How to design a transformative skills framework

By Vinit Patel

5 minute read

TL;DR

Your company – like every company – is undergoing important change. But the change you want won’t just happen. You need your people to develop specific and valuable skills for them to operate in this new world that you’re creating. This post is about how you create your own transformative skills framework, complete with the skills you want your people to develop and then launch it across your organisation to deliver a specific, important change programme.

How long will it take to develop? Quicker than you can say ‘magpie’. OK, maybe a bit longer than that!

What change?

The thing about change is that it’s constant. At any given moment, inside and outside your company there are multiple major changes underway which affect how you do - or should do - business. 

'The companies that win in the 2020s will be designed to constantly learn and adapt to changing realities' - Boston Consulting Group

Every so often, businesses pay special attention to a particular change by initiating a programme to effect and manage it. The specific change your company is focussed on might be finding efficiencies by iterating your BAU (business as usual) practices, guiding your business to a new TOM (target operating model), transforming how you work, or changing how the workforce feels about work.  These are big-ticket items which your Board and CEO really care about. Are you supporting it – explicitly – with your learning strategy and purchases? 

Most L&D teams we speak to aren’t. They have the bigger, seemingly more important job of providing whole-company training for all conceivable skills. The problem with this jack-of-all-trades approach is that, in the end, after considerable expense, very little is achieved. Without a specific motivation for individuals, managers and the company to make learning happen, it doesn’t. Most people don’t care at all about the platforms and content L&D buys for them.

So that’s why we prefer to pin our technology (magpie) and attendant services on a specific, important, stated change programme. It should be obvious that learning through change is far more effective and sticky than learning for learning’s sake (and key to fighting any organisational apathy). We ran a survey recently which indicated the relative popularity of change programmes:

change-survey-results

Do these surprise you? I would have guessed that digital transformation and leadership would be #1 and #2, given all the hype and talk at conferences. But what’s more important is what’s meant by each of these items. Different people, different industries and different companies may all mean different things by this corporate jargon!

For example, digital transformation can apply at an org-wide, regional or business unit-level. It can cover topics as diverse as AI, blockchain, IoT, Microsoft’s Power BI & Excel. It might be supported by the CEO, exec team and reinforced throughout the entire business, or it might simply be an IT-led initiative. Sometimes it’s proactive because of a strategic change in the business (e.g. Microsoft’s change to focus on software and support all devices, including Macs, in 2015/16) and sometimes it’s reactive to a competitive environment, decreasing margins or economic malaise. The reasons are as broad as the programmes themselves.

So to pin down what your company means and what you workforce will come to understand by the stated change programme, you will need to design the right skills framework...

Change > capabilities > skills framework > skills

Skills is the common currency. People and roles are described in terms of skills. Learning assets and content is described in terms of skills. So the backbone to your learning system is skills, which underpin capabilities which support the overarching goal: the business change. And we are specialists in understanding skills, what’s important, how they interrelate, how they can be usefully broken down, how they should be tagged to content. If you can’t understand or articulate the skills that people need to develop in order to execute a change initiative, then your change programme is six times less likely to succeed

So when we find, curate and decide on what content to recommend, or when our products seek implicit or explicit inputs from our users, we define the interactions through skills and the concept of a skills signature. By marrying up these skills to a change programme, we diagnose, assess, curate, recommend - and lift an individual’s capabilities. Here’s what a leading FMCG client has achieved in their digital fluency project in less than a year:

changeresults

A Master Skills Framework

Our Master Skills Framework makes all this happen 100x faster. 

We analysed 30 change programmes from market-leading organisations around the world. This analysis involved 1,500 different skills that these businesses currently support, almost entirely covered by the five categories outlined in the survey above. We boiled these down to a proprietary Master Skills Framework (MSF) of less than two hundred essential skills for modern workers.

This is not merely an idle boast; it’s instructive and important, whether you do business with us or not. Because our MSF is already linked to thousands of existing, high-quality assets, for a new client we need only connect up their new skills framework to it, hit Return, and then we have hundreds or thousands (hundreds is better than thousands, in our view, btw) of assets tagged with the skills of your framework.

Of course, there are some other details that need to be ironed out in the process. Do we have the right coverage between the client framework and the master framework? Are the levels of granularity comparable? Are there any outlier skills we’ll need to back-fill? But the point is that a good proportion of the curation work can be done in minutes / hours not weeks / months. You can be up and running straight away.

Break it down

So what does this look like when we apply it to a change programme, especially in a situation where the organisation may not have a clear idea of the skills it needs to prioritise to develop the capabilities needed for that change? The answer lies in breaking down each component into its composite skills, and building them back up again into a skills framework. Here's an summary:

Skills framework model

A thorough first round of research provides the data needed to establish an initial model of the skills needed for the requisite change. Every organisation is unique, and our approach to the process reflects that, but (in an very simplified example) this could give the following output:

Change programme: Digital transformation

Business area(s): Process & Systems

Capability 1: Agile approaches to work

Composite skills: adaptability, agile, authenticity, communication, communication tools, confidence, culture, data security, deep work, future technologies, mindfulness, Office 365…

Capability 2: Anytime, anywhere, any device

Composite skills: devices, IT, technology, mobile, internet, data, data security, collaboration, meetings, productivity, Office 365

etc. etc.

Our data science team then works their magic (well, crunches the numbers) to create a Skills Model for these which in turn generates a raw prioritised longlist of skills. A final round of consultation then hones this list into a tangible, productised version for the company, and magpie, to use.

Then personalization... 

But a skills framework – however well-chosen – is not a prescriptive syllabus. It’s not mandatory. Within a change programme there must be room for the individual to browse (important) and search (important too) and filter (also important) and be recommended (most important of all - see this) relevant content. The user needs to feel some personal agency here. It’s our job to put together a decent library and arrange the books usefully (and differently!) for each individual. The user needs to make the final call as to what to read / watch / listen to. This rigorous and data-driven method to dissecting a change programme into its component skills means that we can feed magpie’s algorithm with the necessary information to match content at the appropriate level, and personalise it to each individual user.

In our case, that means generating highly relevant personalised playlists such as the one below - taking the skills you need for your business, matching it to high-quality curated content and delivering it via a change programme to ensure your people develop the skills they need:

magpie dash

 

 

 

 

 

And then measurement...

By running assessments, benchmarks and surveys, at the beginning, during, and at the end of a programme, we evaluate the success or failure in your change programme as we go. 

The recommendations engine shows us which is the best-performing content overall, in terms of being marked useful, and automatically serves up more of that content to an expanded audience that should also find it useful. And because we know that 80% of magpie users go on to apply a useful magpie recommendation to their work (recommendations that have been served according to a change-focused skills framework), we know we're directly influencing targeted capabilities at a far greater level than a prescriptive 'click-next' course or a one day stand face-to-face training session.

And the algorithms that run the recommendations engine not only rely on, but also generate a ton of useful data that our data science experts interpret and digest into quarterly business reviews. These supplement the benchmark KPIs with more strategic insights at the right level of cadence to ensure a response to important lessons from the data. Which content is delivering the most towards the programme KPIs? Can we save money on a library? Why did campaign X do so well and campaign Y barely added any new users at all? You making better decisions means better progress towards changing capabilities – and better ROI. The things your business really cares about.

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