3 simple options to jumpstart your skills strategy

by Mary Monastyrsky
Turning your company into a skills-based learning organisation often can feel like running your first marathon. Sometimes, the long journey seems so intimidating you never even start to train. But successful athletes know the hard truth: If you don’t start somewhere, you’ll never move an inch.

The same dynamics apply to creating your first skills strategy. Instead of running a mile on the first day, just put on your running shoes. It may sound too simple, but it’s effective - because quick wins generate momentum and quell intimidation, which makes it more likely you’ll achieve your bigger skill goals.

What’s the L&D equivalent of putting on your running shoes? Creating a simple, high-impact skills framework. 

Creating your simple skills framework

As a key element of a skills strategy, a skills framework outlines the critical skills employees need for success at your organisation, and it’s grounded in what’s important to your business. A skills framework also directs employees on how to develop and use skills to meet their professional goals and positively impact your business.

You might be tempted to first build a skills taxonomy or ontology, which define and customise all the skills your organisation might need. While these tools are useful for back-end processes, building them first threatens to slow down the impact skills will have on your organisation. You’ll likely find yourself bogged down by seemingly endless revisions and refinements.

To keep your skills framework simple, ground it in your biggest "Why." Your "Why" is the one or two outcomes your company needs to achieve most by understanding and developing skills. It can also include how any of the skills data your company generates going forward will be used.

If your L&D team has traditionally used a skills framework designed around roles and titles, keep in mind that it’s most likely highly detailed - and probably captures more than what’s needed to achieve your "Why."

Going forward, keep it simple. (Remember, just put on your running shoes.)

Let’s look at three straightforward and simple skills framework structures that will keep you focused on your "Why" and help you give employees the direction they need.

Framework no. 1: Embarking on a new strategic direction

The "why": You’re launching a new enterprise strategy, entering a new industry or expanding established offerings in novel ways.

The solution: In collaboration with business leaders, take a "top-down" approach. Identify the critical skills needed to achieve your new strategic objectives, at the enterprise level or enumerated by business each unit. Prioritise skills that are new to your organisation and that promise the highest return on investment.

Focusing your framework on critical skills directly tied to your business objectives, rather than "business as usual" skill needs, will provide employees meaningful direction on how they can help achieve organisational outcomes. 

Framework no. 2: Facilitating greater internal mobility

The "why": You’re challenged to increase career development opportunities and do a better job addressing talent gaps among your internal hires.

The solution: Organise skills by job family as opposed to individual job roles. How are these categories different? A job family is broader. Let’s say you have the following individual roles: L&D associate manager, L&D manager and L&D director. The job family encompassing all three would be "L&D Manager." Organising a skills framework by job family takes significantly less time and fewer resources than by role. Later, you can revisit your framework and create individual profiles for highly specialised roles as needed.

Another plus is that by identifying top skills and organising by job family provides enough development guidance for employees and keeps skills easier to activate and enable.

Framework no. 3: Gauging skill supply across your organisation

The "why": You want to make more informed talent management, performance or acquisition decisions based on workforce capabilities. You want to uncover which skills need to be developed broadly.

The solution: Take a "bottom-up" approach and analyse workforce learning and development data to identify emerging skills. Instead of creating a predefined framework for employees to respond to, encourage them to self-select skills they already have. This will provide you with up-to-date skills data and can reveal skill trends you may not be aware of. In addition, it will enable your learning team to provide employees with more personalised content recommendations that enrich the employee learning experience. When you create your framework, use your skill data to highlight the top emerging skills most relevant to your business goals, to encourage employees to continue updating their skill profiles.

Skills framework do’s and don’ts

If the L&D equivalent to putting on your running shoes is finding the right skills framework, then you’ll need to explore a few frameworks to find the right fit for your "why". Ultimately, and no matter which approach you choose, remember to keep your skill framework simple, agile, and integrated.

Always try to:
  • Focus on skills most critical to the work. Don’t try to develop every possible skill for everyone.
  • Keep the framework simple and flexible to adapt to needs. Don’t make it complex or it can quickly become obsolete.
  • Create it alongside the business, for the business. Don’t create it just for HR for HR-only initiatives.
  • Strive for consistency across systems. Don’t isolate separate frameworks within separate systems and cause discrepancies.
  • Design for employee ease-of-use to drive engagement. Don’t make it a back-office tool that’s never connected to workforce input.
Taking the first steps to creating a skills framework can set your organisation up to win the skills marathon. And, remember, it is a marathon. As you run it, step by step, you’ll see the very nature of skill-building at your organisation change. By taking an agile, simple, and adjustable approach to creating a skills framework, you can prepare your organisation for this future.

Mary Monastyrsky is a Professional Services Consultant at Degreed.

Useful resources:
Degreed is the workforce upskilling platform for one in three Fortune 50 companies. We integrate and curate all the resources people use to learn - including learning management systems and millions of courses, videos, articles, books, and podcasts.
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