Using the skill matrix in the larger organisation

Written by , in category Leadership & Management

2 February 2017

A while ago I wrote the blogpost: “The 4 levels of the Skill Matrix” (or competency matrix) and gave a hands-on session at XP Days Benelux on how and when to create these.

Most of the times, and as I presented for this occasions, we use the skill matrix for identifying knowledge gaps within a team, allowing you to evaluate whether to train, hire, or look for volunteers within the team to fill the knowledge gap and avoid bottlenecks by flooding skilled specialists with work.

There are however some other ways this technique can be extremely valuable within the larger organisation.

Performance management

Performance management innovation is a hot topic in HR at the moment. With the different flavours of what we call Agile around, the focus of measuring performance shifts from individual to team level. Especially in larger organisations that are carrying around a legacy of individual appraisal and directly linked bonus or pay raise systems, this movement can be bewildering to more old school HR organisations. If you don’t measure the individual, how can you identify their bonus? And in countries like Belgium, it’s not easy to just flip your HR system to something fresh and Agile. There’s unions. And legislation. There to protect workers, but sometimes also a hindrance when you want to move forward.

So how can we try to find the in-between?

By looking at a way to marry the two concepts: through adhering to the Agile idea of looking at how the team performs as well as reviewing on a personal level, the skill matrix can be one of the tools to bring this about.

You can use the skill matrix during 1 on 1 sessions with your team members and ask them how they would like to evolve, taking into account the needs that are identified through the team evaluation of the matrix. This allows you to create a measurable goal setting: “As team member X, my goal is to grow my knowledge of skill Y to level 2 in order to relieve a bottleneck in the team and grow my own interest in the subject.”, or: “As team member X, my strength is skill Y. My goal is to guide team member Z to achieve their goal in moving their knowledge level of skill Y to level 2, in order to relieve a potential bottleneck in the team.”. Set regular review dates (maybe monthly?) for intermediate evaluation and discussion on how they are progressing and  why progress is either faster or slower than expected. Celebrate with the team as soon as the objective has been reached, do not wait for a formal performance evaluation moment.


The typical vacancy has a specific structure to it. The requested skills or competencies in a neat list, usually too many to be realistic for one single person to have. So maybe your candidate does have some knowledge in all of these skills, or in most of them. You know as a recruiter that the level of each will differ and you probably have an idea of the most important skill you’re looking for to fill an immediate gap.

But you could also try to kill two birds with one stone and find the candidate that can also help alleviate bottlenecks in the team you’re hiring for. To get a better view of this, trust your interviewee and present them with the blank skill list of the team. Ask this person to fill in a level 3 skill matrix: their current knowledge level and their desired future knowledge level if any different.

If this additional information fills gaps in the current team skill matrix, you might have a winner! Of course, keep combining with all hiring good practices: interesting questions, tests and the extremely important meeting with the team members who should have the last say in which candidate is most suited to join them, so you can limit the impact of changing your team combination.

Evaluation of training effectiveness

By regularly reviewing how the skill levels within the teams evolve, you can evaluate training effectiveness in the organisation. Which kind of training track works best? Where do we see the quickest result, especially when doing peer skill level reviews within the teams. Team members will be proving their newly acquired skills in the team working, so the team can really identify wether a certain training, either by the team or an external organisation, is really paying off as expected. 

Is pair working something for your organisation? Or dojo style working? Did you bring in an external consultant or trainer? How is their performance when you take a look at the trends in the team’s skill matrices?

Measuring from different perspectives

It goes to show, that a single measurement can bring a lot of information depending on the perspective of the person using the measurement. Don’t forget that when using a tool to measure by, you need to take into account the perspective of the person who’s interested in the measurement as well as what level of detail in the organisation you are measuring.

Happy learning!

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