Organizations understand the need to assess and manage their employees’ skills — if there are gaps, you want to make sure they’re filled and if there are strengths, you want to capitalize on them. However, there are several approaches to assessing the skills of employees and managers tend to favour two ends of the scale, subjective or objective, forgetting there’s a third — structured subjective.
The Subjective Approach to Skills Measurement
Think of the subjective approach as the one used by some business-centric social platforms. Individuals input the skills they believe they have in a free-form manner with little to no guidance or validation.
It’s an effectively unrestricted and very flexible approach, in much the same way preparing a resume is.
It’s also easy to manage and maintain for platform operators. They don’t need to be concerned about structuring, linking or bringing order to the types of skills that individuals are adding to the platform.
This approach may work well when accommodating billions of unrelated people across the globe, however, there are several reasons why it doesn’t within the context of an organization.
Its unrestricted nature comes at a big cost to the accuracy of data. Without guidelines in place, there’s no frame of reference for measuring skills. This means there’s a strong reliance on each person’s ability to accurately express their own proficiency leading to inaccuracies in the data.
Unconscious biases are also more likely to come into play, which isn’t ideal at a time when organizations are typically working to counteract the effects of biases. It can come in during interpretation or if people are looking to achieve a certain outcome, like a pay rise or promotion. They’re more likely to be motivated to state their skills differently than if they were providing an honest assessment.
The flexibility of this approach can also hinder efforts to compare and group people based on their skills. Free form answers lead the way to a non-level playing field. It’s difficult (nearly impossible) to structure these skills in a coordinated and logical way, detect and consolidate duplication, and confidently report on the skills that matter.
Its accommodating nature can make the subjective approach to assessing skills seem like a good option. However, while it may have its place in other areas, it’s not suitable for skills management within organizations.
The Objective Approach to Skills Measurement
At the other end of the scale is a purely objective approach to measuring skills. It’s the “academic approach” since it’s akin to the way knowledge is assessed at universities. People prove their skills by finishing exams, quizzes, or practical assessments, and their skill level is based on their performance.
There are some clear advantages that a purely objective approach has over a purely subjective approach. Assessing each skill in the same way solves the unlevel playing field problem and ensures organizations can compare and group people consistently. It also helps remove bias when measuring performance by placing strict guidelines and controls.
However, as with a subjective approach, a purely objective approach also has significant disadvantages. At best, the organization may receive a misleading picture of the skills in their workforce if the tests aren’t balanced between knowledge, ability, and desire. At worst, a purely objective approach will be costly to administer and can lead to credibility issues.
For an organization to measure skills, it must first produce or amass a large enough collection of exams potentially leading to hundreds or thousands of exams. The sheer effort and cost involved in procuring, administering and maintaining (ie: keeping up-to-date) that number of exams is significant.
Whilst an objective approach addresses some of the deficiencies of a purely subjective approach, it is fraught with trouble when applied in the context of an organization, and may likely serve to compromise a skills management initiative.
The Skills Base Structured-Subjective Approach to Skills Measurement
The third alternative sometimes gets overlooked despite its ability to find a balance between subjective and objective — the Skills Base Structured-Subjective approach.
Skills management exercises need to be easy for participants while still avoiding the risk of inaccuracies and biases. Our approach uses seven controls to introduce the right level of objectivity alongside the ease of use that a subjective approach brings.
- Organization-Authored Assessment
- Curated, Structred List of Skills
- Skills Assigned by Job Function
- Single, Standardised Numeric Rating Scheme
- Defined Rating Criteria
- Supervisor Assessment
This ensures that it’s possible to gain the necessary buy-in from and participation of organizational stakeholders that will fuel the activity throughout its course of operation.
Want to start measuring skills the best way possible? Become a skills-based organization with Skills Base. Get to terms with our free skills management software option, or book a demo to see how it can be scaled up for the wider organization.
Did you miss the first blog in this series? Check out The foundations for skills measurement article.