Don’t Get Scrooged with Skills – Revisiting the Past, Building the Present and Looking Towards the Future

Editors note: This week’s blog comes to us from our brand new Director of Advisory Services, Jeff Johnson. Today, Jeff shares his experience rolling out skills strategies for the past (cough) thirty years and shares his critical lessons learned… 

It always amazes me to see how the world has evolved as I step back and look at where I’ve been and where we’re going. Who would have thought almost thirty years later, that the concept of skills has come around full circle to being at the forefront of today’s talent strategy?  

 “What can skills do?,” or, “Has anyone done a successful skills program?” and “What does success with skills even mean?” are often the questions that come up when I talk to people who are looking at implementing or building a skills strategy and ecosystem.  

The answer is the power of skills is truly amazing and I have seen it done successfully – and we are in the midst of an amazing evolution.  

Skill Strategies Really Have Evolved 

Many of us haven’t had exposure to a full-fledged skills strategic program yet. I had my introduction thirty years ago.  

But this, of course, was when systems, taxonomies, and artificial intelligence were not available to support the use of skills like they are today. Heck, we didn’t even have an ATS to manage our applicants – that data was put and managed within a home-built Lotus 1-2-3 database!   

Remember, this was over a quarter of a century ago. A different time. What about today?  

As Greg Pryor, the former Workday VP of Leadership & Organizational Effectiveness, stated “…around 2010 we entered this ‘third age’ of human capital management, which I very much believe will be much more around people and performance enablement. And that there was a very specific pivot in what was happening around the democratization of work, the availability of prediction machines, and the expectations of workers. And I do believe those three things have really driven us into this ‘third age.” 

I agree one hundred percent with Greg. The human capital management arena has evolved and we’re in the golden age of it. Skills are at the forefront. 

Skills and Strategy Back in the Day 

I think back to my early experiences with skills programs. In the example mentioned above, I was on a team where we connected skills across the talent strategy with processes and governance ultimately leading to an implementation at scale across the business.  

We had a problem to solve which is often the case when we look at transformational programs.  

It began with a core business challenge: How do we identify, interview, and onboard over 500 employees within a large acquisition within five months? This is simple today with applications and data that uncovers, identifies, and onboards employees but we had neither the data nor applications to support this effort.  

We manually created and used skills with supporting definitions as our framework. It was used to: 

  • Align on the skills needed for the specific job, so sourcing used this for identifying and pre-screening candidates.
  • What specific skills each candidate was assessed on during the interview process, so each interviewer evaluated against the same skills criteria using skills-based interview guides. 
  • What new hires used to understand the ‘skills’ they needed for their job once onboarded and where they could develop any of their skill gaps.

Once we pressed play on the model, we not only met our program’s expectations we exceeded them. We hit our recruiting and onboarding goals, identified top talent that aligned with the business culture, and brought in additional recruits as part of another acquisition. We then scaled the model to the entire organization.  

This demonstrates the power of what skills can do before the tools we have today. It also clearly addresses one of the common questions I mentioned above – yes, organizations, and specifically teams I have been a part of, have found great success and employee experience gains by successfully leveraging skills – even thirty years ago. 

Skills Today: Three Keys to Ensure Initial Success 

The above story was then. With the user experience, applications, data, and AI at the start line, I believe the Third Age of skills transformation is here. We are in the now.  

This begs the next question, “How can the tools that you have in your bailiwick allow you to bring skills to life for your organization?”  

Based on past successful programs I’ve seen; successful skills implementations often break down into core parts:   

Step 1: Defining Your Roadmap 

First, you need to build a skills strategy with an output that is a skills roadmap. Skills are a big concept, so prepare for a journey, not a transformation.  

Don’t think of a skills roadmap like your Google Maps directions with point-by-point instructions. It is something you have alignment and clarity on for the near future and it gets less defined the further into the future you go out.  

You will start your skills journey with clarity, and learn as you go to help advise the next turn to make more informed decisions on the best path.  

Step 2: Launching with an Initial Pilot  

Next, you need to focus on what you can accomplish in small chunks that support your key business problems. I always recommend starting small with a pilot.  

Skills programs are wide-reaching, and it’s almost impossible to accomplish every single goal all at once. To build momentum and ensure success, keep the scope attainable and achievable. 

Step 3: Getting the Right Foundation  

Underlying all of it are the foundations that support the skills strategy. Foundations typically include: 

  • Job and Job Architecture – What is the framework that includes your job structure?
  • Source Systems – Where does the data for your employees and learning reside? What is the condition (e.g., relevancy, current) of the data? 
  • Skill Taxonomy – What is the source for your skill dictionary that empowers the experience? 

All of these are vital to the success of skills and your strategy. If you look at what we used skills for in my past life, we used them for mapping to our jobs. It was our foundation for finding, recruiting, onboarding, and growing our talent.  

In today’s skills world, jobs are still one of the key foundations that organizations are trying to understand how to tackle. This is a long pole on your skills strategy that needs to start and evolve as your roadmap grows. Today’s tools and applications can help to accelerate this long pole. 

Your Ticket to the Skills Revolution 

I’ve seen both in the past and in current times what skills can do for an organization. My introduction to skills was thirty years ago. I was passionate about it then and as the industry has evolved my passion has also grown. I have seen the power of skills, how technology has helped enable it, and where it can take an organization.  

The evolution has made it powerful and like your roadmaps, it is going to iterate and grow. How are you going to make the power of skills work for you? 

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