4 Signs That Indicate Skill Gaps in Your Team
A few months back, I met a CEO who was concerned about poor customer service impacting his business negatively and was looking for ways to drive ownership within the team. We initiated a pre-training analysis and it revealed that the issue was not bad customer service, but poor internal coordination and interpersonal skills. This led to a lot of employee churn and this was the real reason why customer service was affected. This insight led us to approach the challenge from various sides and a combination of a focused training programme, post-training support and structural changes helped us turn the situation around.
The difference between a well-trained employee and one who isn’t can cost your business dearly. Bridging the skill gaps is critical to employee and employer success, and identifying them correctly is the first step. Right diagnosis of the skill gap is far more important than the training itself. It not only optimizes costs but also gives a hefty return on training investments.
Identifying the skill gap
The truth is an employee who has every required skill for a job may be good at some of it and may need to be trained in other aspects. For example, an accountant needs to be skilled not just in managing books of accounts but also in relationship management with vendors and clients.
Choosing the right employees for jobs, and making sure they stay relevant is a continuous exercise, and needs employers to invest time in planning for training. It also requires the company to be flexible enough to repurpose employees, look for the right skill sets for various projects, and ensure that it is a win-win situation for the company’s bottom line.
The first exercise employers should take in this direction is to identify a skill gap. Some companies often use the performance appraisal process. This involves gathering data in order to determine competency gaps and find root causes of the shortfall in performance. This process is also important in identifying the training needs of employees. Gathering incorrect data can take the company’s training, development and operations the wrong way. So looking at the right data point is a good beginning to ensure where to focus and identify the gaps.
Having said that performance appraisal alone cannot give you all the insights. It overlooks one of the most common errors of wrongly identifying the skill gap. For instance, take manufacturing set up. Employees in say, a factory, maybe very lacklustre and dissatisfied with their jobs, and this may lead to performance dips. This is an attitude problem more than a skill problem and needs to be dealt with differently. So yes, the performance appraisal is a very crucial tool in identifying skill gaps but it is also very important to be vigilant in distinguishing skill gaps from an attitude gap.
Here are four warning signs that will enable you to identify a skill gap in your team:
1. Repeated errors:
One clear-cut sign of poor performance is making repeated errors. If this is due to disinterest in the job, then it is not a skill gap. However, if the error is due to a lack of knowledge on the work process and low morale due to that, it is a skill gap and has to be addressed. And sometimes the solution need not be training. How a manager corrects mistakes of this team member can also impact the employee motivation to report an error or learn from mistakes. In this example, I would recommend a training programme for team leaders to equip them with people management skills rather than training the team members on improving productivity.
Once again, it is imperative that the gap is identified correctly, whether it is a skill gap or an attitude gap. Tracking errors is a good way to identify gaps early. Should you choose to deploy this method to assess your skill gaps, it is important that the organisation also promotes a good learning culture. It helps to build a culture where mistakes are considered as a path towards growth. We firmly believe it is the employer’s duty to ensure their workers understand why they have not been able to deliver up to the mark, and invests in knowledge and skills to improve their competency to reduce the risks of making mistakes without feeling fearful.
2. Delay in certain projects or aspects of work:
We all know projects can be delayed for various reasons. It could be budgetary constraints, or change in focus to other more urgent projects, or like they say fire on a project that requires employees to be re-deployed immediately, etc. However, if there is a delay in a certain project and more importantly delay after delay in a certain aspect of work across projects, that’s when you should worry. It’s a tricky one to catch. It takes a lot of effort to step back and take a bird’s eye view at the entire workflow and then identify the lag.
For instance, a manufacturing unit is able to produce an output in the least possible time but often the machine is not run on full capacity. At the tip of the iceberg it feels like the sales team is not converting enough work to occupy the machine to its full capacity. It would be unproductive to jump into a sales tactics workshop for your sales team. What one needs to do is to look at the entire sales process, identify the lag area and then decide what the real skill gap is. Is it a strategy skill gap or negotiation skill gap or decision making skill gap?
Tracking delays are yet another good way to identify gaps in a process is driven work environment. Should you choose to deploy this method to assess your skill gaps, it is important that companies identify the right people with the right skills for these projects. When delays are tracked effectively and consistently you can get more productivity out of your staff, and they, in turn, can add a new set of skills to their career.
3. Scope for improvement:
Sometimes, employees may deliver sloppy work. You might imagine tasks performed in a careless or lazy way, documents that are full of mistakes, are actions that show no regard for team goals and objectives. It can apply to communication, and work relationships as well. This can damage team morale, employee motivation which in turn impacts an organisation’s success.
In my experience, this kind of warning signal indicates an unhealthy work culture. And culture is more dependent on softer issues like attitude, behaviours, values, relationships, rather than skills; especially if the gap is identified among tenured employees or mid-management employees. This is a classic case where attitudinal gap needs to be addressed over a technical skill gap.
Tracking areas of improvement is an effective way to identify gaps in a hierarchical work environment. What proves to be a good strategy to address attitudinal gaps is long term learning programmes to reboot your employees. Programmes that are a combination of workshops and an individual development component, where such employees can reflect on their work and commit to improved performance through one-on-one coaching session. You can also build a Culture Triangle© that would transform the culture of your organisation into a more productive and successful one.
4. Upskilling for a more advanced role:
Employees today are very fluid just like water. The fast-paced changes in the business landscape, use of technology and access to information has enabled candidates to assume this somewhat fluid avatar. The workforce today has melted from the mould of stereotyped work profiles. Employees don’t hesitate to work in a new role or assume a new profile or portfolio. This fluidity enables the workforce to multitask with efficiency. Assume new responsibilities, attempt new ways to achieve results and even explore new avenues for growth.
However, this new avatar also comes with a flip side, just like the sea, sometimes the fluidity could result in candidates building large 30-foot waves of expectations and then come crashing down hard, and breaking all bridges built on these expectations. Sounds familiar?
Many times, employees climb the ladder in their job due to quick successes. But they may not necessarily have all the required skills to take on an advanced role. Sometimes, the role may require very specific skills. In such a case, it is important to prepare employees, especially first-time managers for an advanced career role. Look at helping your high performing employees chart their career path. It will enable you to tap high potential employees early and develop them into successful team leaders within the company.
It’s no secret that companies today are struggling to find the right talent to fill jobs. With rapid technological advancements, skills are becoming outdated faster than ever before and there is a demand for replacement with a new skill. In order to close the skills gap and provide existing employees with the knowledge they need to successfully navigate their careers, employers must prioritise learning development programs that enable employees to refresh or gain new skills.
Simple ways to do this would be to find ways to provide on-the-job experience, such as cross-team working, job rotation, executive professional courses, certifications and credentials to validate skills and knowledge, and most importantly adopt better assessments and methods for evaluating the skills required for each role and level in your organisation.
While much of the onus lies with employers, employees are not off the hook. They are also obligated to ensure that their skills are up to date; they have to constantly reset their expectations from the job, and make sure that their own personal development needs are communicated to the employers, and met.
No organisation should settle for mediocre employees. Training can definitely help provided the right gap has been identified. By being smarter about how we hire, develop, and support them, there’s no reason we can’t have top of the line employees
Yellow Spark can create workforce development programmes to ensure your employees’ skills are up to date. To know more, you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.