Human Resources

Identifying the essential skills for your organization: A guide

July 31, 2023
5 minutes

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”

-Lewis Carroll

A business is a sum of its skills. Skills are the building blocks that define an organization’s existence and determine its capacity to operate and thrive in a competitive landscape. Conversely, a business can be distilled into skills. And by deconstructing a business to its granular level, it is possible to examine that which is essential to its core functions. This skill-centric perspective reveals the skills that a business ought to focus on. Ultimately, a skill-oriented approach empowers the organization to navigate challenges, capitalize on opportunities, and achieve long-term success in a dynamic business environment. 

Let’s look at the list of benefits to examining an organization through this skills-centric lens and then explore how to go about beginning to tackle it.

The benefits of knowing the skills your organization needs:

A skills-first approach offers a number of benefits:

  • Workforce planning - identify skills gaps and forecast skills needs

  • Recruitment and hiring - bring the right expertise and skills into the organization

  • Learning and development - train for the skills that are integral to the organization

  • Resource allocation - prioritize investment and resources to the areas of the business that are most important

  • Innovation and adaptability - stay ahead of trends by applying a culture of constant skills development

  • Succession planning - identify potential leaders who possess the skills to move into leadership roles

  • Competitive advantage - always ensure the organization has the right mix of skills and is actively addressing skills gaps

  • Employee satisfaction and retention - investing in employees’ development, especially in a manner that is aligned with their career goals is known to drive employee retention.

A skills-approach enables the organization to align its human capital with its mission, leading to improved performance, innovation, and overall success in a competitive business landscape. 

How to identify the skills the organization needs:

Identifying and defining the essential skills necessary for the organization requires three distinct levels of analysis:

1. Internal to the organization - By looking at the organization’s strategy, this will reveal the skills that are necessary to execute against that strategy. Keep in mind, this is not about what skills currently exist in the organization. Rather, it is answering the question of what skills does the organization need in it.

These are the aspects to evaluate of the internal organization:

  • Strategy
  • Products or services sold
  • Customers
  • Mission, vision and values

2. External market - By looking at the demands and trends in the broader industry landscape, this will reveal the skills that are necessary to compete.

These are the aspects to evaluate of the external market:

  • Competitors - active and continuous competitor monitoring and analysis
  • External threats - policies, emerging technology, environment and other changes to the industry and landscape

3. Future - This may be the most challenging level of analysis but keeping an eye on the trends and anticipating emerging trends, threats, and opportunities.

By navigating through these three levels of analysis, a well-rounded understanding of the organization's skill needs emerges, paving the way for effective talent management and strategic planning.

Creating an inventory of the skills the organization needs

That exercise identifies the themes and realm of skills that are important to the organization but to make this exercise operational, a more refined framework needs to be applied. At tilr, we believe defining the skills at a role level allows all levels of leadership - Executives, People Leaders, Human Resources, etc. - manage the skills at a granular enough level to make the important and relevant decisions.

Let’s break down how to define skills at the role level.

Who should be involved:

First off, build the team to take on this project. It makes most sense for it to be owned and led by Human Resources for the following reasons:

  • Expertise in talent management - HR possess the knowledge and experience to identify the specific skills needed for the various roles within the organization

  • Understanding of organizational needs - HR is close to the organization’s goals, objectives and strategy direction

  • Access to employee data

  • Collaboration with management - HR can gather input from the relevant stakeholders. A key stakeholder should be the People Leaders of each of the roles. While HR will have high level input of the organizations skills needs and market trends of skills, the People Leader will have a more granular view and understanding of the day to day requirements of the roles and the necessary skills to execute it. 

Apply a framework

There are a number of different skills and/or competency frameworks to apply to this exercise. One example of a framework looks like this:

Company wide skills - Two or three competencies that apply to everyone in the organization. These could be behaviors that every employee is expected to embody, like Problem Solving or Communication.

Job level skills - Two or three competencies that apply to all employees across a job level. For example, all roles at the Executive level require Strategy and Leadership. All Managers require Management. All Individual Contributors require Critical Thinking and Resourcefulness. 

Role by role - Define the skills for each role in the organization. Here is a breakdown of how to do that:

  • Identify all the roles in the organization. This can be automated by pulling the roles from the HRIS. 
  • Choose whether to do this broadly or be granular

--> Broadly - each job title has its own skills. This means all Front End Developers have the same skills expectations

--> Granular - each job title + department + manager has its own skills. So Front End Developers on the Mobile Team reporting to Kaanu have different skills expectations than Front End Developers on the Agile Team reporting to Leah.

  • Apply a framework to prioritize the skills. tilr categorizes skills into skills that are:

-Should have

-Nice to have


The outcome of this exercise is an organized skills inventory. This project should be done in a modern skills management system, like tilr. This project requires input and cooperation across the organization. A software system with permissioning, a universal skills library with skills definitions, and security is key to seamless collaboration.

Keeping it up to date

The value of the organization’s skills inventory is the efficacy of the information. So it is important to keep it up to date. While Human Resources owns and is responsible for this inventory, socializing the effort of keeping it up to date across the organization makes this tenable. Here’s how:

  • Have each People Leader review the skills required for their roles at least annually. It is ideal to build this expectation into an existing process, like working back from Performance Reviews.
  • Any time an organization is hiring for a role, the People Leader and Talent Acquisition should meet and review the existing skills expectations and adjust them before writing the job description. 

The outcomes

The outcome of this organizational-wide skills inventory is a clear, unified, and shared vision of how skills contribute to the success of the business. By recognizing that a business is indeed a sum of its skills, the organization gains a competitive advantage by strategically aligning its human capital with its mission and objectives. The skill-oriented approach not only enables the organization to navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities but also fosters a culture of continuous learning and adaptability.

By understanding the skills needed at various levels, from company-wide competencies to role-specific requirements, the organization can effectively plan its workforce, streamline recruitment efforts, and implement targeted learning and development programs. Prioritizing investments and resources based on the critical skills ensures a more efficient allocation of assets, leading to increased productivity and improved performance across the board.

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