How to Create a Skills Matrix for Success

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How to Create a Skills Matrix for Success

Imagine you’re about to engage on your first HR analytics project. You want the project to be a success – obviously. How do you make sure you have the right people and the right skills to start quickly and finish the job successfully? The skills matrix, or competency matrix, is your best friend.

What is a skills matrix?

A skills matrix, or competency matrix, is a tool to map required and desired skills for a team or project. It is a grid that visualizes the required and available skills and competencies in a team. This makes it an essential tool for any data-driven HR professional.

A completed skills matrix visualizes the skills that are required, the skills that are available in the team and the skills that the team is missing. This is the skill gap.

Table of a skills matrixWhat is a skills matrix used for?

Now to the more practical aspects. What is a competency matrix used for? There are two general purposes.

First of all, a competency matrix helps to assess the required skills for a project or team. In order to successfully implement a skills matrix, you need to create an overview of the skills that are required to complete the job or project successfully.

This exercise helps to define the key activities of the team and define the relevant skills or competencies required to complete these activities.

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Secondly, a skills matrix provides insight into the available skills within a team. After listing the required skills for the project, you need to assess the available skills in the team.

For example, if an HR analytics project requires business acumen, IT skills, data analytics capabilities and reporting capabilities, you need to check which person in the team has which skills.

If there’s a particular skill that’s missing, you can easily hire an employee with the relevant skills to add to the team. Doing this before the project starts, helps to ensure a better outcome. If you need to do a skills analysis in retrospect, it usually means that you’re evaluating a failed project!

Benefits of a skills matrix

A skills matrix helps to drive performance in multiple ways. It is not only beneficial to the team but also to the individual, organization and, potentially, internal and external clients!

  • Team: The competency matrix is primarily a tool to help the team as a whole. The team gains a quick overview of both the skills that are present and the ones that are missing. These missing skills can be found by hiring people with the relevant competencies.
    Additionally, the team is more aware of its own weak spots and can take extra care to prevent the missing skills from interfering with performance.
  • Individual: The skills matrix also helps the individual twofold. First, it gives the individual insight in their own competencies and what they bring to the table and what they are missing. This is an excellent starting point for learning and development opportunities.
    Secondly, it makes the individual aware of the skills that are required for the team to successfully perform. It also communicates expectations as the matrix shows the capabilities that the individual is expected to excel in.
  • Organizations: On a larger scale, the organization gets an overview of available competencies and areas of improvement. These are the areas that the organization can invest their learning and development budget into in order to function better. In addition, these competency matrixes can help to redistribute internal talent to the places it’s most needed.
  • Clients: The final stakeholder, clients, receive a better service. It doesn’t really matter whether these are internal or external clients. The teams have increased awareness of missing skills which help to prevent pitfalls.

Benefits of a skills matrix

Steps involved in creating a competency matrix

The following steps constitute the creation of a skills matrix

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1. Define the relevant skills for the project

We start with the most important: define the relevant skills for a project or team.

Skill matrices are often created by a manger or the HR department to improve team performance. The manager wants to evaluate which skills are missing to prevent the team from missing deadlines, internal conflict or other cost later on.

That’s why you start with an assessment of the relevant skills and competencies needed to complete a project. This is also input for the competencies that you’ll assess the team members on as it prevents you from assessing a long list of irrelevant competencies!

2. Assess team members on their current skill levels

For the second step you need to evaluate team members on their current skill levels. This can be done very simply by just asking them. It can also be done in a more rigorous way. For example, through competency testing of the person and his direct peers and manager.

For each skill, you’d want to know the person’s proficiency. This can be grouped into four categories:

  1. No capability
  2. Basic level of capability
  3. Intermediate level of capability
  4. Advanced level of capability

An often-used instrument to assess competencies is a 180-degree feedback instrument. A 180-degree feedback instrument assesses an employee’s skills by asking him/herself, peers and the direct manager.

The advantage of such an instrument is that people are not always accurate in evaluating their own skills. This can be because of over competence. An example is the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority.

An alternative – and even better instrument – is a 360-degree feedback instrument. On top of the previous instrument, this one includes other relationships as well, like customers, direct reports and bosses.

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You can, of course, vary in how you measure someone’s proficiency. I’ve also seen organizations use a 5-point scale:

  1. No experience or knowledge
  2. Little experience or knowledge
  3. Reasonable experience or knowledge
  4. Considerable experience or knowledge
  5. Expert experience or knowledge

Feel free to change these scales the way you like to use them, as long as you are consistent!

3. Determine a person’s interest in working on the tasks they’ve been proposed

An addition to the previous step is that you need more than just skills. People also need to like the work they’re good at. Most of the time this is the case, but sometimes it isn’t.

In those cases, your skills matrix may show that you have someone competent at a crucial task – but if the person is unwilling to perform the task, you will still hit a dead end. For each person, you’d want to know whether they have:

  1. No interest in applying this skill or knowledge
  2. Interested in applying this skill or knowledge

With this knowledge you can bring it all together.

4. Incorporate all information in the skills matrix and act on the insights

Now you know both the required and the available competencies, you can create the competency matrix. This matrix helps to visualize what skills are available and what skills are missing. This will result in the following template.

Skills matrix templates

The skills matrix template below is based on a people analytics team. For the project, six critical skills were identified: Business acumen, basic data analysis, advanced data analytics, data visualization, and substantive HR knowledge.

Next, we assessed the capabilities and interest for each of the team members. This resulted in the following matrix.

People Analytics Skill Matrix Template - Competency Matrix Template

Using the skills matrix, you can easily spot the team’s strong and weak points. Jonathan and Alden have a great business acumen, Tracy will fill the data analyst role and Sandra will most likely be the liaison between the team and the IT department.

On the downside, the team is missing advanced data analytics skills. Most of the early analytics teams don’t require advanced data analytics. Oftentimes these teams are trying to make an internal business case for analytics and automate operational and strategic reporting.

In a more advanced stage, however, these analytical capabilities will become more relevant. At this point, the team might have to hire a data scientist with advanced analytics skills.

An even more advanced version would also include development capability. If someone is at a basic level but is willing to improve his/her skills, that’s an excellent sign.

A lot of people analytics teams struggle to find all the relevant skills. Indeed, it’s very hard to find people who both understand HR and the data analytics side of the business.

I see an increasing amount of companies hiring on eagerness to learn because there is a shortage of people who have all the relevant skills.

Skills matrix template

A lot of people have asked for a skills matrix template in Excel, so I’ve included the picture above in PowerPoint and Excel. The PowerPoint file has the best-looking layout. All files are free to edit.

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