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Hidden Talent

EDIE L. GOLDBERG, PH.D. PRESIDENT - E. L. GOLDBERG & ASSOCIATES

These disruptive times have caused dramatic changes which require new departments, new technologies and new skills. Now more than ever, companies are compelled to adapt and respond quickly at incredible speed. When a company knows all the skills and experiences their employees have – not what people do in their job, but what they could do if needed – they can optimise the talent as and when required. Clearly, having an accurate inventory of the available skills and capabilities is the answer.

If you don’t know what talents you have within your organisation, then it will become all the more difficult to survive the pace of change companies are facing. Given current levels of unemployment, one might assume that there is a large pool of talent to draw upon today and that the talent shortages of the past decade have disappeared. Nothing could be further from the truth. A majority of people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic were in industries such as travel, hospitality and retail. But the talent shortages that exist in companies today are often in the more technical roles. Today, companies face the paradox of high unemployment, coupled with a shortage of talent in the technical areas many fast growing companies require. Technological breakthroughs and innovations are bringing us a world of new possibilities and new ways to accomplish work more effectively and efficiently. To leverage these new capabilities, the emphasis of course is on skills in domains such as; artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced data science. As we know too well, demand for these highly-specialised skills exceeds supply.

The search and hiring process is time-consuming and expensive and leaving a role unfilled for a long time leads to lost opportunity costs. Obviously, hiring a contractor adds capacity, but it does nothing to build internal capability for the future. The answer is to develop the talent you already have internally and to return to the main point of this article, that means knowing what skills you have and how you can build on them. A skills inventory enables talent to be moved more fluidly within an organisation to meet strategic priorities and increase the speed at which talent can be allocated to meet urgent and emergent priorities. Equally, skills knowledge means upskilling and reskilling can be allocated more quickly and efficiently. It can also reveal people who have talents that are adjacent to the capabilities that need developing. Most organisations don’t even know that they already possess in terms of raw material, that will allow them to train their employees quickly and grow the skills they need. For example, suppose you have a Scrum guru and you have decided to go with a Kanban methodology to speed projects forward. Since Scrum and Kanban are adjacent skills, it’s much easier to train a Scrum expert in Kanban, than it is to bring someone else up to speed, who has neither of these related skills. Today, employees want choice over their work projects and now more than ever before, expect flexibility and variety in work lives and the skills inventory enables the deployment talent more flexibly.

In the past, HR leaders weren’t fond of skills databases, because they provided only a snapshot of the talent pool. Since they were updated infrequently, they became static and out of date very quickly. However, the latest technologies for your skills inventory are dynamic and nimble. Rather than sitting there, waiting for you to remember to use them, they are interactive. Modern technologies, like talent marketplaces prompt users to update the database with new skills and new information, as employees take on new projects, learn and grow. The latest tools even use AI to uncover skills that employees have, but are not top of mind. When you ask employees their skills, they may give only a partial answer since they may have relevant talents of which they’re unaware. Or they may have skills that they do not consider relevant to their work but are applicable in ways that an employee cannot imagine. Many talent marketplace platforms allow employees to import their LinkedIn profile to gain a more complete picture of their skillset beyond their current role. Furthermore, advanced data mining tools capture skills, by scanning work products to identify demonstrated skills without relying on individuals to report them.

Think of talent as a capital asset and as a portfolio of investments for the future. Like a financial portfolio, it needs to be balanced and oriented toward producing value in the future. Another way to conceive of these capital assets is in terms of a talent supply chain. Manufacturers need to make sure they have an adequate supply of materials, with alternatives if the usual sources are unavailable. Think of the talent across the organisation as a similar supply chain that you need to manage to have the capabilities you need to execute on your strategy. Don’t just record the skills employees require to perform their core job, key is what they could do if required to perform another set of tasks that align with strategic priorities. Most employees bring only a portion of themselves to work and many have skills they use outside of work that could be vital to your future. The skills inventory needs to tease out the hidden skills your employees have, that are relevant to your company’s future and aligned with agile, adaptable technologies make talent assets can be both visible and usable. It also makes sense to encourage employees to bring their passions to work by sharing skills they have that are seemingly unrelated to their jobs. When employees are encouraged to share all of their skills, passions and interests, the organisation becomes able to leverage all talent, in ways not previously imagined.

HR often operates without a skills inventory, without a clear understanding of what talents and skills exist, which is like driving a car without a dashboard. To draw on another metaphor, imagine if a company’s manufacturing managers did not have a clear record of the raw materials inventory, they would soon be relieved of their duties. Companies need to stem the talent shortage and respond quickly to change. Only then can they reap the best ROI on their capital assets.

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