Auditing skills within organisations

(cross-posted on LinkedIn)

Humans are complex beings, but we tend to be hired for roles that only tap into a specific part of our diverse skillsets. Take my recent Mountain Leader course, for example. There were people taking that who work office jobs for large corporates where they would be unlikely to get the chance to use those leadership skills.

There are many such examples. I don’t need to list them. And even for those people whose many talents are lauded when they arrive at an organisation, turnover of staff (and managers) can mean all of that is quickly forgotten.

This is not only a real shame, but it’s a massive waste of time and money. In my experience, knowledge, skills, and experience tend to be brought in from outside of organisations who actually have an abundance of it at their fingertips. Not only that, but existing employees and contractors already understand the context.

Don’t get me wrong, as a consultant myself, I definitely understand the need to bring in a fresh pair of eyes and different approaches to solve difficult problems. But there are many times when specific skillsets the organisation already has in-house – for example, around researching a particular area or facilitating an internal workshop – are ignored or forgotten about.

This has been true of every organisation I have ever worked for. Which is a double tragedy, as every organisation I’ve worked for has been one related to learning. Schools, universities, tech companies related to education, they all have the same problem.

So what can be done?

Let’s say you’ve got an organisation with several hundred people in it. Large enough to have a decent layer of bureaucracy in it, but not a huge multinational company. In this kind of situation, you have to make sure that you plan initiatives really well, as even just asking everyone to do something for 30 mins will cost thousands in whatever local currency you use.

What would you do if you were tasked to do a skills audit of an organisation? It’s not an easy problem to solve.

On one end of the spectrum there’s something like creating a bespoke survey which the organisation asks everyone to fill in from scratch. This would be a snapshot of current, self-reported, knowledge, skills, and experience. On the other end of the spectrum would be something where you use existing data to build a picture of the latent talent in the organisation.

Both approaches at the ends of the spectrum are problematic for their own reasons, but also because they’re ways of doing things to people. The survey would have issues around completion rates, self-reporting bias, and second-guessing what management want to see. Meanwhile, using existing data means that you’re likely to have out-of-date information for those who hired a few years ago. You’re also likely to have a patchy dataset as you’d inevitably have to depend on the willingness and competence of line managers.

Instead, I’d suggest that the best approach might be to seek the win-win in this situation. Can you think of a platform that people tend to need to keep up-to-date to further their careers? One that allows them to list their knowledge, skills, and experience?

That’s right. Despite my hate/hate relationship with LinkedIn, I actually think this is an opportunity to surface talents using a platform that people are likely to be using anyway. Of course, I’d much prefer a decentralised solution to this, where people own their data and use their own domain, but realistically, this is the approach I’d use in the short-term if tasked with this kind of thing.

Do you have any experience with this? What would your approach be?