Defining Skills: The Cornerstone of Skills-Based HR Practices

2 Nov, 2023 •

Defining Skills: The Cornerstone of Skills-Based HR Practices

From Ambiguity to Clarity: Crafting a Robust Skills Framework for Your Organization

In the first part of our series on skills-based HR practices, we explored the fundamental concept of skills and the pivotal role it plays in transitioning to a skills-based organization. Many organizations often struggle to make this shift, primarily because they underestimate the significance of clearly defining skills. In this follow-up blog, we will delve deeper into the process of building a skills framework or skills taxonomy, which is the cornerstone of skills-based HR practices.

The Pitfalls of Skill Ambiguity

One of the common pitfalls in the journey towards skills-based HR is the ambiguity surrounding what skills actually entail. Without a clear understanding of skills, it becomes challenging to implement effective skills-based practices. Before you realize you are head over heels into a new skills platform or skills management technology and cannot see the wood for the trees. Skills are meant to promote clarity instead of confusion. They should bring a level of consistency to uncertain, unreliable, and unpredictable HR practices. And they should bring fairness by breaking talent down to its foundation replacing rather superficial and biased perspectives. Simply put: They should simplify HR processes rather than overcomplicate them. So, what exactly should you put into your skills framework, and how do you define skills?

Defining Skills: A Critical Starting Point

Before embarking on the skills-based journey, please take a step back and ask yourself why you are doing this. The essence of skills-based practices is to bring the focus back to what truly matters: people’s skills. These skills encompass not only the existing capabilities within your organization but also the skills demanded by the labor market and those needed for the future. A well-defined skills framework should be your guide in achieving these goals. If not the equation is short: Trash in, trash out.

Practical Definitions and Measurability

Practicality is crucial when defining skills. Skill definitions should be clear, concise, and easily measurable. Ambiguous or vague skill definitions can lead to confusion and inconsistencies in talent management. To ensure that your skills are both practical and measurable, consider the following questions:

  • What is the skill’s purpose? Begin by understanding why this skill is important in the context of your organization and industry.
  • How is this skill relevant to specific roles? Clearly articulate how each skill contributes to various job functions within your organization.
  • Can you measure this skill? Determine the methods or metrics you’ll use to assess and measure the level of proficiency in each skill.
  • How can you categorize skills? Organize your skills into logical categories or clusters, making it easier to navigate your skills framework.

Generically, a skill can be defined as a specific ability that an individual possesses, allowing them to perform particular tasks effectively and efficiently. It should be articulated in a manner that is both clear and easily understandable, enabling straightforward measurement of proficiency. Ambiguity in skill definitions can lead to complications in assessing and managing talent. How do we prevent this? We define skills as the most fundamental level of abilities. In this article, we refer to skills as ‘human skills’, unless we notify otherwise.

BrainsFirst’s Unique Approach: Talent for Skills Validation

At BrainsFirst, we’ve introduced a distinctive approach to defining skills that can significantly enhance your skills framework. We identify and classify the cognitive building blocks that underlie human performance, which we refer to as “brain skills.” These human performance fundamentals reveal everyone’s set of natural abilities, indicating a certain talent for specific skills. This approach enables organizations to define skills in a clear, concise, and measurable way. These cognitive skills are the foundation for a wide range of tasks, from basic activities to complex job roles. What sets our approach apart is that we’ve linked these cognitive building blocks to extensive job databases like O*NET and ESCO. This linkage provides a comprehensive, data-driven, and measurable foundation for your skills taxonomy. 

The Role of Brain Skills in Skills Frameworks

Brain skills serve as the bedrock for higher-level skills like programming, teaching, or time management. That’s why they are also called “deep skills”. They are easily measured through our game-based assessment, the NeurOlympics, and offer a reliable foundation for building your skills taxonomy. By mapping the cognitive skills of your employees, you gain valuable insights into their natural talents, which remain consistent over time. This information is pivotal in creating skills passports, a powerful tool for talent management, especially when we talk about employee development and career pathing.

The Key Takeaway

Building a robust skills framework is the first crucial step in adopting skills-based HR practices. As long as you do not pay enough attention to this step, the results will be suboptimal. Defining skills is not just a formality; it’s the basis upon which the entire skills-based journey rests. It’s about clarifying what skills mean in your context, ensuring practicality, and establishing a clear roadmap for your organization’s talent management.

In our next installment, we will delve deeper into the practical aspects of skills-based selection and assessment, continuing our journey along the talent management cycle. Book a meeting with our skills experts for practical guidance on embracing skills-based practices and building a more agile, adaptable, and future-proof workforce.