How to create an effective employee skills inventory (2022)

June 04, 202210 min read

Why an employee skills inventory is useful

In larger organisations, we rarely know more than 15-20% of our colleagues’ skills without access to some sort of employee skills inventory.

The bigger the organisation or more geographically dispersed the team is, the less we know about our collective skills, experience and areas expertise.

In this article we will look at why an effective employee skills inventory can become one of the organisations most important operational systems. As Lew Platt, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard once famously said:

“If HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.”

So what is an employee skills inventory?

First we should understand what we mean by an employee skills inventory. In its simplest form, it is a list of people’s skills that can be searched by anyone in the team.

People search the list to find others on the team who have a specific skill or set of skills that would be helpful for a project, a task needing to be done or a question needing answered.

In this article, we will provide examples of effective employee skills this and cover these key considerations:

  • Why would you want to create a skills inventory?
  • What are the benefits to the team and also to the employees themselves?
  • What are some solutions to the typical challenges people have when creating a system that people will use?
  • Where to start if you want to create an effective skills inventory list?

What should a skills inventory provide?

To successfully harness your team's expertise, you first need to know what expertise actually exists. The list or system should allow people to easily let others in the organisation know what expertise they can contribute.

Benefits to the Team or Organisation

There are many situations where being able to quickly find people who already have knowledge about a particular subject will be helpful. Examples could include:

  • Bringing together people with complementary skills for delivering a project
  • Adding people to an existing project team to deliver a successful project more quickly or more effectively
  • Avoiding additional expense by bringing in expertise from outside your organisation
  • Make sure the organisation has enough skills for upcoming work
  • Make sure the organisation can still deliver projects if some people leave the organisation
  • Identifying previously unknown skills that may allow the organisation to:
    • create a new product;
    • offer a new service;
    • enter a new market;
    • work in a different region of the world.

Organisations often try to cater for many of these scenarios with Human Resource information systems (HRIS). We discuss why this might not work below.

Supporting operational and HR systems and processes

The type of information held in an employee skills inventory is very similar, and sometimes identical to information held in HR systems. It is important to know what information already exists in your organisation and if some of this information can be made available to all employees.

In many cases, the purpose for accessing this type of information by operational staff can be difficult to facilitate with HR systems. This is because HR systems can be complex, expensive and challenging to share subsets of people's information without exposing potentially confidential information.

An effective employee skills inventory caters for the operational requirements while protecting and integrating with HR systems. It is possible to have the best of both worlds.

Benefits to the individual employee

People want to have their skills valued. They want to make a positive contribution to the team and the organisation.

Improving employee engagement

A system that allows employees to showcase their skills and experience improves their engagement with colleagues and the wider organisation.

Skills and expertise search across the organisation

Being able to find people easily, quickly and from wherever you are, will really help individuals with their efforts. Knowing you are able to easily contact an expert and tap into a wealth of experience, improves confidence, spreads knowledge and accelerates productivity.

Providing experienced support when its needed

With an up to date, searchable inventory of all the skills and experience colleagues have to offer, even just being able to quickly find a timely answer a question can be super helpful for someone trying to do their job. Being able to put one person in touch with another person so they can have a quick conversation is still the most effective use of technology.

One of the best uses of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies is in simply helping people to connect, so that human intelligence and human learning can be better utilised!

Challenges when developing an employee skills inventory

People often see many challenges when they try to design an effective system or solution. Here are some of the typical challenges, some that you may already have experienced.

Following this section, we look at some of the ways to avoid or address these challenges.

Is the system easy to use?

If any system is not easy to use, it will simply not be used. It is very important for this type of system to be used as frequently as possible and by as many employees as possible if the system is to be useful.

How much a system is used will be significantly influenced by how easy it is to use. Ease of use depends on:

  • How intuitive it is for a person to interact with the system. This is often referred to as the user experience, or ‘UX’.
  • How quick is it for a person to get some sort of benefit from the system.

Everybody has a different way of listing their skills

This might not seem too important to begin with, but if two people use two different phrases to describe the same skill or project or qualification, it becomes very difficult to find both of these people who have the same expertise.

Even if we speak the same language, people in different parts of the world will have different words for the same thing. They may use the same word but mean different things. And of course many organisations have employees across the world who speak different languages.

How does an organisation create an effective employee skills inventory with these challenges?

Creating an effective skills inventory takes too long

If it takes too long before the system becomes useful for enough people in the organisation, there is often a loss of momentum with people adopting the system. This can become a downward spiral. Fewer people using the system means the system is less useful, so even fewer people use it – and so on.

Existing systems are too expensive for everyone to use Organisations often look to adapt existing IT Network, ERP or HR systems as a quick way for creating an employee skills inventory that is accessible to all staff. For many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), this can quickly become a time consuming and expensive approach.

Existing systems might not be designed to provide a skills inventory

The example above, where organisations try using IT Network directory systems, is a good example of people trying ti use a system that was not designed for storing people’s skills profiles.

Best practices for developing an effective solution

We have looked at some of the challenges organisations face when trying to develop an employee skills inventory. Here are some key points to consider for developing an effective employee skills inventory.

Focus on the system’s key objectives

The two things the system needs to do well are:

  1. It must be very easy for a person to quickly add the skills they have to their profile in the system.
  2. It must be easy for people to quickly and securely find other people’s profiles whenever they need and from wherever they are.

Keep it simple

Use the 80:20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, to quickly make the system useful to as many people as possible. A person does not need to spend hours filling out their life history for them to be findable on the system.

People should only need to spend a few minutes creating a profile and then maybe a few more minutes each week keeping this profile updated.

Keep the following design principles in mind:

  • Make it easy for people to use
  • Make it useful for people to use
  • Make it easy to keep up to date

Establish a common terminology or vocabulary for skills

Part of making a system quick and easy to use can mean providing people with pick lists of skills or past experiences. This approach means they can be guided through the creation of a skills profile quickly.

Other advantages are that:

  • people do not need to type anything or even spend time thinking what they might type;
  • the words they select for the skills, experience or expertise they have are consistent with how other people describe these.

There are many benefits to using taxonomy in this and other types of search focused information systems. You can read more in our article about using taxonomy for an employee skills inventory.

Support all employees with a user adoption plan

As already mentioned, making it easy for people to use the system to provide a simple list of their key skills and to fine other people’s skills is so important.

To help support all employees when you first introduce an employee skills inventory, make sure you’re already prepared with the right support and communications that is available to everyone. Having a user adoption plan is as important as having the system itself.

Make a start

If your organisation still doesn’t have some sort of system that allows people to search for other people’s skills, make a start now.

Start by asking yourselves why you do not yet have an effective system. The answers will help you to get started with a plan to get something in place.

There are immediate benefits to an organisation for quickly having some form of searchable employee skills inventory.

Next Steps

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