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How do you define your people puzzle?

Look for the answer in a gap analysis


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Too often, people are an afterthought in the planning process. Just as you gauge your capabilities and needs for things like equipment, suppliers, facilities and finances, you should consider whether you have the right people on board to meet your business objectives. In fact, there’s nothing more important. A talent gap analysis is a great way to see what you’re missing.

A talent gap analysis illustrates the areas for opportunity and deficiency in terms of people and culture. It identifies the competencies and skills you need for future growth and compares those findings to those of your current employees. It is also the best way to get to the root causes of symptoms like chronic open positions and high turnover. The problems may be easy to spot, but it’s frequently perplexing to understand why they’re happening.

A gap analysis is the first step toward discovering whether you have talent or cultural issues that will sabotage your goals.

What you can do with the data?

The information provided by this inspection serves as the foundation for your people strategy. With it, you can make more informed staffing decisions, aligning them with near-term and long-term goals — and budget accordingly. The analysis is equally valuable in times of growth to guide you with hiring and training, and at times you need to downsize to help pare payroll with minimal impact. It also helps you grow talent from within for succession planning.

The data helps ensure work-force readiness at all levels. It gives the ability to address skill gaps before they become significant problems, and provide training and development to help people prepare for upcoming skills needs or transition to new work opportunities or responsibilities.

How the process works

Performing a talent gap analysis isn’t a daunting task – it involves five steps. The resulting report, which can be qualitative, quantitative or both, enables the creation of specific action plans to close le gaps and move forward confidently.

Step #1 — Formulating your objectives

The first step in performing a gap analysis is formulating clear and quantifiable objectives so you can measure the gaps between current and desired future states. Your objectives can be short- or long-term, or both. For example, you may have a major new client or product line on the horizon, or plans to transition to new technology in the near future. Your objective might be to understand what new positions or competencies will be needed and over what time period. Or you may take a broader look at how the economy, competition or legislation could affect how you attract and retain the talent you need. Be as specific as you can when defining what you need to know from the analysis.

Step #2 — Evaluating your current state

This is the “Where are we?” part of the analysis. Whether your focus is organization-wide or related to a single area of business, begin your current-state evaluation with introspection. As you look honestly at where you are today, be as specific as you can, emphasizing weaknesses over strengths. In this process, you will list all the factors that relate to each objective you are analyzing.

Your evaluation may involve such things as: profiling existing positions and their skill and competency requirements; the quality and quantity of talent in the market; anticipated retirement and turnover rates and promotions; and your inventory of current employees who have the skills you need. To use an example, if you want to become more competitive, your current-state analysis might include evaluating your employment brand and retention rates, both of which impact market competitiveness.

Step #3 — Defining your desired future state

The future state is the ideal condition you’d like your company to be in as it relates to your people, culture and a specific objective. It answers the question, “Where do you want to go?” Using the current state example above, if your objective is to become more competitive in the market, your future-state analysis might include descriptions about what a positive culture looks like for your organization in terms of things like values, flexibility or diversity.

Or maybe you will have created an employment brand that wins 95 percent of candidates over the competition. Maybe you’ve achieved “best company” status. Perhaps your turnover rate is near zero. Your ideal future could include productivity and engagement rates that are the highest in your industry or region. This is the time to be expansive and positive, but realistic, in defining what’s possible for your organization.

Step #4—Bridging the gap

Now is the time to identify and describe the gaps between what you have and what you want — without yet jumping to remedies, which come in step five. For each objective, you’ll record a simple yes or no to indicate whether there is a gap between your current and desired future. Then you list all of the elements that make up each gap. If your objective is to be more competitive and you see a gap in your current and ideal future retention rates, you would record a “yes” there is a gap and describe it as “a 10 percent difference,” for example.

Step #5 — Factors and remedies

In analyzing the gap data, the biggest question is not how far you are from your future target, but understanding why the gap in performance exists. Begin by identifying the relevant factors you see as responsible for each of the gaps. Then, list all of the possible actions you need to take to remedy these factors and reach your objectives. Again, related to a competitiveness objective, a causative factor in low retention could be that your workplace flexibility policies aren’t accommodating employee needs and desires. Remedies to increase your competitiveness might be allowing telecommuting, job sharing, or paid time off.

The end result

All of the information from your talent gap analysis is put into a comprehensive, clearly written, and actionable roadmap that links your talent strategy to your business strategy. It tells you where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. The gap analysis process—from setting objectives through compiling the report—helps maximize your resources and, by addressing both causes and actions related to the gaps you find, helps ensure that you reach your objectives for the future success of your company. 

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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