In the “Thinking Space” on Thursday, February 24, we discussed the topic of critical competencies and questioned whether it should be approached tactically, when the need arises, or whether strategic management of critical competencies is not appropriate-if not indispensable.
Critical skills are not only those related to digital professions. They are all those skills that are scarce in the market and strategic to the business. For which strategies must surely be “different”: anticipatory, linked to market logic rather than internal equity, and in some cases generating the need to create skills development centers when they can no longer be found on the market.
It is a key issue for HR as much as for business, but often treated with “non-systemic” approaches.
The nature and management of knowledge and its application side, competencies, have always ignited scientific and philosophical debate.
Isaac Asimov, a famous science fiction writer and popularizer of science, imagined as early as 1951 in his novel Foundation a future where humanity goes into crisis due to the inability to manage skills and the enormous amount of accumulated knowledge.
Returning from science fiction to reality: both at the general level and at the enterprise level, understanding, mapping and managing critical skills is of paramount importance.
All the more so today as the job market demands new skills and others become obsolete, and all faster and faster.
According to a recent study by Gartner:
In the face of a fast-changing scenario:
When we talk about Critical Competencies (CC) we are not only limited to those of cutting-edge technologies but all those skills that are scarce in the market and strategic to the business.
In our opinion, there are 3 + 1 dimensions to define a skill as “critical” (see next figure1):
Representing graphically the reasoning just made, taking into account the time factor, the same competency can vary in its criticality.
At the same “level of presence” in the company at time t1 it may be unimportant and easy to find. At time t2 it may become harder to find and more importnte, at time t3 be particularly difficult to reprerce or train and strategic to the business.
Similarly-and usually, sadly, even more quickly-a skill can become obsolete.
The difficulty of recruiting is related to a nonlinear job market. Many jobs that are common today did not even exist 15 years ago, and many others existed but looked completely different.
The drivers of these changes are many and difficult to predict, for example:
It is often not easy to train skills internally. There are a number of circumstances that can complicate the situation:
The strategic nature of skills can have many positive and negative declinations:
Knowledge management and the corresponding “application” skills are a critically important issue in all human domains.
In business, only a strategic approach with a broad time horizon can help ensure that we do not lose our core competencies and/or plan for the acquisition of new competencies critical to our organization.
The starting point is the business strategy (see Figure 3) and the core competencies to achieve it. Then follows a definition phase where the critical competencies are identified and made explicit, the level of competence needed to respect the strategic oobjectives. After the definition, we move on to assessing and mapping our people. We can then be clear about skill gaps (presence/absence of a specific skill or inadequate levels) and plan our “skill count” quantitatively and qualitatively. Finally, we move on to the management of the “skill pool” to ensure the various business areas have the quantity, quality of skills, avoid their obsolescence as much as possible, apply the necessary training or search externally for the appropriate skills.
As usual in our Thinking Spaces, we divided into subgroups to discuss the above, following some guiding questions: is critical skills management on the HR agenda? Is the topic perceived as “strategic”? Are there dedicated resources? What systems do you use to support it? How adequate do you consider the way the topic is handled in relation to relevance?
In our focus group discussion, the discussion was particularly rich and some very interesting insights emerged, which I try to summarize briefly:
The competency management process is on the HR agenda, but it is done in tandem with the business. Often, in fact, it is the business that outlines what skills are needed. However, this is linked to a lack of leadership that leads to a fragmented and reactive set of activities rather than an orderly and guided process. The issue of critical competencies is certainly perceived as important but not embedded in an organic process and treated as strategic. As a result, the resources that follow its activities are not as dedicated and focused.
There is no clear and agreed definition of critical competence. Therefore, the definition we have proposed through the importance/difficulty finding/shortage matrix turns out to be extremely functional in identifying critical competencies and managing them in advance in a more orderly manner. Essential in this is the intervention of business leaders who must state the strategy and thus identify the critical competencies of the present and near future. We believe this is often less difficult than it sounds.
We wondered what the big technology groups are doing about competencies: have they developed tools and methodologies in this regard? How do they address the issue of technical skills and talent? Not having complete information on this, we promised ourselves to investigate.
We observed how skills, especially critical skills, are often the assets of teams rather than individuals. This observation, which sometimes underlies major acquisitions among technology companies or those with highly specialized skills, points to a redefinition of competencies from the individual to the close-knit, cohesive, complementary group.
Comprehensive management of all corporate competencies, barring particularly simple cases, is today and perhaps for a long time yet impossible to implement in practice. The first stage of comprehensive mapping, done in a systematic way, is itself long and complex. The subsequent phases of maintenance, extension, management and planning become too onerous and are usually abandoned, effectively rendering even preliminary operations a dead letter.
From what we have seen and discussed up to this point some guidelines emerge that, as HRI, we will further elaborate on and try to make “method”:
Precisely with regard to systems, we agreed that there are no complete and functional ones for mapping, managing and planning competencies. ERP modules for personnel management are great repositories but provide limited and certainly insufficient help with decisions regarding critical competencies.
We believe that the topic of competencies, particularly critical competencies, should be brought to the attention of HR managers and business leaders because we believe it should be treated as a strategic issue throughout the organization. HRI is working on creating a tool for mapping, evolutionary and agile management of competencies. If you are interested in being part of the pilot project and co-building this revolutionary tool with us please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us directly.