Your Employees Are Failing to Apply Their New Skills

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Anastasiia Makarevich

The more skills one learns, the more adept one will be in their job.

Not true, says a recent Gartner research report, “Building a Dynamic Skills Organization.”

It showed that employees on average are applying 54% of the new skills they learned. This despite the number of skills needed for a single job increasing by 10% year-on-year and 33% of skills needed three years ago no longer relevant. 

This is a problem for CHROs and is also one they created.

COVID-19 pandemic, shifting business strategies and a changing market landscape highlight the need for new skills as employees adapt to an evolving work environment.

CHROs were under tremendous pressure to upskill their employees, even before the pandemic. And the pressure comes in both directions. 

Gartner’s 2020 Shifting Skills Survey for HR Executives revealed that 60% of HR leaders report pressure from the CEO to ensure employees have the skills needed in the future. The same survey found that, compared with three years ago, 69% of HR executives report more pressure from employees to provide development opportunities that will prepare them for future roles.

Two-thirds of HR leaders resorted to using a reactive approach to upskilling. But employees failed to apply almost half of the new skills they learned.

The other approach — predictive — is not any better. In fact, it is worse with employees only applying 37% of the new skills they learn. The problem is that predicting and committing to a defined set of future skills can lead organizations to focus on the wrong skills, said Gartner.

“While the majority of organizations are utilizing a reactive approach to skills building that doesn’t work, most are still striving to be more predictive to get ahead of skill shifts,” said Sari Wilde, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “The problem is that a predictive approach predicated on HR identifying a specific skill set need for the future also fails.”

What is needed is a dynamic skills approach, said Gartner

According to the research, the most effective HR functions used a dynamic skills approach focused on structuring HR and the organization — people, systems and strategies — to respond dynamically to changing skills needs.

This approach helps HR sense shifting skills needs in real time, develop skills at the time of need and empowers employees to make informed skills decisions dynamically.

A dynamic skills approach does three critical things differently:

  • Senses shifting skills in real time. A dynamic skills approach anticipates skill shifts as they are occurring — rather than predicting the future — and adapts to those shifts in an iterative, course-corrective way. To sense shifting skills, organizations can facilitate cross-organizational networks of stakeholders that are sensitive to, and empowered to, address skills as they shift in real time.
  • Develops skills at the time of need. This approach goes beyond the realm of traditional learning and development (L&D) tactics, such as classroom training or curated e-learning libraries. To develop skills at the time of need, organizations can identify and implement skill accelerators — strategies HR can adapt by leveraging existing resources (e.g., content, people, skill adjacencies) to develop new skills solutions at speed.
  • Employees make skills decisions dynamically. A dynamic skills approach calls for two-way skills transparency between the organization (e.g., what skills it needs, what skills it no longer needs, where its needs are unknown) and the employee (e.g., current skills and interests). HR can then create channels for employees and the organization to exchange skills information, which facilitates a better match between employees and their organization to pursue mutually beneficial and flexible skills development.

“Organizations that embrace a dynamic approach to developing skills find that employees are both learning the right skills and extracting the value from those skills in a way they do not within the reactive and predictive approaches,” said Wilde. “The result is that employees apply 75% of the new skills they learn.”

The dynamic skills approach boosts other key talent outcomes, including a 24% improvement in employee performance and a 34% improvement in employees going above and beyond at work.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Anastasiia Makarevich