5 reasons why your organization’s last attempt at implementing skills management failed

5 reasons why your organization’s last attempt at implementing skills management failed

Skills Management – For some organizations it’s the secret element that gives an edge over the competition through a  strategically aligned workforce.  For others, it’s the everyday practice that has transformed the organization’s culture, productivity, and satisfaction ratings.

Whatever the reason, your organization recognized the need for establishing a Skills Management practice, and you took the plunge, possibly investing significant resources, money and time.  But things didn’t work out as expected, and today the work yields little to no ongoing benefit.  Enthusiasm and pace has slowed to a grind, if the program hasn’t already been entirely shelved.

Following are some common reasons why attempts to establish a skills management practice may fail and what you can do to avoid it.

1. Inaccurate measurement methods

Key to the success of skills management is the method an organization uses to measure skill levels.  Without accurate data, the function loses value and/or can be counter-productive to the interests of the organization.  Worse, the skills management practice can quickly lose credibility within the organization when collected data is perceived to be misaligned with individuals’ first-hand experience.

An entirely subjective method relies on individuals providing their own perceived view of skill levels which may be influenced by a number of factors including unconscious bias, current mood and feelings, and differing levels of expectation. Purely subjective methods produce fragmented results that are inconsistent from person to person, and can produce patterns of inconsistency across distinct organizational entities.

At the other extreme, an entirely objective method relies on formal assessment of skill and is difficult to implement and maintain, and generally involves a large amount of effort and expense to execute.  Objective methods are good at levelling the playfield throughout the organization by removing inconsistencies and bias, however the tradeoff is a significant increase in the risk of failure of the skills management practice as a whole due to the investment of human and financial resources required to maintain the practice ongoing.

Ultimately, the best method for measuring ability should achieve a balance by taking advantage of the speed and simplicity that a subjective approach offers, whilst introducing objectivity to the process.  The Skills Base Structured-Subjective approach to measuring ability offers a balance between objective and subjective measures by using the subjective measure as a base and introducing a number of controls to improve the accuracy and level the playing field.

2. Poorly considered or managed organizational change

Skills Management is a whole-of-organization activity which relies on the direct input and buy-in of each employee who very much become key and ongoing stakeholders in the process.  In failing to recognize this fundamental notion, failing to achieve buy-in, and/or failure to properly execute an according organizational change management program, the implementation of skills management is likely to fail.

The key initial step to achieving buy-in is to communicate the objectives and benefits of the program.  The organization needs active cooperation from employees to achieve its objective of implementing skills management and so it is incumbent on the organization to achieve the buy-in through a clear and concise communication strategy that addresses the key expected outcomes of the program, how these will benefit the organization and its employees, what is required from individuals, and how that contribution will in turn contribute to achieving the objectives of the organization.

Essential to any communication strategy is a feedback loop that allows employees the ability to raise questions or concerns that can be handled by the appropriate people and communicated to the wider organization if needed.  This feedback loop reduces the risk of discontent and/or revolt upon the launch of the skills management program, ensuring a smoother rollout.

3. Implementation of an overly onerous or manual process

Today, user experience is fundamental to the success of any process that involves human interaction.  In neglecting user experience through creating a difficult, cumbersome, onerous, or otherwise unpleasant process, the implementation of such a process is destined to fail.

Typically when organizations embark on their first attempt at implementing skills management, the first go-to solution is a spreadsheet.  It’s easy to forget that spreadsheets are a 30+ year old tool originally designed to facilitate the calculation of numbers in an accounting context.  They were based on the principle of a single-user working exclusively on a flat file that is stored locally on their computer.  Spreadsheets have evolved over time to introduce multi-user editing and client-server models, however these features are retro-fits to a tool that maintains its heritage and fundamental principles through to the current day.  The net result is that organizations quickly discover that spreadsheets are inadequate for the purposes of skills management.

Whether it’s spreadsheets or some other technology or non-tech solution, the introduction of effort above and beyond the minimum perceived requirement for the task is a recipe for disengagement and dissolution.  In order to be successful, a skills management tool must make the task of conducting the process fast, easy and rewarding for all stakeholders.  Additionally, it’s essential that there be little to no training required for the majority of stakeholders (ie: the “general” case) in order to reduce or remove the barrier to entry for busy people.  After all, skills management is not everyone’s primary role.

4. Failure to maintain a controlled list of skills

Fundamentally, the practice of skills management is concerned with tracking individual skills.  These skills can range in breadth and specificity, and can cover multiple classes (eg: business, personal, interpersonal), business functions (eg: HR, IT, Finance), and technical domains.  Quickly, the list of skills being tracked can grow significantly, and when that growth is uncontrolled it can introduce chaos into the practice, disengaging stakeholders.

A skills management practice may set out to achieve many goals, however ultimately the highest priority must be to return relevant benefits to the organization.  As such, it’s essential the organization set the parameters and retain control over the structure of data so as to achieve its reporting needs.  Essential in achieving this is maintaining control of the list of skills that will be tracked and measured by employees.  This list should be maintained and curated by a limited number of individuals closely involved with the skills management practice.  Their goal is to ensure that the data collected is aligned with business requirements, always adapting to changing needs and conditions, and always adding value.

This is not to say that any list of skills is definitive.  Skills evolve and change over time, and employees are usually the best at identifying this.  An internal feedback loop should be set up that allows employees the ability to identify new or missing skills, and to generally participate in and contribute to the skills curation process.  Importantly, it is the curators that make the decisions to change the skills list in accordance with an assessment against organizational objectives.  Will the change have a positive impact on achieving the needs of the organization?  If not, then there may be no point in tracking the skill, regardless of its perceived validity.

5. A self-imposed limitation of benefits

Skills management information can aid and assist every employee in their work. Whether it’s assisting a project manager in identifying resources for a given project, assisting a manager to identify skill gaps and create an according training program, or assisting an entry-level employee to find help from an experienced practitioner.  Skills management has the potential to enhance everyone’s work.

However, commonly organizations restrict that flow of benefits by restricting access to the tools and data used for skills management, or by failing to providing adequate methods of access.  Naturally some level of restriction may be desired, however an over-restrictive approach, or worse, a blanket-ban on access to data, can contribute significantly to the demise of a skills management program.

One of the main reasons for this is that restriction has the effect of disengaging employees.  They can’t see the benefit, or directly derive a benefit for themselves and as such lose faith in what may in fact be a valuable program for the organization.  Employee disengagement is a sure-fire way to cement the failure of any skills management practice as its success is fundamentally dependent on the input of employees.

Providing employees with good access to information, as well as the tools to make proper use of it, enhances their work and increases engagement with the organization’s skills management objectives.  Even if the skills management practice has flaws, engaged employees will actively work with the program, suggest improvements, and persevere with something that they believe in and feel a part of.