolving enterprise environments.

To master the new art of employee matrix making, businesses must leverage three key strategies.

1. Evaluate current inventory

According to the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, while 76% of businesses recognize the importance of talent mobility and 70% point to the critical nature of talent access, just 40% and 37%, respectively, feel like they're ready to take on these challenges.

Here, the biggest gap in confidence stems from a lack of knowledge. Many businesses don't have a complete understanding of their employees' skill sets, which can lead to shortfalls in certain areas and overabundance in others. Bridging that gap begins with evaluating the skills inventory: what you have, what you need and where you can find what you need.

Traditional ways of predicting skill needs aren't working. Employees need more skills for every job, and many of those skills are new. Many employees aren't learning the right new skills — for their personal development or the benefit of the organization. Critical skills are no longer synonymous with roles. According to Gartner's Top 5 Trends and Priorities for HR in 2021 study, a top priority for 68% of Human Resource (HR) leaders is building critical skills and competencies for the business.

Start by having conversations with industry partners and vendors. Since they're the ones interacting with staff on an end-user basis, they have a wealth of knowledge about where your teams are hitting the mark and where they are coming up short. Loop in team leaders to get their perspective and create a basis for cross-reference. Together, partners and leaders can provide the specific knowledge you need to build out a solid skills inventory, setting the stage for continuous development of staff skills based on identified needs rather than assumed absences.

Building an improved employee skill set matrix means going beyond just HR and partnering with a range of enterprise leaders to identify standing talent. HR can't be the expert evaluators of all skills for all staff all the time. Department heads can often provide critical insight regarding employee skills that lie outside the purview of traditional HR recruiting and development practices, paving the way for continual cross-training. This not only plays into workers' willingness to develop new skills for a tech-savvy workplace but also creates a much more resilient workforce.

2. Provide transparency of skills

Skill requirements are changing. Along with traditional hard skills related to specific job functions, soft skills are now needed to streamline interactions, communicate key strategic goals effectively and prioritize the well-being of the organization's culture over individual competition. In this environment, it is critical for businesses to identify staff with the drive to learn new skills. As the Harvard Business Review notes, despite C-suite concerns, "Many employees are excited about new technologies and willing to be trained in new skills."

To keep your business functioning — or even growing — during the current business climate, businesses need talent transparency. Transparency is critical in identifying current skill sets, supporting empowerment through cross-training opportunities and targeting top in-house candidates for advancement. Culture can be negatively impacted or perceived discrimination in the hiring process when open roles are not shared internally among teams.

Providing managers with solutions that provide greater visibility into team strengths, performance and productivity will help their employees thrive.

In the same way that physical cross-training can boost athletic ability across multiple disciplines, skills cross-training can prepare businesses to tackle multiple market challenges.

3. Leverage AI and app technology

Next, evaluate how talent platforms can be used to attract, engage and manage the movement of your people. According to Sapient Insights Group 2021 HR Systems Survey, businesses in a state of talent management readiness in processes, data, and systems took more strategic and positive actions during the COVID-19 period versus those unprepared.

Why do talented employees leave their jobs? Top factors include lack of challenge and absence of developmental opportunities. In other words, if you don't identify top talent and give them room to grow, you'll quickly develop a retention problem.

The first step in securing top performers is knowing who they are within your organization. This requires the creation of a cross-organizational task force of stakeholders capable of speaking to specific department needs as well as the goals of your organization at scale. Collectively, this task force can identify the highest-priority skills in your enterprise and match those skills to staff members. Doing so can highlight candidates for promotion and opportunities for extra training to make the best use of talent and support employee development and advancement.

Moreover, if your organization needs to pivot within the ever-evolving marketplace, having a talent platform in place allows you to quickly and effectively identify the right skills and roles needed to adapt. As your organization evolves to meet new market demands, such as remote work, being able to realign goals and identify which skills can best help the organization adapt can be key to success.

Businesses should integrate technology that can enhance matching strengths with opportunities, predict skill trends and provide cutting-edge AI technology to help workers match to future roles. When it comes to plotting a career path, employees benefit from seeing what others have done in the past. To that end, career journey maps from others in the organization can offer substantial insight. Modern software can develop meaningful career paths based on an employees' aspirations and interests. By viewing these, employees can see the exact steps others have taken over the course of their careers, learn how many individuals have taken a given path, and connect with their co-workers to learn more. In this way, career mapping tools can provide employees with an informed understanding of any skill or knowledge gaps and facilitate a more active approach in their professional development.

The bottom line

Talent drives business success, but in the evolving workforce, talent doesn't exist in a vacuum. Inter-departmental and intra-staff interactions play a significant role in identifying talent shortfalls and shoring up key skills. And when economic changes require businesses to adapt quickly to new market trends, being able to identify and prioritize the skills most essential to keeping business functioning can help your organization thrive.

Embracing the future of work means creating an employee skill set matrix that addresses both workforce development and workplace demands to deliver operational outcomes. To master this new matrix, businesses must evaluate their current skills inventories, provide talent transparency and leverage talent technology platforms.

There is a tidal talent shift underway, and businesses have a choice: ride the wave or end up underwater.

Learn more from this case study

Eliassen Group: Changing the game to retain top talent

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