Recently, we’ve seen continued warnings about a shortage of skilled staff and competencies. The effect of such a shortage at an organisational level has a double impact.
The business performance will not be optimised and, as a consequence, the organisation’s technologies, systems and people may not be supported in a way that maximises business performance. So what strategies can help ensure that an organisation has the staff capabilities and IT systems to help drive organisational success?
Capability-driven performance management
Traditionally, organisations targeted learning opportunities at improving specific skills or knowledge, but a growing trend is to link learning and performance management to capabilities. Capabilities are a powerful tool for reinforcing what a company values in its corporate culture, as well as driving business impact through improved individual performance.
This is a much more efficient strategy for modern businesses where change is constant; it can help to ensure the employee is a good fit for their job role, even if their specific activities change in line with revised organisational objectives. For example, it can be less important to have specific knowledge (which can be learned) than more innate and transferable skills and behaviours.
Managers need to list and define the competencies each employee needs to excel and give them a set of clear objectives against which to measure their current behaviours, making it easier to evaluate, assess and develop each individual. Development needs should be identified through the performance appraisal process and plans developed to bridge any gaps.
It’s essential that such targets are cascaded down from and related to business goals to help drive organisational performance. In addition, such employee performance should be monitored on an ongoing basis, so each individual appreciates that personal and professional development is a continuous requirement rather than a once-a-year exercise.
Succession planning has been traditionally viewed as an activity for board-level or other senior executive positions, but research indicates that successful companies adopt organisation-wide succession planning. After all, an employee may have mission-critical responsibilities, market knowledge or skills without holding an executive position.
Similarly, the market for highly skilled and competent IT professionals remains fiercely competitive, so it is essential to build ‘bench strength’.
In short, this involves ensuring there are a number of potential internal replacements with the necessary capabilities who are ready to move into critical positions if the current incumbent moves to another role, either within or outside the organisation.
Adopting such a strategy requires managers to have an excellent insight into the existing capabilities, development potential and career aspirations of their people.
This depth of information is easiest to access via a comprehensive talent management platform that integrates solutions for training and development, employee performance management, succession planning and enterprise social networking.
IT professionals have been early adopters of social networking technologies and many have become accustomed to using bulletin boards and wikis for many years now, before such technology became mainstream. That ability and confidence can be leveraged by capturing and harnessing the informal learning within the IT department through enterprise social networking and collaboration tools.
The experience of early adopters of social learning indicates that the most successful implementations are embedded within a learning portal as part of a holistic learning and talent management strategy that can include participation in social learning as a key performance indicator. The content can also be leveraged for workforce and succession planning, for example by comparing social maps against hierarchical maps.
The former uses workplace communities and rich user profiles to identify subject matter experts and other key players in the organisation’s social learning environment, and then examines where these people are in the existing hierarchy. This can highlight high-potential individuals, whose promise might not already have been recognised, or present managers with evidence that an individual has the ability to move into a position for which they previously may not have been a candidate.
Usability is key
IT specialists are keenly aware that systems may have the correct functionality, but fail when it comes to usability. Too many systems reduce usage because they are difficult to access or not intuitive enough for employees or administrators. To gain the best results, employees should be able to access multiple talent management solutions from the same interface via single sign-on, using one password and user ID.
In the past, implementing such a system was prohibitively complex and expensive - if not impossible. However, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based talent management solutions now available are more cost-effective and risk-free compared to the legacy systems of a decade ago.
When employees become accustomed to using the platform for one aspect of their development and find it user-friendly and useful, they will explore the other functionality more willingly. Adoption drives adoption, both at an individual level and by encouraging others to use the platform.
Leveraging all learning opportunities
In the coming year, many IT managers will find their overall budgets - and their training budgets in particular - have been frozen or slashed, yet skills still need to be updated in pace with the rapid nature of change in the IT industry.
Two considerations should be born in mind when tackling this challenge. First, IT managers will get the best return on investment by making sure the training undertaken by their staff is delivered in the format that best suits the individual’s learning needs, as well as the learning style of the organisation.
Second, managers need to ensure they are utilising all possible options to meet those needs. For example, the need for classroom training has not gone away, but online learning can be used to deliver training more cost-effectively at the desktop in ways that mimic the interactivity of the classroom.
In addition, fantastic results can be achieved through social learning, mentoring and work shadowing. However, it is essential that all such interventions are tracked and recorded so managers have an accurate picture of the employee’s development and performance. And to achieve the maximum benefit, these plans must prioritise the development needs that are essential to helping the organisation achieve its business targets.