May 23, 2023

It’s 2023! Are you still using the traditional skills matrix?

Noel Braganza
It’s 2023! Are you still using the traditional skills matrix?

There is better ways to map skills than Excel, manual lists and skills matrix software from 1984

This blog focuses on the skills matrix, a tool organisations have used to monitor and manage skills in the workplace for years. It is our view that the traditional form of the skills matrix is not equipped to handle the demands of the modern workplace. Before we get to the meat of the matter, we will briefly discuss the nature of the changes at the workplace for some context.

Here's an overview of the sections in this blog:

- The case for a modern skills matrix

- What is a skills matrix?

- Limitations of the traditional skill matrix

- What should a modern skills matrix contain?

- How MuchSkills is an advanced skills matrix (with examples)

The case for a modern skills matrix

The global workforce is increasingly flexible, remote/hybrid and matrixed. This means, employees are increasingly working flexible hours, at flexible locations, and while they are doing so, they may also be working in several teams reporting to the same or different managers (matrixed).

Though these workplace trends have been in the making for a few years now, the Covid pandemic has given them a huge boost. So much so that a recent report  argues that the global Coronavirus crisis has ensured a workplace change so great that it has “shifted the balance of power from capital to labour”.

Titled The Working Future: More Human, Not Less, the report by Bain & Company argues that the pandemic has changed the relationship between employers and employees, with workers reevaluating what they find important. This has meant that a good salary and benefits have ceased to be the primary motivation for a job.

“58% of workers feel the pandemic has forced them to rethink the balance of work and life,” says the report that surveyed 20,000 workers in 10 countries representing around 65 percent of global Gross Domestic Product or GDP. “Amid decelerating labor force growth, superabundant capital, and the growing importance of intangible assets like intellectual property and customer networks, the balance of power is shifting from capital to labor.”

We saw evidence of this shift in past months with several news reports of a record number of people leaving their jobs, an event some have christened the “great resignation”. In the US, for instance, December 2021 was the sixth successive month in which more than 4 million workers quit their jobs. In the UK, one survey of managers found that more staff had voluntarily left their jobs in 2021, with the exodus expected to continue into 2022. 

Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index: Annual Report said that its research had found that 41% of the global workforce was likely considering quitting within the next year. The figure was higher among Gen Z (54%). That was not all, the research found 46% were planning to make a major pivot or career transition.

The Bain & Company report highlights the fact that times have changed and organisations will have to adapt to keep up.

“Much of the prevailing thinking about the relationship between workers and firms was forged in a very different world than the one we live in today, where workers were viewed simply as factors of production in the machine of enterprise,” the report said. “Today’s firm requires a new mental model, one that rehumanises the way we think about work. More than simply inputs, workers are the atomic building blocks of the modern firm. Yet our understanding of workers – their hopes and desires, their untapped potential, their emotional state – is often superficial.”

As work becomes more complex and workers more discerning about the kind of work they do and where, organisations are left scrambling to attract and retain talent.

Unfortunately, they do this while holding the same old tools they have been using for the last few years, even decades. These tools may have worked for them in the pre-Covid era but are woefully inadequate for managing the expectations of the post-Covid workforce. These tools don’t really give organisations the ability to manage talent in a way the post-Covid talent wants to be managed. That is, enabling them to do what they love, and helping them to learn and grow as professionals as they work.

One of these tools is the skills matrix.

What is a skills matrix?

A skills matrix is a visual representation of all the skills available in the organisation. It gives managers and team leaders an overview of the skills available and alerts them to any gaps that might hurt business in the short or long term. It also helps organisations to efficiently utilise existing skills by redistributing talent internally, and plan for future recruitment.

Limitations of the traditional skill matrix

But the traditional skills matrix has its limitations.

First, it is a data heavy spreadsheet and largely static till some poor soul in HR manually updates it. In contrast, today, skills and skill sets are dynamic as individuals develop new skills and interests or evolve professionally over time.

Second, the traditional skills matrix is top-down and centralised. It is mainly viewed as a tool for Human Resources, which uses it to get an overview of the skills in the organisation. HR analyses the data to help plan recruitment and guide learning and development programs, or uses it to redistribute talent internally. But the people who are actually running teams and projects rarely engage with it or use it to guide their staffing decisions. Similarly, individual employees have no say in updating their skills profiles.

Third, the traditional skills matrix may be visualised in a grid form, but it takes considerable effort to derive any insights from the data. This is because charts are boring to read and it takes people time and attention to study them to find out trends they can use to guide their decisions. Such charts become especially unwieldy in large organisations, where there is a huge amount of data. Imagine poring over a skills grid in a 100-strong organisation. Colour coded or not, it is an effort for anyone to easily derive any insights from the mass of data.

This brings us to the question? Does the ideal skills matrix exist? What are the components of a modern skills matrix suitable for the rapidly changing requirements of organisations in the 21st century?

What should a modern skills matrix contain?

It’s difficult to answer the question above honestly, after all, we are biased, being a skills management platform ourselves. But we will give it a shot. Below we will outline what we think should be the components of the modern skills matrix and then go on to talk about how MuchSkills contains many of these components. 

  • Decentralised: As flexible workplaces and agile teams become the norm in the post-Covid world, skills management tools and the valuable data they capture must be available and accessible to team leaders and managers across the organisation. A decentralised skills management software ensures everyone can view and search through the skills database. When you make it easy for all employees to engage with the system, you enable them to use data-derived insights to speed up projects, solve problems and get the job done.
  • Inclusive: Inclusivity is related to decentralisation. The ideal skills matrix should have a 360-degree view of skills and competencies, incorporating inputs from both employees and managers. When individual employees have the ability to create their own skills profile, they feel invested in the exercise (because they see that their inputs matter). Organisations also get a richer database of skills and competencies than one they would get if it was an HR-centric top-down approach. This is important because research has shown that employees increasingly want a say at the workplace, especially in charting their growth and development.
  • Easy to update and dynamic: The ideal skills matrix should be able to record skills and also provide its users the ability to make updates simply and easily so that over time it also captures skills growth. Easy-to-update skills management platforms reflect the real-time skills availability on the ground so organisations can derive better value from this data. In contrast, in the traditional skills matrix, skills are recorded when an employee joins and rarely, if ever, updated.
  • Visualised, interactive and fun: No one wants to read boring charts. Ever. Skills management tools should be visualised, engaging and interactive so both employers and employees are eager to use it. Visualisations – graphical representation of data – helps us recognise data trends and anomalies much faster than data heavy charts and graphs. Easily comprehensible visualised skills data at your fingertips enables employers to leverage its insights to inform their strategies faster. Similarly, when the process of adding skills and updating skills profiles is fun for all users (managers and employees), they are more likely to use the tool, and organisations are likely to gain maximum value out of it.
  • Easy to implement, and integrated with the organisation’s internal business software: Employee buy-in is critical for the success of any organisational initiative. A plug and play skills matrix will ensure everyone uses it. Similarly, when the skills platform is integrated with the organisation’s internal business software, it’s easy for everyone in the organisation to use it (not just HR). This integration goes on to make the skills matrix better because it facilitates regular updates and records employee growth.
  • Skill taxonomy: A skills matrix should enable organisations to create a master list of skills – a skills taxonomy. Here’s a definition of skills taxonomy by AIHR: “A skills taxonomy is a structured list of skills defined at the organization level that identifies the capabilities of a business in a quantifiable way. Essentially, it is a system that classifies skills within an organization into groups and clusters. Having a skills taxonomy for your organization creates a unified understanding and language that can be used to deliver effective workforce strategies and drive operational efficiency. It is at the heart of a skills-based approach.”
  • Scaleable and customisable: Whether you want a skills matrix for a team of five employees or the whole organisation, the ideal skills matrix should be scaleable. Similarly, if your organisation has unique skills, the skills matrix should enable customisation.
  • Standardised: When skills matrices are not standardised, each user inputs their own skill terms and it gets difficult to compare and analyse organisation-level data, which is where you gain the insights that guide your learning and development or upskilling strategies. Standardisation will eliminate this.
  • Ability to record nuanced skill levels: It’s not enough to just know who has what skills. Skills matrices need to give organisations a smart way to measure skill levels too because that is invaluable in allocating people to teams or projects. MuchSkills has a 3x3 system where people pick whether they are ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘expert’ in a skill. That’s not all, within those levels, there’s a further three-level gradation for additional detail. Some skill matrices ask users to grade themselves on a sale of 1-5, which doesn’t exactly capture such granular data.
  • Maps skills but interest levels too: In our opinion, a great skills matrix should be able to record an individual’s interest levels in using a particular skill too. A person who has a high skill level in something might not necessarily be interested in using that skill because that skill doesn’t energise them. In such cases, team leaders or managers might be better off picking a person with a moderately high skill level along with a corresponding level of interest in using that skill.
  • Non judgemental: Every person is unique. Some love Excel and data models and others are great leaders. Different skills should be given equal importance in any skills management system organisations deploy. After all, an outstanding data model can generate or save millions of dollars while a good leader can increase productivity, also increasing revenue and profits. As an organisation, your objective should be to enable people to do what they do best. When you do that, you lay the foundation for success.
  • Enable self-reflection: Any skills management solution should help employees self-reflect, identify personal growth opportunities, and nudge them to discover new things. This will help employees view the skills management platform as a tool that they can benefit from too, instead of one that solely benefits the organisation.
  • Enable growth through learning and development: The ‘new’ skills matrices must facilitate employee growth through learning and development. This is because it is increasingly evident that organisations that invest in training and development lay the foundation for success in the post-Covid talent-led world. For instance, read this excerpt from the Bain & Company report that outlines the steps business leaders must take to win in today’s competitive markets:

“First, winning firms will pivot from being talent takers to talent makers. This requires scaling investments in learning, thinking laterally about career journeys, and cultivating a growth mindset in their organization. Second, leaders will stop managing workers like machines, instead supporting them to build personal capacity and create a career that matches their individual idea of a meaningful life. As part of this, leaders will reorganize workflows to help individuals best utilize their uniquely human advantages. Finally, winning firms will build an organization that offers a sense of belonging and opportunity for its many unique workers while remaining united through a shared vision and communal values.”

Not entirely convinced? Read some more reports here, here and here.

How MuchSkills is an advanced skills matrix (with examples)

To recap the main argument being made in this blog: The way people work has become more complex. The way individuals look at work has changed. Their motivations to work have changed. Yet, the tools of work, specifically the skills matrix, haven’t evolved.

This is a problem many organisations don’t recognise because skills matrices aren’t seen as a daily skills management tool. A modern skills matrix, however, has great potential because it helps both the employer (by enabling them to allocate human resources more efficiently) and employee (by accommodating employee expectations for growth and learning).

Below, we list just a few ways in which the MuchSkills skills management platform addresses some of these issues.

Example 1

Decentralisation: Decentralisation is about making sure that everyone in the organisation has access to the data in the skills matrix and can view and search for talent when they have a problem to solve. In MuchSkills, you can search for any skill and find a list of people who have that skill listed on their profiles. Let’s say you want to find an expert in Excel to help you create a pivot table. Once you log into MuchSkills, go to ‘technical skills’ and click on the bubble that says ‘Excel’. This will show you a list of people who have listed Excel as one of their skills. In the example below, there are 12 people in the organisation who have listed Excel as a technical skill. If you scroll down the list, you can view all names, easily identify the experts and take your pick.

Decentralisation of skills data


Example 2

Skills taxonomy: Believe it or not, many organisations haven’t clearly defined the skills essential for a particular role or department. Or if they have, no one but HR seems to know. With MuchSkills, you can build a ‘master’ skills list for each role so employees are aware of the skills they are missing or need to develop further. This enables every employee to start critically thinking about how they can become even better at what they do. For instance, to be a good project manager you should be really good at ‘communication’. In the example below, you can see ‘communication’ listed in the ‘role description’ for a Project Manager. When the organisation lists a skill in the ‘role description’, there is clarity about what is expected of people in that role. You can further see that of 143 project managers across the organisation, only 16% have listed ‘communication’ as one of their skills (16 ranked ‘expert’ and 8 ranked ‘intermediate’). Not good!

Skills taxonomy

On the same subject, in the image below, you can see how well each employee fits within a specific role and its defined skills. In the fictitious example below, Daniel Nilsson has only 5 of 14 skills needed for the role he is in. You can also view his skill levels and the skills missing for that particular role. This enables the employee to understand their skill status and what skills they need to build so that they become a better fit for that role.

skills gap software interface


Example 3

Skills gap analysis: One of the key aspects of skill management is skill gap analysis. Organisations use this tool to identify skills gaps and take action to bridge them. A traditional skills matrix facilitates a skills gap analysis because it gives an overview of all skills available in the organisation. This is largely done on an Excel spreadsheet. More advanced skills matrices have incorporated colour coding so that it’s easy for reviewers to spot trends, skills gaps and so on. MuchSkills goes many steps further because all the skills data is visualised, making it super easy for anyone looking at the skills data to gain valuable insights with just a glance. If you look at the overview in the example below, you’ll quickly understand what skills are available in ‘Ackme Inc’ and at what level. The user can also use filters to refine the search to view data specific to departments and locations.

Since MuchSkills is user friendly, interactive and fun to use, the average data input per user is 40-60 skills. This creates opportunities for the organisation to dig deeper and analyse the data. What are the top soft skills and why? What key skills are missing? As an example, maybe as an organisation you do development but few people have added ‘problem solving’ as a soft skill. You can then ask yourself: Is this because we as an organisation don’t value it? Have we hired the wrong people? Answers to these questions can guide your upskilling, learning and development, and hiring strategies.


Skills gap analysis


Example 4

Ability to record nuanced skill levels: A nuanced skill level grading system enriches a skills matrix because it encourages users to truly reflect on their skill levels and enter the correct data. This helps organisations collect granular skills data, helping them get a more accurate picture of the skills available to them.

MuchSkills’ gives its users a fun and interactive way to map their skill levels. To start with, users have over 20,000 different skills to choose from. The three broad skill level categories available are ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘expert’ and each of them are further subdivided into three. The 3x3 gradation system also helps employees record their skills growth over time.

Additionally, if the whole organisation is on the MuchSkills platform, all its employees can view each other’s skill levels. This aids transparency and accuracy because users can use their colleagues’ skill levels to help evaluate their skill levels correctly. 

Measure and map granular skills data skills matrix

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