Follow the Map

During my management years, I was challenged by limited training budgets, ever increasing demands for new skills, and HR departments’ approaches to tracking training. In spite of our sincere efforts to match employee skill levels with job description and project requirements, we always had a list of gaps to be filled and training sessions to be scheduled. By the time we could catch up, the demand had changed.

One day, we asked, “How can we approach this with a design mindset?” That led to the creation of a talent map. If I can visually design the talent needs for my business unit — and compare it to what exists today — I can figure out the existing gaps and the potential risks in planning talent acquisition and development. I can also leverage underused skills to create opportunities.

Talent Map

In its simplest form, a talent map is a matrix of skills and skill levels. Skills are grouped under core trade skills, peripheral skills, support skills, operational skills, and leadership skills. A list of about 15-20 skills is adequate. You can organize skill levels under three to five categories, such as Trainee, Functional, Independent, Expert, and Rare. The map would look like a bubble chart, in which the bubble sizes represent the number of employees at particular skill levels for specific positions.

The desired or should-be state map would be derived from business requirements addressing the type and the amount of work to be done. The current-state map would be an aggregate of all individual employees. The skill gaps define the organizational need for training.  With some consideration for employee interests, you can develop an optimum training plan for individuals as well groups and teams. If you look ahead to your future business requirements, you can develop skills over time.


To build your current-state map:

  1. Agree on the skill items.
  2. Have supervisors fill out the matrix for each employee.
  3. Add up all employees in the organization to get the org map.

To build your desired-state map:

  1. Look at the customer-focused programs in the organization.
  2. Fill out the requirement matrix for each program under trade, support, and operational skills.
  3. Use a generic starter distribution across the levels, and adjust to meet the degree of difficulty and the potential risk.
  4. Add up all the programs for the organization.
  5. Add the peripheral and leadership skills based on your company growth strategy.
  6. Review the map with your leadership team, question assumptions, and debate the data to arrive at a consensus.

I’ve used this approach in various organizations with significant tangible benefits. It also helped clarify what portions of projects could be optimally outsourced, without hurting delivery quality and without compromising future capacity. Some of my clients extended this application to knowledge mapping and asset mapping.

Value Derived

The primary benefit of mapping is arriving at an optimum training plan such that the training investment brings a maximum return to the business. It also provides an optimum and balanced allocation of talent across projects.

There are lot of additional benefits from mapping, such as succession planning, compensation parity, critical skills management, leadership development tracks, building new business development teams, risk assessment, turnover reduction, efficiency improvement, employee engagement, better quality, and consistent job descriptions.

If Alice had a map, Lewis Carroll wouldn’t have written this exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

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