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Why is skills audit not right way to go?

By Memory Nguwi

MOST organisations mistake a qualification audit for a skills audit. Rather than waste your resources doing a qualification and experience audit, which in most cases does not improve your organisation’s performance even if the recommendations are implemented, focus on a staff capacity assessment audit.

Staff capacity is a function of the individual’s general mental ability, skills, experience, knowledge, desire to do a job and the absence of any behavioural problems that may derail them.  General mental ability carries a higher weight, followed by job knowledge and skills. The assessment must reflect the weights each contributes to performance on the job.

The best way to go is for the business to assess each employee’s current capability versus current level or role and future roles. Most of the business failures and chaos we are witnessing in this market boils down to the mismatch between role levels and the capacity of incumbents.

The model that is used to assess employee capacity versus the level of job complexity is Jaques’ level of work model. This model groups jobs into levels of work based on job complexity. Most CEOs and other executives in the country would fall into Levels 4 and 5. The two levels are equivalent to band F in Patterson grading.

Job grading places jobs into grades based on the content of the job. It does not look at the capacity of the individual to do the job. This is where the biggest challenge for companies is. You have placed people into roles based on job evaluation but not their capacity to handle the complexity required for the position.

When assessing an individual’s capability, we first look at the individual’s assigned or current operating level. This is the level the organisation decides the individual should operate at through job evaluation or other assessments.

The individual has no choice but to go into that assigned role.  The next stage is to look at the individuals’ Current Actual Capability (CAC).  What is the individual’s capacity to function effectively in their Current Operating Level?

This is a function of their capacity based on their cognitive power, personality, experience, skilled job knowledge, competencies, and motivation.   You can go a step further to assess Current Potential Capability(CPC) — the maximum level at which a person could currently work, provided that optimum opportunities and conditions are there, even though the person did not have past opportunities to acquire necessary skilled knowledge. This sets the person’s current level of work ceiling for any or every type of work.

After the assessment, you may find that a person whose current operating level is a 4 may have their current actual capability at level 2. Such a mismatch is a disaster for the organisation in general and catastrophic for those being managed by such an individual.

In some instances, you get an individual whose current operating level is level 4, but their current actual capacity is level 5, and their current potential capability is a 6.  This means the individual has the capacity way ahead of those managing them. Such individuals may or may not stay long as they are likely to feel they are being constrained in the way they operate.

The biggest challenge for having people operating beyond their current actual capability is that they tend to bring the job down to a level they are comfortable with. As an example, a CE whose assigned operating level may be level 5 can bring down that job to level 3 if their actual current potential is level 3. This is where you find a CE; instead of being strategic and focusing on the future of the business, they become too operational. They will be busy with operational decisions that are not at their assigned level. Again such a scenario would be disastrous for your business.

When a staff capacity assessment is complete, you should be able to present a comprehensive report listing the staff capacity for the organisation: overall, by the department and by role. The report will present, graphically, which areas are problematic (where there are gaps). Suppose the gaps are on the cognitive side; in that case, you have a much bigger problem because cognitive skills or general mental ability cannot be corrected once the person is inside your organisation. It could point to a faulty selection system in your organisation that allows people who do not have the cognitive capacity for target roles to join the organisation.

The same challenge will exist if the personality profiles do not match the roles people are in.  These two shortcomings cannot be corrected as they are partly genetics and early childhood experience. After childhood, you will not be able to do anything regarding these two.

If the gaps are in the competencies such as business acumen, presentation skills etc., qualifications and experience, these can be developed. The organisation must only focus on developing people who have the cognitive ability/aptitude for the target role. If you find technical deficiencies (domain-specific knowledge) in the technical areas, these can be addressed through training.

The last thing you need to do in the report is to combine the output of his process with actual job performance records.

You must end up with a quadrant that places people into the following categories: low potential — high performance (workhorse, you can keep in the current role), low potential — low performance (manage out), high potential — low performance (develop) and high potential — high performance (retain).

The results of the staff capacity audit can also feed into your succession planning process easily, as the same evidence gathered is crucial for succession planning.

  • Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and HR consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/ Phone +263 24 248 1 946-48/ 2290 0276, cell number +263 772 356 361 or e-mail: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com or visit ipcconsultants.com.

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