Identifying skill gaps and training needs is a transformative process; it never ends. Companies evolve and innovate, and employees’ skills requirements and competencies must continually adapt. Creating a process to identify skills and training gaps should be scalable and repeatable to be part of the transformation. A learning leader can effectively partner and influence by connecting with leaders to offer analysis and support the uncovering of holes.

From Reactive to Proactive

Improving abilities and identifying training needs are often more reactive than proactive. It becomes reactionary to poor performance, lack of team cohesion, inability to complete a project and, ultimately, failure to meet business goals. Sometimes the gap identification process is not wanted: Some people do not want to look under that couch that has not moved in over ten years. It is, however, necessary for companies with aggressive growth goals to strive to win in a competitive market. Encouraging leaders to be comfortable with the uncomfortable will help create a partnership, and learning leaders have an opportunity to provide objective guidance and encouragement through the gap analysis process.

A valuable method for defining training needs and skill gaps is to obtain alignment on competencies or attributes for each role on the team, along with competencies and attributes for the group as a working unit. However, a critical step is often missed before going straight to competencies for the position: Is there clarity on what the role is intended to accomplish? Are the roles and responsibilities for the job role identified? Before competency identification, there needs to be alignment on the employee’s individual job role. Too often, what happens is that a variety of gaps expose themselves through competencies identification before role definition is clarified. Sometimes, this shows up as a lack of process, broken processes, or even duplication of efforts. The identified list of competencies ends up being incomplete or ineffective. Since many companies rarely create roles with competencies in mind first, this is where learning leaders are often stuck trying to influence and persuade to best solve the training gap.

Management skills are vital to identifying and understanding when conducting an analysis. Gaining clarity of leadership and management influence over the role and team is critical to gap identification. Poor leadership and management can directly produce the gaps a company experiences, and focusing only on the employee and not assessing the manager is a common mistake. Bad managers create, drive and even decelerate poor-performing teams. A poor work environment creates a reduction in productivity. Not only do companies need to reinforce and offer leadership training and development for people leaders, but managers of employees also need to provide direct, candid, in-the-moment feedback so that the gaps that need to be addressed are repeatable and measurable. Without this level of documentation, seeing a change resulting from training will be difficult.

Lastly, splitting the discovered gaps into critical buckets will clarify the gap analysis’ impact on the team, the business and ultimately, the company. This also helps assemble targeted training efforts and creates scale, mainly when consistent themes present themselves. Is the gap performance-based and measured by failure to meet a pre-stated goal? Does the gap skills based, meaning, deeper learning on a particular system need to occur to avoid errors and save time? Is the gap opportunity based, meaning the team is too focused on tactical thinking and would benefit from training on how to think strategically?

Another critical piece of gap analysis is the idea of succession planning and understanding who can take the lead and who may need to stay on the bench. Identification of talent includes a gap analysis, but more than anything else, it is about identifying those high-potential employees. They not only perform with minimal performance gaps but often cover up the gaps of others in the process. Peeling away the team’s future leaders will help expose additional team gaps and make it easier to develop specific career plans for those employees who shine with potential.

In the end, effectively identifying skills gaps can improve employee engagement and retention, because future leaders can be identified and developed early on.