Implications of a Skills-Based Talent Strategy on Career Management and Mobility

This is the fifth in a ten-part series on Skills-based talent.

Today’s blog focuses on the implications and challenges of implementing a skills-based talent strategy on career management and mobility. Shifting to a skills-based talent model can have some of the most profound impacts on career management and mobility issues, whether that skills model is adopted internally, for external contractors only, or both.

Definition

Skills-based career management includes issues related to career advancement, alternate career paths, workforce models, performance management, mentoring and experienced-based development, success planning, career planning and goal setting. It also deals with equity, engagement, and retention issues across different groups.

An organization that has fully transitioned to skills-based talent will assign individual resources to job tasks or projects based on their existing skills or skills they wish to develop. These skills may not all neatly reside within traditional job descriptions. I might possess some skills as a project manager, while I develop marketing skills on a different assignment, while perhaps applying my analytic skills for a volunteer ESG assignment I find meaningful. As I continue developing my unique portfolio of skills, what in my “job” or job title? What does the career ladder look like if an organization contains many such individuals?

In traditional hierarchical organizations, most careers progress vertically through positions of greater scope of responsibility, or in matrixed organizations; the hierarchy extends in multiple dimensions. What career paths will organizations adopt when job descriptions and job families become less meaningful? Could careers become ‘mission-based’? Could some individuals choose careers that deliberately navigate horizontally across the organization to learn the full breadth of the organization (like rotations)? Could others choose careers that instead choose innovation, consistently taking roles that advance an organization’s products, services, or processes? Could yet others choose a career of specialization, where they perform the same task repeatedly, continuously improving their performance and the organization’s performance until they become recognized experts in their field?

What other career paths might be possible, and how would the organization determine and administer them? Would all career paths advance to positions of equal authority and leadership? How will the organization provide career guidance and support for so many unique career paths? How would it simultaneously ensure it had enough critical skills to meet obligations? How would oversight of resources be organized if not in traditional departments? How can each unique career be equitably and objectively evaluated to assess fit and potential for leadership? And how can the organization monitor, evaluate, and adjust its career management structures to determine successes and areas for improvement?

Of course, not all organizations need to jump quite so far into the future at once. Hybrid and agile implementation approaches – such as pilots, phased implementations, or limiting the scope to certain strategic areas – are both possible and likely prudent. Regardless, such shifts to a career management infrastructure contain a host of implications.

Implications

  • Adaptability to Market Changes: In a rapidly evolving job market, a skills-based organization can be more adaptable to changes in industry demands. The organization can quickly identify gaps and address emerging needs by focusing on skills, ensuring its workforce remains relevant and competitive. To do so, it will need processes to sense changes in the market and proven organization adjustments it can implement to adapt.
  • Employee Engagement and Retention: A skills-based approach can lead to higher employee engagement as individuals have more transparent and personalized paths for skill growth and advancement. This, in turn, can positively impact retention rates, as employees are more likely to stay with an organization that values and invests in their professional development.
  • Career Mobility and Flexibility: In such an organization, employees may have more options to explore different career paths based on their skills and interests rather than being restricted to traditional job hierarchies. This can enhance career mobility, open up new possibilities for advancement, nurture employee loyalty, and reduce the need for external hiring.
  • Performance Management: In a skills-based organization, staffing decisions may also be influenced by ongoing performance assessments that evaluate how well employees utilize their skills and contribute to the organization’s goals.
  • Transparency and Clarity: The organization communicates transparent skill frameworks, competency models, and career options that help employees understand career advancement paths and skill development opportunities.
  • Fluid Networks of Teams: Skills-based organizations provide a more flexible arrangement of resources and staffing, allowing the organization to respond fluidly to shifting skill needs with teams that come together to solve organizational challenges at need and dissolve as quickly as new challenges arise.

Challenges

Implementing a skills-based career management infrastructure can offer some unique challenges.

  • Workforce Allocation and Balancing: Central workforce planning must find a new balance with employee-driven career choices. Mechanisms must be determined to ensure sufficient capacity for critical skills exist and are available when needed – especially for skills that may be necessary but less popular. Conversely, skill development and sourcing practices must be in place to address any shortages in critical skills.
  • Culture Change: Entrenched notions of career advancement through traditional job hierarchies tied to tenure and experience can be challenging to relinquish for those invested in it. It can be disruptive anytime people’s tacit career expectations are altered, and steps must be taken to address, engage, and mitigate concerns thoroughly.
  • Confusion/Lack of Clear Career Paths: Without well-defined career paths based on skills, employees may struggle to understand how to progress within the organization and feel uncertain about future opportunities.
  • Strategic Performance Feedback may become more frequent and granular (skills-focused). At the same time, traditional supervisory relationships and career mentorship may become decentralized as market forces replace traditional hierarchical ownership of resources. New structures for mentorship may need to be developed.
  • Perception of Equity: The potential introduction of contractors and employees in different career models working side-by-side under diverse career and compensation structures can introduce perceived equity issues that must be managed. If certain career paths, or access to them, are perceived to lead to greater opportunity, authority, and compensation routinely – imbalances in the workforce and workforce engagement may suffer.
  • Career Ownership and Supervision: In many organizations, headcount is owned by a functional manager responsible for employee development, staffing assignments, and performance evaluation of his direct reports. Such processes may need to be reevaluated and decoupled in a skills-based organization.

Stay tuned for our next blog on the Implications of a Skills-based Talent Strategy – on Talent Acquisition.

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