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Skills mapping is a useful tool with the power to revolutionize talent development in organizations of all sizes and industries. 

By creating a clear picture of employee skills and mapping them to specific roles within the organization, companies can gain valuable insights into their workforce capabilities and develop targeted strategies for improving employee skills in alignment with top-level organizational goals.

In this article, I’m going to describe the benefits and process of skills mapping in your organization. Hopefully, I’ll inspire you to think about skills mapping in your role, on your team, and at your company. We’ll cover: 

What Is Skills Mapping?

Skills mapping is the process of identifying the skills needed for each role and team and mapping them against the skills of each individual employee. The resulting skills maps are then used to develop targeted training and development programs that enhance employee skills to be more aligned with organizational goals.

Skills mapping helps to clearly define paths to different roles within the organization and what is needed to get to the next level for any existing or prospective employee. The three main areas of skills mapping are:

  • Skills mapping for individual roles
  • Skills mapping for teams
  • Skills mapping for individuals

Organizations that want better employee and organizational performance may consider investing in skills mapping because it provides a targeted, focused approach to employee development.

This can mean the difference between your business being open or closed on a short-staffed day. Skills mapping will help you to optimize your workforce planning efforts by ensuring you have the right people with the right skills available when needed.

Skills vs competencies

In many circles, skills and competencies are interchangeable when talking about what is expected and what people could do. 

As a result, sometimes skills mapping is referred to as competency mapping, but this is not always a consistent belief! 

For some, skills are a more simplistic view, measuring a person’s ability to execute a specific task or activity successfully and skillfully; the ability for someone to do something. 

In contrast, competencies are described as reflective of a person’s knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs demonstrated through behavior that allows them to achieve specific goals. 

So what’s the difference? 

For me, having a skill means “Yes, I can do that thing that I know how to do, in a way I have done it before” whereas a competency is more focused on “Yes, I can handle a scenario where this needs to be done or solved, even if in a slightly different way.” 

In my view, skills are more simplistic than competencies, and competencies have more depth and flexibility in application over time. If you want to nerd out on the differences, learn more here!

Here I'll refer to skills mapping, but this process can also be applied to competencies as well!

Whatever your choice, an investment in mapping skills and/or competencies, and developing focused talent development plans to enhance those capabilities, is a wise investment that pays dividends over time. 

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Stay up-to-date on all things HR & leadership.

Benefits Of Skills Mapping

A 2020 study by Deloitte found that the best-performing companies are those who invest in developing internal opportunities and career paths.

In organizations that invest in talent development, hard-to-find skillsets are developed in-house, which supports effective succession planning and overall leadership and competency development.

These world-class companies are the same that have been growing and leading the pack for years—they might just be on to something when it comes to skills mapping! 

Let’s learn from the best and consider the many benefits of skills mapping as a critical element of your talent development process. The benefits of skills mapping include:

  • Improved workforce planning. Skills mapping helps organizations identify gaps in their workforce and plan for future hiring needs. This ensures that the right people with the right skills are available when needed.
  • Enhanced employee engagement. By identifying employees' strengths and weaknesses, organizations can provide targeted employee learning opportunities. This leads to increased engagement, job satisfaction, and retention.
  • Increased productivity. When employees have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, they’re more productive. Skills mapping helps managers assign tasks that match employee skill sets, leading to better quality work and increased efficiency.
  • Better performance management. With skills mapping data readily available, managers can provide more accurate performance feedback to their teams. This leads to improved performance management processes overall.
  • More effective succession planning. Skills mapping helps organizations identify potential successors for key positions within the company. This enables them to create effective succession plans that ensure continuity in leadership roles.
  • Improved diversity and inclusion efforts. By identifying the unique skill sets of each employee, organizations can create a more diverse and inclusive workforce by leveraging individual strengths.
  • Better hiring process. Knowing what skills are needed helps everyone get super clear about what to look for in a hiring situation which will lead to better assessments and a more efficient and effective process.

Skills mapping provides valuable insights into an organization's talent pool. These can be used to optimize workforce planning efforts, enhance employee engagement and productivity, improve performance management processes, and enable effective succession planning efforts as well as diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The Skills Matrix

Skills matrices are used by organizations to identify and assess the required skills, knowledge, and abilities of their roles and teams, along with that of their existing employees. An output of skills mapping, skill matrices visualize the skill map across teams, roles, and individuals. 

A skills matrix provides a visual representation of the current skill sets of employees within an organization, allowing managers to quickly identify gaps in competencies and areas for improvement. 

The matrix typically lists skills on one axis and roles and/or employee names on the other axis. The intersection of each position and employee displays the skills required for that specific role or position, noting which skills are essential to the role. Employees are then assessed based on their proficiency level for each skill listed.

image of skills matrix from venngage
Skills matrix from Venngage.

In the above skills matrix, roles are mapped against each identified skill, along with notes about which skills are essential to the role. 

Next, individual team member skills are mapped in, which allows leaders to understand what skills are expected for the role, which is less important, and how each individual is performing against the expectations of the role (as indicated by their level of performance across each relevant skill).

Skills matrices are often used as part of talent management strategies to help organizations plan for future hiring needs, provide targeted training opportunities to employees, and ensure they have a skilled workforce available when needed. 

They can also be useful in identifying potential candidates for promotion or transfer within an organization based on their existing skill sets. By being able to look across the skills of the existing team, leaders can quickly identify who has the skills they need when considering various emerging needs of the organization. 

It also helps to open discussions with team members about where they excel and where additional training might be needed.

When used consistently, a skills matrix helps organizations optimize their workforce planning efforts by ensuring they have the right people with the right skills available at all times.

How To Run A Skills Mapping Project

If your organization wants to leverage skills matrices to guide employee development and organizational effectiveness, you first need to map out the essential skills needed for roles and then map which skills employees already possess.

This is doable, but it will definitely require some conscious effort and decision-making. Here I’ll share some structure and insight as to how to get started mapping skills in your organization. 

By following these steps, you can gain valuable insights into your current workforce capabilities and develop targeted strategies to enhance employee skills that align with organizational goals.

Define the Objectives of the Project

Before selecting a skills model and getting to work mapping skills, it's essential to understand what you hope to achieve through the project.

Are you looking to identify gaps in employee competencies? Do you want to develop targeted training programs? Are you seeking to align employee skill sets with organizational goals? 

Identifying these goals will help you select a model that aligns with your objectives and will help guide your work throughout the process. 

Select a Skills Model

Once you’ve defined the objectives of the project, the next step is to select the appropriate skills model/framework to guide the assessment and evaluation of roles, teams, and employee skills. 

There are several different models available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, so it's important to carefully consider which one will best suit your organization's needs.

A few common models of skills mapping include: 

  • Korn/Ferry Lominger Leadership Architect Competency Model
  • SIGMA Leadership Competency Framework
  • HRSG Behavioral, Technical, and Leadership Competency Models
  • Industry-specific Competency Models such as the Food and Beverage Service Competency Model or Nursing Competency Model.

Gaining commitment and buy-in from the people impacted and that will interact with the skills model is critical to the success of implementing any model. 

By following these steps, you can ensure you choose a skills model that aligns with their objectives and provides an effective framework for assessing employee competencies.

  1. Research available models. There are many different skills models available, ranging from generic skills or competency frameworks to industry-specific standards. Conduct research on the various options available and evaluate their suitability for your organization based on factors such as relevance, comprehensiveness, and ease of use.
  2. Engage stakeholders. Engage key stakeholders such as HR managers, department heads, and employees themselves in the selection process. Consider their input on which model would work best for your organization.
  3. Evaluate costs and resources: Assess the costs involved in implementing each model, including any required software or training for staff members who will be conducting assessments. Some mapping methods leverage software tools that require subscriptions, whereas other models are more “buy-once, use forever” in nature but might not include rich tools such as the software-enabled models.
  4. Select a model: Based on your research and stakeholder feedback, select the most appropriate skills model for your organization.

Pro Tip: There is not one right answer here, even across industries. Talk with your team and leaders to understand their desires when it comes to a skills model. Once you find one you like, commit to trying it out! If it's not the right fit, be bold to adapt and try something else!

Once you’ve selected a model to try, you can begin the mapping exercise (now the fun really begins)!

Map Skills to Roles and Teams

  1. Identify key roles. Start by identifying the key roles within your organization that you want to map skills for. This could include job titles or specific departments. I suggest starting with a small department where the roles are well understood. Having job descriptions ready for these roles is a huge help, also!
  2. List required skills. For each role, make a list of the specific skills needed to perform that role effectively. This can be based on job descriptions or input from managers and employees. Personally, I highly suggest involving the manager of the role in this process because they are the person that evaluates the performance of the role and should understand what makes that role special and exceptionally valuable to the organization.
  3. Match skills to model. When you list the skills required for a role, they might not be immediately aligned with the model you selected, meaning they will require a little bit of translation in order to align. Using your selected skills model, match each required skill to the relevant skill within the model.
  4. Evaluate the roles as part of a team. Once skills are mapped to roles, review the roles that are on the same team and ensure that the skills associated with them demonstrate variation. For example, more senior roles should be associated with more or higher-level skills and roles should vary in required skills.

    If you find that every role on a team requires all skills or mostly the same skills, that’s a cue to review the roles and determine what makes each role different, and how to consider the different roles in terms of required skills. 

Return to step 2 in this section if this happens, and don’t be afraid to make changes as you go! The more you practice skills mapping, the better at it you will become and the clearer you will see the variance in skill requirements across roles and teams.

  1. Review the skills matrix with the team. After you’ve identified the skills across roles, and confirmed variation in required and helpful skills across roles, show your draft map to the team that actually performs the jobs and ask for their feedback to see if it’s reflective of the skills they use to perform in their role.

Sometimes, you’ll hear about parts of the job that you didn’t know about or complexities that require a particular skill you hadn’t anticipated. Checking the validity of the model with the team it reflects is a must. 

Assess Skills Across People

Once you’ve mapped out the required skills for each role, assess employee abilities against those requirements using the chosen model. This can be done through surveys, interviews, and/or other assessment methods.

The process typically involves conducting skills assessments or performance reviews to evaluate employee skills in various areas such as technical skills, communication skills, leadership abilities, problem-solving capabilities, etc.

The assessment should reflect the selected model and should be treated carefully so as not to promote bias or skill inflation (where a manager or employee says that an employee is higher skilled than they really are, thinking that will help the employee, manager, or team in some way). 

In the past, I’ve used rating scales for skills mapping using three basic categories: underskilled, skilled, and over-skilled. With these simple categories, employees and managers can clearly articulate if an individual is below, at, or above expectations in a skill. 

Analyze Skills Across the Organization

Phew! If you get this far, you’ve put in a lot of effort to select a model, align roles and teams to skills, and evaluate individual employee skills.

Now it's time to consider how to leverage the skills model, mapping, and rating to identify gaps between required skills and actual employee performance of the required skills. 

In this phase, your job is to identify gaps or misalignments in skills employees have against the requirements of their role. 

When you find gaps, don’t immediately perceive a person to be unskilled in their job overall or “not a fit.” Instead, consider what talent development initiatives might be helpful in closing the gap. 

Is there someone on your team that’s highly skilled in an area that another person is lesser-skilled in? That sounds like a great opportunity for a pairing, job shadowing, or a little skill share to me! 

When considering how to address any gap in skills, look around and honor the experts you might have already within the organization.

Humans are social creatures, and learning is a social activity, meaning it's super beneficial to both engagement and learning when one employee gets to mentor or teach another employee a skill that helps them be better at their job. 

When identifying gaps at scale, beyond one isolated team, I’d recommend developing targeted action plans for addressing any identified gaps in employee competencies, such as training programs or development opportunities. 

As you review the gaps across roles and teams, look for themes in skill gaps. For example, does your customer success team need training in conflict resolution across the board? That sounds like a great opportunity for a larger-scale course or development program tuned specifically to that group’s needs.

Individuals and teams that get to experience learning that is tailored to their context will absorb more when they can apply the learning to their role directly, so always look for these opportunities to provide development in the context of the specific team or role! 

Finally, as you finish the initial mapping and gap analysis exercise, continue the work! Regularly monitor progress towards closing identified skill gaps and adjust action plans as necessary. 

Similarly as to how you might review your monthly spending in your department, take a moment each month to review skills levels and progress towards closing the identified gaps in skills. You might even consider bringing your team in on the fun while promoting social, supportive learning across the group. 

When you bring a new role or team online, be sure to create a skill map to reflect what is required of that role, and map new employees against the requirements of their roles to ensure each employee is receiving the development they need to be successful. 

Skills Mapping Tools

There are a variety of skills mapping tools available today that can assist organizations in assessing and mapping employee skills across roles and teams in almost real-time as well as helping with data analysis. Here are some examples:

  • HRSG - The oldest company in the skills-mapping game. HRSG is an AI-enabled expert-level tool for skills mapping, gap analysis, and supporting the development of skills in employees that want to move forward in their careers. As a tool, it’s flexible and allows custom-developed skills to be part of your skills map.
  • AG5 - A pureplay skills management software that is trusted by some of the largest airlines and manufacturers in the world. AG5 supports detailed skills mapping, including safety and regulation-related skills, and enables leaders to simply search for skills across the database of employees to identify people in the organization that are a good fit. 
  • MuchSkills - A talent management platform that supports the visualization of individual and team skills and a slick search to identify who in your organization has the skills you’re looking for. With a few clicks, you can see all people in your organization that are skilled in a specific technology, regulation, customer-facing behavior etc.
  • iMocha - An AI-based assessment tool that assists organizations in understanding their employees' strengths and weaknesses to identify opportunities for internal mobility and further employee development.
  • Skills Base - Skill mapping software that is visual and helps teams understand, assess and act on skill data. Skills Base is one of the most complete skill mapping tools on the market and directly understands talent development in reference to skill maps, gaps in skill, and succession planning.
  • TalentGuard - A performance management and competency assessment tool that supports HR teams in engaging employees through learning opportunities including coaching, training, and on-demand content. 
  • Cognology - A competency management system that helps you understand your current workforce and identify external candidates to fill skill gaps. Cognology includes skills assessments, tracking, and reporting. 
  • SoftExpert - A self-described human development management software that enables skills mapping, gap analysis, and talent development plans to support employee growth and succession planning aligned with company objectives. 
  • Augmentir - Not a pure-play skills mapping and management tool, but can accomplish those goals through one of its many modules. Augmentir enables skills to be mapped and managed, however, from what I can tell, it’s created with manufacturing and physical operations roles in mind, including mappings for safety and process control-related skills! 
  • Kahuna - Skills management software that includes a visual team matrix mapping skills to individuals and highlighting gaps and opportunities for development in a few clicks. Kahuna is used by some of the largest organizations globally and supports different roles, views and features across HR teams, supervisors, and leaders

Each of these software options is a likely contender for organizations looking to map, matrix, and visualize needed skills across the organization. 

Finding the right software tool for the task is a very personal process, starting with the objectives of the initiative coming from the organization. 

Before diving into the software, be sure you and your team are aligned on why you want to try skills mapping and what results you hope to see from leveraging a technology solution for skills mapping to support talent development. 

Let’s map it out! 

Taking the time to engage in skills mapping helps discover the path toward sustainable growth in organizations and will pay dividends in the long run because you’ll know what talent and skills you have, and what talent and skills you need to acquire in the future. 

This will help you to upskill team members and you’ll also see boosts in engagement and productivity.

Further resources to help you find and develop the rights skills in your organization:

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By Liz Lockhart Lance

Liz is a strategic leader focused on the intersection of people, process and technology. In her day-to-day she works as the Chief of Staff at Performica, an HR Software Company revolutionizing how people give and receive feedback at work. She also teaches an Operations Leadership course in the MBA program at the University of Portland and is working towards completing a Doctorate at the University of Southern California in Organizational Change and Leadership. Liz is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) by HRCI and has 15-years of experience leading people and teams across education, consulting and technology firms.