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Skills Inventories Can Increase Inclusion

By Marcia Potter, President, SynTactSolutions, Inc.

Reprinted from
Cultural Diversity at Work™
July 1996 (Vol 8:6)

A midwestern manufacturer puts up a web site and in very short order receives more than a dozen requests for information from distributors in South America. The CEO is delighted but also aware of the fact that his company has never done business outside the U.S.A. They will need to learn about international shipping, law and business customs. He also knows that his sales team is already overburdened and that hiring new people will mean a lengthy learning process. At his computer terminal, he consults a software program inventorying the skills of his workforce and learns to his surprise that his company currently employs 21 Spanish-speaking people at a wide variety of job levels. From these initial resources, he begins to build a sales team to research and address the emerging market.

A corporate manager, the first non-White and first woman at her level in the company, is assigned an important technical project. At her terminal, she quickly discovers that the computer programming skills necessary to do the project are not available in her division. Her software also helps her calibrate the skills gap, identify the best candidates for the necessary training, and estimate the additional time needed to do the project. Within a day, she reports back to her director with clear evidence of the gap and a detailed strategy for bridging it, including time and cost estimates.

A secretary in her 50s learns that her company intends to sell off the division in which she works. Concerned about her chances for future employment, she consults a computer program where she updates a detailed inventory of her interests, abilities, available time, and skills. In the process, she realizes that over the years she has done a considerable amount of writing, both in her job and in her volunteer fundraising activities. Several months later, she has not only survived her division's downsizing but is doing well in another position, in the public relations department, where she is already on track for promotion.

These scenarios are not only part of our corporate future, they're happening in companies today. The manufacturer, the manager, and the secretary are each looking for a competitive business advantage. Each of them turns to the same computer software -- a skills matrix -- and finds a creative solution to their problem.

Skills matrix software, a densely woven database of the skills, abilities, talents, and time currently available in a given group of employees, allows managers to seek specific knowledge or skills without reference to corporate levels, traditional job functions, or historical roles. While leveraging available people resources and helping businesses to profit, the software goes far toward leveling the playing field and helping organizations realize a high degree of inclusiveness.

Screening for Talent

Take the manufacturer in the scenario above, for example. Without the software, he probably would have reverted to assigning the new market to the people with whom he was most familiar and most comfortable -- who are probably people most like himself. The software, however, prompted him to reach out to people whose skills were unknown to him. By using Spanish-speaking people already on his staff, he can take advantage of their familiarity with the company, products, and procedures as well as their linguistic and cultural knowledge.

The Black female manager is another case in point. Without the skills matrix tool at her disposal, she might have wasted considerable time in coming to realize that the skills necessary to do the project were not available. Worse yet, in her eagerness to prove herself, she might have forged ahead and attempted to do the project with an inadequately trained staff. Either way, her "failure" to complete the task might well have been perceived as a reflection on her own competence rather than the lack of staff skilled in the needed technology. By using the skills matrix software, she was able quickly to see the problem, identify its extent, and develop a reasonable solution.

Finally, the use of such software offers several advantages to the individual employee. As the secretary in the third example updated her profile on-line, the program assisted her in identifying the skills and experiences that might make her valuable to the company if she were to occupy another position. Since the skills on-line had been chosen and defined by her own management, she had a good chance of making herself more "employable" by enhancing those skills most valuable to them.

The Wave of the Future

The manager who uses a skills matrix tool to select an individual or team breaks down the barriers that traditionally excluded people of a certain age, nationality, gender, or color. Even job level means little when a certain skill or expertise is being sought. At the same time the tool often helps managers realize what skills are lacking within their organization. By tracking a rich array of technical and functional skills, knowledge, education, and experience, a skills matrix tool makes it possible for companies to prefer ability and expertise.

Copyright © 1996 Cultural Diversity at Work
Published by The GilDeane Group,
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Seattle WA, 98125-6812, U.S.A.
(206) 362-0336

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