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Better, Faster, Happier Teams Part 1: The Importance of Skills Mapping

Better, Faster, Happier Teams Part 1: The Importance of Skills Mapping

UPDATEDMar 10, 2023

By Kristi Gooden, Principal Customer Success Manager, Kantata

This is part 1 of a 3-part series from experienced resource management practitioner Kristi Gooden focusing on how professional services organizations can help their teams work better, faster, and happier; parts 2 and 3 will focus on flex workforce best practices and employee engagement.

The professional services landscape is changing rapidly. The professional services workforce is empowered to demand more than ever before, and businesses need to be able to tailor the way they operate to the needs of their teams. For professional services organizations, success is inseparable from a business’s ability to make the most of their resources by creating better, faster, happier teams – and at the center of this process is ensuring decision-makers have the tools they need to understand and leverage the skills already in place within their business.

But new research from the Resource Management Institute, reveals that 60% of respondents do not have a skills database that effectively supports their business needs.

Without effective skills management and mapping, professional services businesses can’t fully leverage their current workforce and implement changes that put them in a position to retain key team members. Understanding and implementing great skills mapping practices are two major steps businesses can take in their quest to build better, faster, and happier teams.

What Is Skills Mapping?

Your team is composed of individual contributors with a wide variety of skills.

Part of the reality of having defined roles and keeping responsibilities aligned with those roles is acknowledging that many well-developed skills may go unused because they are simply outside the immediate demands of a job. Often, as job priorities change, skills that were commonly used are left behind in the rush of everyday needs. While it’s inevitable that not every skill in a worker’s arsenal will be maximally used at all times, it is important for businesses to be deliberate about mapping out available skills and their use so that essential skills or skill sets aren’t overlooked.

Skills mapping is the process by which an organization surveys and records the skills and certifications of their employees. This process takes your company’s skills library, which is an official, curated database of the various skills provided by full-time, part-time, and contract employees, including level of experience, and makes it actionable in relation to the many different current and future projects at your organization. Be sure that in building a skills library and conducting skills mapping, your efforts go beyond simply listing skills; skills mapping should also encapsulate certifications, level of proficiency in a skill, learning and development goals, language proficiency, and where resources are located.

This process will help resource managers be able to quickly search for skills that are relevant to tasks being created by project managers. Ideally, this means that the search to fill roles is quick and easy, and that previously untapped skills can be found and used so that team members are used to their fullest extent.

However, RMI research found that 58% of survey respondents did not have skills defined for roles, a 6% increase over their previous Skills Management survey, and an 18% increase since RMI first asked this question in 2018. The lack of precision in role definition makes it infinitely more difficult to plan for skills development and acquisition.

Updating And Properly Validating Your Skills Inventory and Map

It’s not enough to have a list of skills, you need to make sure that you can rely on and leverage the skills your team members have reported. Once you have your skills mapping process in place, it’s important to both validate the information and consistently update the listed skills.

Validate these skills by having team members submit details of how they have used these skills, the amount of time they have been using the skills, the context of the work, and samples if necessary. In the event of skills that will be used on high value work, it’s best to pilot these resources on smaller tasks before moving them onto high pressure work.

Once validated, put a schedule in place that will not only have new hires submit their skills after starting work, but also have the entire organization review and update their entries in the database. The rate at which updates are done will depend on the size of the business, how often job roles are changed, and the rate at which the company and its services change and scale. Your employee performance review cadence can be an excellent option for revisiting skills and aligning updates. 

Aligning Skills With The Right Level of Challenge

Because it speeds up matches between skill demand and actual availability, skills mapping is the key to optimizing organizational processes. In turn, better skills mapping increases project quality and efficiency as staff are matched appropriately to work so they are productive and engaged. 

The importance of level of engagement and productivity can not be understated – by using categories like the ones below to break down the type of work that needs to be done, you can better balance work across your teams and ensure that team members aren’t stagnating on work that doesn’t challenge them or make use of their specialized skills. 

  • Low Skill, Low Challenge – Typically, this condition breeds apathy in resources toward the work.
  • Low Skill, High Challenge –  Workers caught in this dynamic are often frustrated and anxious, challenged without having the skills to overcome those challenges.
  • High Skill, Low Challenge – This pairing can bring contentment and build confidence in team members, but the challenge levels must increase to encourage true ongoing engagement.
  • High Skill, High Challenge – This is the desired focus state to create in employees, where productivity and employee satisfaction are both at their highest.

Being able to keep the dynamic of high skill with high challenge consistent within the workload of your teams is a key part of keeping your business functioning at a high level, with higher profits and higher satisfaction in both clients and team members. And knowing which projects to take on and which employees to hire can prevent a disastrous skill and challenge mismatch.

Skills Mapping Best Practices

There are certain processes that every resource manager should use to make the most of their skills mapping practices.

Skills mapping needs to begin with an official in-depth skills mapping session – use that session to identify the skills needed in your organization’s roles, giving you a skills map framework that makes sense for your business. This session should include representation from resource management, talent/recruiting and department managers to gain alignment on the skills required for the roles in your organization. Next, conduct a survey of employees that has each team member record their relevant skills and certifications against that framework; this will quickly create a database of skills that you can use for mapping, including many capabilities managers may not have known about. With these skills collected, resource managers should then validate the skill and create and maintain a skills library and regularly update it.

Afterward, with your skills library in place, be sure to establish clear, formal, and accurate communication processes with your sales team regarding your project pipeline and what resources (and relevant skills) will be needed, establishing clarity around staffing expectations for upcoming projects.

In the event that a resource with the right skill profile is unavailable for an upcoming project, look for cross-functional team members who can play multiple roles, contributing several different skills in service of project delivery. Managers can also use contract workers to provide needed skills that are absent from internal teams and, in the case that contractors prove reliable, these skills can be added in your skill library.

With these skills tracked and put into practice, managers can then upskill and train existing resources to gain needed internal skills for long-term success. By communicating with your team members and letting them know that you want to invest in their skill growth, capitalize on their strengths, and contribute to their continued career development within your company, you can benefit from a stable, growing team.

Understand and Make the Most of Your Skills

Are you looking to not just understand your challenges in skills management, but make informed decisions for real world improvements? Take the first step toward understanding and making the most of your resource skills with the new report in RMI’s Survey Series, “Skills Tracking and Management,” which details skills development trends and challenges that may be impacting your professional services organization.

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