The evolution of skills is top of mind for professionals in every industry. Adapting to rapid change has become not only a business imperative but also a demand that motivates learning and development strategies. In a recent survey by D2L, HR leaders said cultivating new skills was the most common driver of learning initiatives within their organizations.

What will the workplace of tomorrow look like? Eighty-six percent of executives surveyed by Deloitte said that traditional organizational models — hierarchical structures with job levels based on expertise — are no longer what makes an organization successful. Instead, we’ll see the rise of agile, team-oriented networks where individuals come together, share their knowledge and collaborate to solve problems before moving onto a new project, task or group.

These transformations bring with them a number of critical questions: How do you go from the skills your organization has now to the skills it will need down the road? How do you even know what those essential skills are? One powerful tool is skills mapping.

What You Need to Know About Skills Mapping

Skills mapping is a systematic approach to measuring, identifying and developing valuable skills within an organization. When connected with strategic planning, it allows organizations to effectively establish baselines by assessing the skills employees currently have and determine which skills they need to nurture and cultivate to facilitate continued growth and ongoing success.

Ultimately, the objective of any skills mapping initiative is to make sure that organizations cultivate the skills they need to drive future success. Before your organization can begin its transformation with skills mapping, it’s important to understand that there are two sides to every skills mapping story. On one side, you have skills needed, an approach that centers on outlining areas of growth to help you attain specific goals and providing your employees with paths they can follow to realizing them and, at the same time, develop their own careers.

On the other side, you have skills achieved, where organizations identify subject matter experts (SMEs) and map existing skills. This approach enables them to leverage SMEs’ knowledge when organizing teams; make it easier for individuals to find out whom they should reach out to for support in a specific area; and allow stakeholders — managers, mentors and others — to design skills maintenance plans.

How to Put Skills Mapping into Practice

1. Evaluate the Skills

The first step in any skills mapping exercise is to assess the skills that are already in place within your organization and identify the ones it needs to develop in order to reach your goals. Throughout this process, ask yourself these questions:

  • What skills do individuals need for roles within the organization today? What skills will the organization need to carry out future projects and capitalize on new opportunities?
  • How will I gauge current skills? Common methods include surveys, self-assessments, manager assessments or feedback, and interviews. Don’t forget that, after collecting this knowledge, you also need a plan to keep it up to date.
  • How will I communicate with employees about these efforts? On the surface, skills mapping can seem disruptive, which is why it’s important for employees to understand that the purpose of the exercise is not to eliminate their jobs but to enable them to advance their careers and grow within the organization.
  • What are the most crucial skills for employees to develop? Again, regardless of the skills you identify, make sure employees know what they are and how the skills mapping process will influence day-to-day activities and responsibilities.

2. Listen to the Data

Once you have gathered this information, you’ll be in a better position to implement strategies designed to attract employees, retain them and streamline their professional development within your organization. Depending on what the data says, there are four next steps that you might take:

Increased upskilling: Once you know the gaps you must fill, you can create the learning programs you need to fill them. If only half of your sales team feels confident handling objections, for example, you can create learning opportunities that address that topic. Then, when new team members come on board, employees will be ready to pass on their expertise.

Enhanced recruiting: The gaps you uncover will also inform your hiring process and give you a sense of the skills and other attributes recruiters should be on the lookout for.

More agile teams: Some of the highest-performing organizations are made up of agile teams. Once you know who possesses which skills within your organization, you will be able to quickly organize teams to tackle specific problems or projects.

Empowered employees: Giving employees visibility on who the experts are within your organization makes it easier for them to find support when they need it and gives them confidence to drive their own professional development.

3. Maintain the Momentum

Skills mapping is a journey, not a destination. As the rapidly changing world of work and skills continues to drive transformations within the workplace, advancing and iterating your skills map will play a crucial role in fueling your organization’s long-term success.