You have probably heard the debate around the skills gap, the mismatch between the skills that employers will need to compete in the global economy and the skills that their employees actually have. You might even be actively trying to address it. The trouble is that few agree on which skills employees will need.

Some dispute that the gap exists at all, and the people who say it does exist don’t agree on how to close it. In general, the solutions are policy-based and involve the cooperation of the government, industry and higher education. But it takes time for these policy changes to have an impact on the economy before they can transform organizations.

The Alignment Gap

Business leaders have a more immediate and pressing concern: What can we do today to recruit, hire and train employees to help us create and sustain a true competitive advantage within our industry?

The answer is fixing the alignment gap.

The alignment gap is the gap between the knowledge, skills and behaviors employees currently possess and the knowledge, skills and behaviors they need in order to execute on the organization’s strategic vision. You can address this gap immediately by identifying the skills that address key organizational capabilities, identifying which employees have those skills and which do not, and targeting training to latter group. This process focuses on upskilling the employees you already have rather than going through the costly and time-consuming process of recruiting employees who might or might not have those skills.

Situational Judgment Assessments

How do you know who currently possesses those skills and knowledge? How do you know who will be able to confidently apply them in the future? Self-assessments are quick but unreliable, and training needs analyses are revealing but complex, costly and time-consuming.

The answer is situational judgment assessments (SJAs), which present employees with scenarios that reflect their workplace duties and challenges and incorporate measures of competence (Do they know this?) with measures of confidence (Do they think they know this?). The data gathered in an SJA reveals the crucial alignment gap: the employees who have the skills and knowledge the organization needs and the ones who don’t, as well as how confident they are in applying what they know in situations the organization needs them to operate in.

One organization recently used an SJA to identify employees who were highly confident but made risky commercial decisions. They also uncovered people whom they described as “hidden talent” — who had high competence but low confidence. They used this data to design training that targeted the employees who required upskilling. This solution is quicker and much less costly than recruiting new employees, who may or may not be able to apply the skills you need in the specific context of the organization.

There are a couple of key implications to draw in order to close your own alignment gap. First, the company was able to close these gaps in a relatively short period of time (months versus years). By addressing skills at a more strategic level, it quickly moved a lot a people a little way rather than concentrating on moving a few people a long way, slowly. The result was transformational change across the entire organization.

This approach led to true professional development rather than simply professional education. The company gave its employees what they needed at the moment in order to be better at their jobs immediately, rather than giving them formal, lengthy and expensive education courses, where they would learn concepts that they would find difficult to apply in their day-to-day work.

To slowly close the skills gap, we need ongoing institutional collaboration on a large scale that we can’t control and may not even be able to influence, and we may not be able to expect meaningful results for years. You can start today by closing your own organizational alignment gap, and you can expect noticeable results in a matter of months.