Identifying and Developing Talent Within
The benefits of creating an employee skills inventory
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
Many laboratories are experiencing significant change during these turbulent times, and the number of employees needed for moving forward may be very different. The positions that were needed yesterday may be very different from what is needed going forward. Some employees did not want to or could not return to the laboratory for a variety of reasons, including childcare issues, reevaluation of their career choice, or concerns for their safety. Through everything, what is very apparent is that your laboratory's ability to survive depends on the talent of your workforce.
It is safe to say most businesses have sound processes in place to take inventory of their product or stock. Why do businesses focus on maintaining solid practices and records on inventory? Is it because inventory is a huge asset and a significant amount of financial resources are tied up there? Of course! I would challenge you to look at the talent of your workforce in the same vain and do a regular inventory of your talent. When is the last time you thought about the skills that your workforce has and how that impacts your ability to survive and thrive in the future? Many businesses fail because they do not have the right talent to ensure they can compete in an ever-changing environment.
As with many things in life, we often take for granted what we have. Most employees want to be high performers and contribute to an organization's success. Employees want to be challenged and learn new skills. However, we often look at our employees for what they are today rather than looking at what they may be able to do tomorrow. If you have a new position to fill, is your first inclination to say, "I'd better get this job posted and start screening resumes?" Instead, shouldn't your thought be, "Who in my current workforce has the skills now to do the job, or who shows the potential and with some training could definitely do this job?" Think about the positive outcomes of finding that internal talent. You have a satisfied and likely loyal employee who already understands your operation and culture. Also, other employees see the potential for career advancement.
Now, the question is how to go about doing this. I recommend developing an employee skills inventory. This inventory provides information about each employee's skills and attributes, and what attributes they possess that could be utilized for future positions.
Robert Tanner, MBA, lists several advantages to having a skills inventory in his article "What is a Skills Inventory,"1 including the following:
• Assigning the right employees to the right functions
• Staffing internal project teams with the best talent to ensure organizational success
• Targeting training and development efforts to alleviate existing skill gaps
• Identifying key employees to develop for future business needs
• Developing an internal talent channel to replace key employees and managers that depart from the organization
• Developing a workforce plan for the future strategic needs of the business
As a laboratory owner or manager, you are likely torn between focusing on the present and ensuring you are meeting your customer's needs, but if you are not focusing on your future needs, you could be risking your long-term survival. Strategic planning, talent assessment, and succession planning will be keys to your success.
The questions now are: What does a skills inventory look like, and how do I go about tackling this? Various tools are available. The process does not need to be overly complex and should be tailored to your needs. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) provides some recommendations including breaking the skills into categories such as administrative & clerical skills, communication skills, financial skills, management skills, and technical skills.2 Within each category, there can be a list of specific skills. For example, technical skills could include inspecting, testing, designing, and adjusting machines. These can be customized based upon your needs. I recommend starting with job descriptions. If you do not have written job descriptions, you should begin by developing those. This will help you identify the essential functions of each job and the skills and competencies needed to perform them. From there, you can develop a skills inventory form and then complete the skills assessment for each employee in the laboratory. You then have a great visual with the ability to identify your current inventory and help you plan for tomorrow.
Assessing talent and taking inventory should be done on a regular basis. Also, just like taking a physical inventory of products, you should then assess the results and implement a plan to identify any gaps. Finally, communicating with employees and providing the tools and opportunities to develop will be the key to retaining a skilled, productive, and satisfied workforce.
1. Tanner R. What is a Skills Inventory? Management is a Journey website. https://managementisajourney.com/management-toolbox-better-decision-making-with-a-skills-inventory/. Updated March 16, 2020. Accessed December 1, 2020.
2. Society for Human Resources Management website. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-forms/pages/skillsanalysisform.aspx. Accessed May 2020.
About the Author
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is the President of HR Affiliates.