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What is an agile skills strategy?

Traditional skills strategies result in unhappy learners, unhappy managers and terrible datasets. It's time to upgrade to something better.

Mark Ward Co-Founder

Matt Damon saying "I have a particular set of skills"

At THRIVE we always challenge both ourselves and the convention within the industry. Since we launched our revolutionary Learning & Skills Platform within THRIVE, we’ve been inundated with questions from customers about whether their current skill strategy might be failing them. And we always answer : if it isn’t agile, it probably is. Adopting an agile skills strategy is imperative to thrive in the modern business environment, but first let’s have a look at how outdated traditional skills strategies work.

How do traditional skills strategies work?


A traditional approach to mapping skills starts with a skills ontology. Normally L&D teams draft up a set of skills that they think should be demonstrable in every member of their organisation. These include skills like “communication”, “attention to detail”, “organisation”, “collaboration”, “problem solving” etc. 

Then job roles are formalised and each job role is assigned varying levels of the skills in the ontology. For example, a marketing specialist may need a level 8/10 in communication and 5/10 in problem solving, whereas a senior backend engineer might need a 9/10 in problem solving and a 5/10 in communication.

To collect data on the current workforces skills, it is a manual process that involves subjective talent review by managers, who then rate employees on their skills from the skills ontology.

What’s wrong with the current system?


Almost everything.

For starters, it is waaaaaay too manual. Asking managers to personally rank the skills of their direct reports and then collate all that data leads to unhappy managers, unhappy direct reports and rubbish datasets. In no other area of business do we have this level of manual data input. Most HR functions are at least semi-automated, but skills tracking is so far behind the times.

Because of the manual nature of traditional skills strategies, they are also incredibly inflexible. We all know that the future of workplace skills is very different to the present, so why would you commit to a strategy that you know can’t be changed midway through?

I’ve been lucky enough to talk a bunch of our clients and the different teams we have here at THRIVE, and one of the key takeaways from our chats is that if you want to find out what is an important skill for a particular team, you need to let people in those teams tell you. And with current skills strategies there aren’t ways for you to do that.

How do you make a "self building" skills strategy?

You need to find a way that learners can create their own skills within your framework, also known as “user generated skills”. By handing the reins over to your learners, you can gather unparalleled insights into not only what your learners are skilled at, but also how they think about skills themselves. 

A common problem with traditional skills ontologies is that words like “communication” or “problem solving” may mean wildly different things, depending on individual learners. 

Take, for example, a skill called “color theory”.

For a graphic designer, that may mean the interplay of colors on a video, or in promotional material. For a web developer, that could mean knowledge of accessibility issues caused by the use of different colors. For an interior designer, that could mean how to use colors to make a room or space look bigger. Once you start viewing “traditional” skills in this way, it quickly becomes apparent that a lot of the time, you are trying to make a round peg fit a square hole. 

 By adopting a user first skills ontology, you can keep on top of how your users define their skills, and precisely identify emerging skills in your organization. 

How is THRIVE changing the game?

Well firstly, we are the only platform in the world that allows you to do all of the above in one place, so there’s that. But our main strength lies in the fact we are a completely holistic solution that gives both learners and management the perfect way to learn and track skills. 

For learners, we offer an effortless way to upskill and reskill, something that is crucial to the workplace of the future. THRIVE Learning & Skills Platform also offers a way to define your own skills, and to learn from people in other roles exactly what skills they use in their day-to-day, so if you want to switch teams, you instantly know what you need to work on.

For management and those in charge of L&D initiatives, we offer unparalleled insights into what skills your learners are interested in, where content may be thin on the ground, and where you are investing time and money into content that isn’t addressing a necessary skill. Don’t believe me? Book a personalised demo today!

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