Could a people-focused skills matrix unlock hidden talent depths?

Reinout Brons Reinout Brons Consulting Lead, EMEA

What skills do you have inside your business?

Many leaders have a good understanding of the job roles in their business – at least across their perm workforce – but, when it comes to the full skillsets their people bring to the table? That’s a much tougher question to answer. Add contingent and temporary workers to the mix and skills visibility gets even poorer.

Research by the Association of Project Management, reported on by People Management, found that 1/3 of workers are holding back ‘secret skills’ because they are not part of their job description. 40% of the UK workers surveyed had under-utilised leadership skills, while 39% had dormant communication skills. These findings demonstrate the huge people potential that could be hidden inside organisations around the globe.

As many organisations face economic uncertainty and potential recession, the ability to map skills effectively has become even more important. Not only can an active skills matrix help leaders quickly leverage tough-to-find skills, but it can also improve employee engagement and accelerate internal mobility. Skills knowledge is a win for leaders and workers, and – in a volatile business environment – it could be what sets you apart from the competition.

In this blog, I look at the benefits of developing a people-focused skills matrix across every part of the workforce.

What is a skills matrix?

A skills matrix is a tool that helps leaders visualise the skills in their organisation. There are many different frameworks companies can follow, but, ultimately, they are a practical way to understand the available skills inside a business, empowering leaders to maximise the potential of their workforce. Often, traditional skills matrices focus on the skills associated with a particular role rather than the wider expertise and experience of an individual. By shining a spotlight on people rather than titles, businesses can unlock a deeper understanding of the skills in their organisation.

Skills mapping is still a niche approach

Organisations with a dynamic and up-to-date skills matrix remain a minority. Traditionally, business leaders have viewed their workforce through the lens of job titles, often carving out linear development paths that encourage people to move through set roles on a narrow career trajectory. Very few people look behind the job title facade and, as a result, businesses are missing out on a breadth of skills that their people are bringing to work every day – from language and programming knowledge to creative and leadership skills.

Every part of the workforce could hold essential skills

I often talk to leaders who are struggling with poor temporary and contingent workforce visibility, and skills understanding is extremely limited in this space. But this lack of visibility could see leaders missing out on essential skills. According to The Contingent Labor Imperative, 28% of workforces are made up of contingent talent, and the flexible worker community is home to hidden and valuable expertise. Growing insights across the whole talent spectrum is key to strategic skills planning, while converting valuable contingent workers to members of the perm workforce is a great way to access hard-to-find competencies quickly.

Skills understanding can enhance business planning

Predicting future resourcing needs with limited skills visibility is like trying to plan in the dark, particularly in a tough economic climate, which is seeing some businesses facing headcount reductions and hiring freezes. If you’re planning for a challenging 12 months, you don’t want to accidentally remove crucial skills from your business because you don’t understand the expertise you have. For businesses going through periods of growth or restructuring, the opportunity to tap into and grow internal skills can dramatically reduce hiring spend. Simply, a comprehensive skills matrix gives leaders the data to make better people decisions.

A skills focus can improve engagement and boost retention

A Pew Research Center study found that 63% of respondents cited ‘no opportunities for advancement’ as a reason they left a job in 2021. This demonstrates that companies with narrowly defined career paths risk losing workers due to limited internal opportunities. While skills-focused businesses with a more flexible approach to career direction may enjoy better retention rates. Helen Tupper, Co-founder & CEO of Amazing If, described this approach as the chance to ‘squiggle and stay’ at our recent TLIA event in London: “Ideally, what we want people to do is to squiggle and stay, so be able to transfer that talent in their organisations, to be able to bring their skills to different areas and have organisational structures which enable this wiggliness.” Greater retention and greater career opportunities unlock ‘wiggliness’ and could lead to better employee engagement.

Over the last few years, attention has been focused on an acute talent shortage, but now that picture has shifted. With many businesses facing hiring freezes and potential headcount reductions, the question is now, “How can I best utilise and support the talent I have?” The answer often lies in better skills understanding, development, and planning. But the process of building a meaningful skills matrix can be long, complex, and overwhelming, and many leaders may need expert support to get started.

At KellyOCG, we help organisations of all shapes and sizes to unlock workforce visibility and hidden skills, and we really do practice what we preach! Our project and consulting teams engage skilled experts from across our global community, bringing together the right blend of skills to meet our clients’ unique challenges. We truly understand the value of leveraging skills from every corner of an organisation!

In my next blog, I’ll be looking at the ways leaders can begin to build a successful skills matrix and how a systematic approach can break this overwhelming task into manageable chunks. In the meantime, feel free to reach out with your biggest questions on building a skills matrix or strategic skills planning.


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