How critical are people’s skill data for workforce planning in the digital era?

Skill data may help accelerate “the right person for the right position”.

I came across David Green’s article about how to take a skill-based approach to workforce planning, which provided me with clarity on how critical people’s skill data is for workforce planning, which is my company’s current challenge, and how the data can complement network analysis.

David Green is one of the leading people analytics experts, and his survey in the second half of 2020 across almost 50 global organizations, including 12 Fortune 500 companies revealed that while 90% of the companies desired to implement a skill-based workforce planning process, only 26% had it in place. My company, as no exception, falls into 26%.

In the article, David shared the following insights from the interview with Ralf Buechsenschuss, Global Head of Org Design, Analytics and Digitalization at Zurich Insurance Company, which has a skill-based workforce planning process in place.

  • How technology has helped elevate people analytics during Ralf’s decade in the field to the extent that today we can: “Use machine learning at scale and tailor recommendations to individuals because we know what the skills are of an individual and what are the skill gaps. And at scale, we can bring certain recommendations to an employee, the same way we bring specific marketing campaigns to our customers.
  • Ralf’s ingenious use of organizational network analysis in workforce planning, to understand the flow of expertise throughout the organization: “We are applying organizational network analysis on two types of networks. One is the expertise network – so, to really understand, what is the capability we have and who is part of that network? And (second, the) collaboration network – so how do people work together and get work done?”
  • Finally, he explained how workforce planning and org design activities can be viewed as two sides of the same coin and how bringing both under the same umbrella can help HR deliver more value to the business. “We know how many people we need, which kind of skills and capabilities we need, and what is also then the right organizational setting. Then, ensure that we can execute our business priority in the right way and leverage the full analytic capability through data revenue.

Based on this article, here are my takeaways:

  1. The first thing I like about Zurich Insurance’s people analytics approach is that they always start from business strategy or business issues, not from analytics. It means people analytics or HR impact the business outcome. This mindset is crucial for people analytics to be accepted inside the company.
  2. I could understand the importance of skill/capability data to realize the right person for the right position from the article. However, I need to explore how to define the current/future skills and capabilities rightly and evaluate the level of those skills and capabilities since it is not covered in the article.
  3. I am impressed with Zurich Insurance’s approach because they combine skill data information and network analysis to create “expertise network” in the organization and analyze how effective the organizational architecture is. This is a very new approach for me, and I am confident that such combined analytical approaches could yield more value than a single analytical approach.


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Student comments on How critical are people’s skill data for workforce planning in the digital era?

  1. I enjoyed reading about your takeaways about Ralf’s insights on organizational network divided up into expertise and collaboration – I agree that the skill/capability evaluation process starts with the human reviewer and more is needed to understand the inputs/outputs for performance measurement.

  2. As you mentioned, I am very niterested in learning more about the practical ways to do skills assessment. I could see this being challenging for soft skills, but maybe quantified communications shows us that event this is possible.

  3. This is a great point to highlight! I also wonder how this would increase or decrease the visibility of soft skills especially since it’s much easier to measure variables that are easy to access and easy to interpret – soft communication skills (especially in group settings would be challenging)

  4. I agree to the points made in the previous comments around the difficulty to measure skill levels. At a client’ contact center operations group, we implemented a “manual” approach, a so called skill matrix. Every contact center agent had a bunch of skills across 3-4 categories that were standardized across the organization. Skills included hard skills (e.g. using Salesforce and other software) and soft skills (e.g. empathy, communication). The agents’ supervisor/manager will rate them based on this skill matrix so that hopefully over time you have a more standardized set of data that you can aggregate and then use for the purposes of people analytics, e.g. an analysis of what set of skills of the contact center agent drive better customer satisfaction scores.

  5. Starting with the business strategy in mind is an excellent practice to define the pillars of people analytics processes. As you say, it will potentially increase its buy-in within the company. As Michael mentioned, this would facilitate the definition of a skills matrix, their evaluation mechanism, and their data collection for later analysis.

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