The Skills Matrix
Identifying and Correcting Skills Deficits in Your Team
Vaclav manages a production line assembly team. Unfortunately, morale is low, productivity is waning, and quality control has become lax. It's frustrating for everyone, as Vaclav knows that he has committed, hard-working team members. But something isn't right, and he's struggling to identify what it is.
Vaclav might have the right people, with the right skills, working in the wrong roles. Or, the requirements of the jobs themselves might have changed, leaving the people in them insufficiently trained.
The challenge for Vaclav is to take stock of his team's existing skills, identify the skill shortages and mismatches, and then train people appropriately to improve their performance. The skills matrix is a simple and effective way to do this.
What Is a Skills Matrix?
A skills matrix is a grid that helps you to audit and record the skills of members of a team. Skills matrices are simple tables, with people's names set in rows down one side, and a selection of relevant skills heading the columns along the top.
At the points where each row and column intersect, a number or color indicates each individual's skill level for that particular task. You can see an example of a skills matrix in Figure 1, below, which uses both a color-coded and a numbered system.
This type of matrix is primarily a performance improvement and gap analysis tool. It provides a relatively quick way to compare the skills required for a particular role with the abilities of the person in that role.
The Benefits of Skills Matrices
A skills matrix helps you to analyze your team's training needs, and then develop plans to close any gaps. They can also help you to deploy existing talents across a team efficiently.
For team members, skills matrices can reinforce their awareness of the competencies they need to fulfil their roles. They act as a career "road map," clearly demonstrating the areas in which people need to develop. They can even boost people's morale, revealing not only the talent in a team but also how that talent is being developed and deployed.
How to Use the Tool
Follow these steps to use the skills matrix:
Step One: Identify the Skills That Your Roles Demand
Look at relevant job descriptions and also consider talking to your HR department and recruiters to understand industry norms.
Then, ask expert performers in a role about the skills that they need to fulfil their duties. These are the people who know how the roles work on a day-to-day basis, and they'll have a strong practical insight into what's needed to make them a success.
Where appropriate, break tasks down into their component skills, knowledge and behaviors. For example, instead of listing "Delivering reports," you could use these sub divisions:
- Research skills.
- Using Excel®.
- Critical thinking.
- Writing ability.
- Familiarity with house style.
- Using PowerPoint®.
- Presentation skills.
However, this approach can lead to long, unwieldy lists. So, try "clustering" skills into groups, for example "technical skills" or "leadership skills."
Enter the skills in the column headings along the top of your matrix.
Step Two: List People and Job Titles
This step is simple: just enter the name of each team member, and his or her job title, down the left-hand side of the table. Group people with similar job titles together, so that you can compare them easily.
Step Three: Choose Your Coding System
Your coding system should clearly show each person's level of competence, and be based on your team's overall requirements.
The simplest system is to check the relevant boxes where people possess particular skills, and to leave the boxes blank when they don't. More subtle systems show gradations of skill. You could, for example, use color coding or a numbering system, as shown in Figure 2 below.
Step Four: Measure and Record Levels of Performance
The more reliable the data you collect about the skills that your people have (or don't have), the more accurate your matrix will be. Here are some suggestions for gaining accurate figures:
- Interviews or questionnaires: Ask people to honestly assess their own ability to perform specific tasks.
- Appraisal: Use the framework of a formal appraisals/review process to measure people's skills against their goals and expected performance.
- Observation: Observing people perform their roles can be particularly effective when you are assessing manual or physical tasks. You can even set up tests to evaluate people's skills.
- Analysis: Carefully measuring a person's performance against his job description, targets, development plans, and business objectives will provide a deep analysis of his abilities, although this will likely be time consuming.
Try to be fair, consistent and objective. As you measure a person against each skill, add her skill level to the matrix using the coding system you have selected.
Including a row to show the number of people who you need to possess each skill gives you a handy benchmark to judge your results against. When you're finished, it should resemble the matrix in Figure 1.
Step Five: Analyze Your Matrix
Now your matrix is complete, you need to analyze it to understand where skills and potential opportunities exist. It may become clear where you have the right people in the wrong jobs, or where a "reshuffle" would enable you to align individuals with specific tasks better. You should also be able to identify skills gaps that you need to fill through training or other forms of development.
You may also see opportunities for job rotation or cross training, temporary transfer to another department, or job shadowing, high-flyer programs, or qualification courses.
Step Six: Make Your Matrix a "Living Document"
Once you've completed and analyzed your matrix, don't file it away in a drawer and consider it "job done." Instead, review it with your team members and get their feedback. This will help you to draw up personal development plans with them, and to keep the matrix relevant and up to date.
Do this regularly, so that you can adapt to changing circumstances and skill requirements. By involving your team members, you can build their commitment to developing them to their full potential.
Skills matrices can often contain sensitive information, so you may need to treat them as confidential. Take care about how you use them, so as not to accidentally give people's details away.
Building a skills matrix is an effective method for assessing, monitoring and developing team members' skills. It allows you to measure current skill levels and to identify areas for improvement. In doing so, it helps you to ensure that your team members possess the skills that they need to fulfill their roles.
The process of creating a skills matrix is straightforward but time consuming. Measure your people's skills as accurately, consistently and specifically as you can.
Involve them in working out development plans, and regularly review the matrix to keep it up to date and relevant to changing circumstances.