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Ideas and insights for today’s people-centered leaders.

Getting started with skills data can be intimidating. What data do you have already, where is it, and how do you make it useful? Before long, quantifying the skills of everyone in your organization begins to seem like an impossible task.. 

But you don’t need to attempt an organization-wide inventory just yet. The key to a realistic skills strategy that generates value is targeting—identify the skills tied to your most important business goals, and start there. 

To get the most out of your skills data, follow our five top tips. 

1. Set the ground rules

Make sure your organization is talking about skills effectively. You need to be using a common language, or talking about skills will be impossible. This is where a skills library comes in; if one person says ‘“data” and another says “analytics,” they aren’t going to get anywhere, even if they’re referring to the same thing. 

Once you have a framework in place, make sure the team in charge of your skills initiative is empowered and able to work with the data it generates, and provide training as needed on the software solution you’ve chosen. 

“HR and learning teams need a foundational understanding of skill data and how to use it,” said Janice Burns, Chief Career Experience Officer at Degreed

Todd Tauber, SVP of Strategy at Degreed, agreed: “If HR leaders cannot access or use skills data, they cannot effectively assess their workforce’s skills, and the entire skills-based approach fails from the get-go,” he said.

Whatever solution you use to tackle the skills challenge, don’t worry—your people don’t need to become data analysts overnight. A solid understanding of your skills data tool of choice is all you need to get started. 

2. Define your why

Once your team is comfortable working with skills data, narrow your focus to begin your investigation. 

“What is the fundamental business reason for measuring skills?” Janice asked. “For most organizations, this driver will be growth, whether in size, new markets, or new products and services.” She suggests starting with that goal then choosing a small number of roles that have the greatest impact on it. These roles are where you’ll start with your reskilling and upskilling strategy

By purposely limiting your work to one business objective and a few roles that support it, you can get started gradually and show results quickly without getting bogged down in mapping an entire organization’s worth of skills.

3. Map skills to roles

“Hone in on a handful of roles that align with your business reason and will have the most impact, ideally in the shortest time,” explained Janice. “Maybe you can start with growth roles or high-performing departments—even a horizontal role, like a manager or business analyst. Or perhaps you focus on important skills for new hires, going back to the basics.”

Focusing on these few high-impact roles, you’ll want to assess what skills they require now and which new ones they might require in the future. The difference between these two lists is your skills gap, and it’s what will guide your efforts. 

Keep things simple here and avoid extraneous information, like skills that are non-critical or non-role-specific. Otherwise, you’ll be working with too much data, which makes it difficult to come up with meaningful insights that are easy to put into practice. 

4. Measure and monitor

How exactly you measure and monitor peoples’ skills will depend on the resources you have available. There are many ways to do this, at varying levels of sophistication.  

“Skills can be measured in multiple ways, some more advanced than others,” said Janice. “For instance, you can ask for peer or self-reviews where people rank their level of specific skills, or perhaps managers rank their team’s skills. You can also infer skills from parsing profiles and resumes. Find what works best for your people, and make sure there’s a common language for how you describe and rank your skills.” 

Peer- or self-reviews are one accessible way for people to assess their own skills and those of their colleagues. This is a low-barrier way to start measuring skills in your organization, but it can be time-consuming for your employees. Keep your lists short and the skill level definitions clear to facilitate participation. To level up, machine learning can provide a higher level of understanding by connecting related skills together, allowing for better inferences and personalized growth recommendations. 

5. Target your strategy

“Having data on the skills your people currently have, and the skills your business strategy and future plans need, is foundational to anticipating and plugging skill gaps,” said Sarah Danzl, Head of Global Communications at Degreed. “Companies that are able to do this are nearly twice as likely to succeed in their transformations.”

But there’s no need for organizations to try to quantify everyone’s skills at once—it’s not realistic, productive, or a smart use of resources. Instead, by using business goals to guide skills development strategies, you can start working with skills in a way that’s sustainable, high-impact, and low-stress.

Getting started with skills data might seem overwhelming, but starting slowly and breaking the process down into manageable steps will help your organization make the most of your data. With new understanding of what skills employees have now and which ones they’re going to need next, your organization will be more agile, adaptable, and ready for change. 

Interested in learning more about skills data? Download the Big Book of People Analytics: Skills.

About the author: Visier Team

People-centered ideas and insights by the editorial team at Visier.

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