Let’s set the scene.
A new employee has been hired at your organisation. They are a perfect fit with the team culture, are eager to get started and have a lot of potential. But, while they possess soft-skills required for the role, they do not yet have the technical skills. This difference between the skills the new employee has and those that their role requires can be identified as a skills gap. In our example, the skills gap is instantly recognisable and actions to close the gap also seem quite obvious - train the new-start in the technical skills they require. Sometimes, however, skills gaps are not that clear-cut. Leaders then need to make a conscious effort to identify and close those gaps within their team. Let’s consider some options for identifying skills gaps in your own organisation.
Leaders are in a unique position to identify skills gaps within their team purely through observation. In many ways, leaders are much like teachers - they work closely with individuals in their team, have greater insight into their team’s abilities, quirks and needs, and use these features to improve performance. As such, they may possess a general understanding of skills to improve across their team. To clearly identify these skills gaps, start a conversation with leaders in your organisation. Ask them where they would like their team to improve. Support leaders to consciously seek these skills gaps and support their team by:
- Facilitating ongoing growth-checks, either formally or informally, with team members to target strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement
- Conducting weekly or fortnightly one-on-ones encouraging individuals to identify areas for improvement
Skills Gap Analysis
Skills gaps can also be identified more formally using assessment techniques to collect data about specific tasks and actions. This data is then analysed to reveal where employees require additional support. Skills gaps can be identified by analysing individual and team performance benchmarks, targets or KPIs that are not being met. Alternatively, your organisation might use assessment tasks or ‘trigger-actions’ to identify skills gaps across a broader cross-section of employees. For example, to identify skills gaps in data security a ‘trigger’, such as a false phishing email, may be sent organisation-wide. Responses to the trigger can be analysed to identify which employees possess a skills-gap in data security.
Appraisals and Feedback
Internal and external appraisals and feedback can offer great insight into skills gaps that might otherwise be hidden. It is wise to capture feedback from a variety of sources, both internal and external, to truly understand where skills gaps exist. For example:
- Internal appraisals from colleagues may offer insight into an employee’s teamwork and technical skills, but may not give a true indication of their leadership skills
- Internal feedback from direct-reports can identify a leader’s management skills, but not necessarily their customer service skills
- External client feedback can give greater insight into an employee’s customer service, sales or stakeholder management skills, but not necessarily their technical skills
To capture a wide range of appraisals and feedback, you might use techniques such as pulse surveys, client feedback or 360 Reviews. By cross-referencing these appraisals against each other, you can gain a greater understanding of individual skills gaps. Once identified, the next logical step is to close them.
Closing the Gaps
Ongoing training is key to closing skills gaps. It can:
- Convey workplace expectations to new-starts and experienced employees alike.
- Reinforce, and build upon, previous learning
- Hold complacent behaviours or bad-habits in check
- Establish or reinforce employee responsibility and accountability
In addition, training can offer insight into employee needs or skills gaps and can be used to guide employees to complete additional training to develop new skills. Increasingly this task is managed and accomplished by learning management systems (LMS) or programs like Guroo Learning's ACADEMY. Such programs house and collate learner’s training programs and scores. Additionally they can be used to offer a suite of programs via badge pathways that employees can follow to attain new skills.
Whatever training format your organisation uses, however, the content must always be relevant to the work learners are engaged in. Bonus points if the training is regularly incorporated and practiced within the workplace. Your organisation can enhance this by using coaching strategies or mentoring programs to enhance training. Both approaches offer employees insider perspectives and ongoing support when using their newly developed skills at work.
Finally it is important to acknowledge that skills gaps can only be closed when training is delivered in a supportive and nurturing environment. You can champion this in your own workplace by:
- Focusing on learner successes rather than failure
- Encouraging a ‘growth mindset’ and viewing ‘failure’ as an opportunity for deeper learning
- Developing a culture of learning by modelling high expectations for yourself as well as team