For those of us that manage others, effectiveness is largely driven by the skills and motivation of those that report to us. So whether you are a CIO, IT division leader, or a front-line manager, you need to spend the time to assess the currents skills, abilities and career aspirations of your staff and help them put in place the plans that can support their development. And yet, you need to do this in such a way that still supports the overall near-term objectives of the organization, and properly balances the need for professional development against the day-to-day needs of the organization.
There are certifications for competence in many different products. Having such certifications is very valuable and gives one a sense of the skill-set of an individual. But how do you assess someone as a journeyman programmer, tester or systems engineer, or perhaps as a master in one’s chosen discipline? This evaluation is overly subjective and places too much emphasis on “book knowledge” rather than practical application of that knowledge to develop new, innovative solutions or approaches that the organization truly needs. In other words, how do you assess the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) of a person to perform their job role?
This assessment problem is two-fold:
- For a specific IT discipline, you need a comprehensive framework by which to understand the types of skills and knowledge you should have each level — from novice to expert.
- For each discipline, you also need a way to accurately assess the current level ability of your technical staff members to create the baseline by which you can develop their skills to move to higher levels of proficiency. This not only helps the individual develop a realistic and achievable plan, but also gives you insights into where you have significant skills gaps in your organization.
Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA)
In 2003, a non-profit organization was founded called the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which provides a comprehensive framework of skills in IT technologies and disciplines based on a broad industry “body of knowledge.”
SFIA currently covers 97 professional skills required by professionals in roles involving information and communications technology. These skills are organized into six categories, as follows:
- Strategy and Architecture
- Change and Transformation
- Development and Implementation
- Delivery and Operation
- Skills and Quality
- Relationships and Engagement
Each of the skills are described at one or more of SFIA’s seven levels of attainment — from a novice to expert. Find out more about this framework here.
Although the framework helps define your needed competencies, it doesn’t tell you if your workers have the skills that match them.
Building your own effective framework
In order to accurately assess the current ability level of your technical staff members is to create the baseline from which you can develop their skills to higher levels of proficiency. So, the best way to progress would be by identifying the goals of the team or org and then building your own framework. So, how do we proceed?
List the roles within your team
To start with you need a list of the role types within your team. This isn’t the same thing as having a listing of every position on your org chart. You want to simplify the process by grouping together like roles.
List the skills needed for each role
Now that you’ve created a list of role types, the next step is to list the skills needed for each of these roles. What do the skills look like? They could be behavioral like “Listens to customer needs carefully to determine requirements” or they could be more technical like this sample list of engineering skills:
- Writing quality code
- Design skills
- Writing optimal code
- Programming patterns
Once you have this list, it’s a valuable resource in itself.
Create a survey
It’s ideal if you can find out all of the relevant skills a person has, not just those for their current role. To do this, create a survey that makes it easy for your people to respond. This essentially means you need to keep it short and not ask the same question twice. To achieve this, the survey should group together each of the major role types. Use the list you created in step 2 as your starting point for this.
Let’s say you have an engineering group within your organization. It may have a number of different role types within it, but there’s probably common skills across many of them. For example, many of the role types may require people to be skilled at “Programming.” Rather than listing skills more than once under each relevant role type, list them once under a common group heading.
Survey your workforce
With the survey designed, you are now ready to ask your workforce to respond to it. The size of your team and the number of roles will determine how you go about doing this.
It’s a good practice to communicate to survey participants to explain why you are asking for their response and what will happen with the information.
Analyze the data
You can now reap the rewards of your skills audit process. You can analyze:
- The skill gaps in specific roles
- Skill gaps within teams or organization groups
- Potential successors for certain roles
- The number of people who have critical skills
- Future skill requirements
This assessment not only helps employees create realistic and achievable individual development plans, but also gives you insight into where you have significant skills gaps in your team or in your organization.
Hari Vignesh Jayapalan is a Google Certified Android app developer, IDF Certified UI & UX Professional, street magician, fitness freak, technology enthusiast, and wannabe entrepreneur. He can be found on Twitter @HariofSpades.