Why You Need To Build An Employee Skills Matrix and How To Do It - Acquira

Why You Need To Build An Employee Skills Matrix and How To Do It

What You’ll Learn
  • How to create an employee skills matrix.
  • How to use the matrix to identify shortcomings in training processes and education.
  • How to identify outliers within the organization.

When you walk into a newly acquired business, you won’t be the expert in the room. Sure, you’ll have some sort of idea about what’s going on but, generally speaking, the actual nuts and bolts of how the company runs will be a mystery.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges you will face when acquiring a new company is learning how the actual work is done and how capable each employee is at doing their job.

Many of the companies that Acquira works with are old-school, brick-and-mortar endeavors run by very intelligent people. If there’s one drawback, it’s that, much like their businesses, these owners are old school. They’re the type of people who have an incredible ability to hold information in their minds and juggle all kinds of ideas simultaneously. Unfortunately, these are not the types of people who use computers.

In a company with many employees, these owners will know what each employee is doing at all times, how capable the worker is at each task, and they’ll be managing that information along with the owner’s own responsibilities. Many of these owners can also fill in for almost any of their employees if needed. They’re simply the type of person who can solve nearly any problem.

The issue is, these owners have sold their businesses. Even if they plan on holding on to a percentage of the operations they’re not going to be available to put out fires when they pop up, nor should they be.
So the challenge becomes, how do you download someone’s brain?

How do you take the years of accumulated knowledge and experience from this person and systematize it so that the company can still function after they leave?

Get To Know The Job

You may not be an expert on the job, but you should start familiarizing yourself with the work as soon as you can. It’s a good idea to visit job sites and shadow the employees during their daily tasks.

When Snowball, a subsidiary of Acquira, bought HVAC company Anderson, we began by visiting a handful of sites in order to understand what the work looked like. By doing that, we were able to identify three distinct tasks that the company did:

  • The rough-in, where you go in while the building is being built and install the electrical work, the plumbing, and the ductwork.
  • The set-out/change-out, when the technicians begin working after construction is complete and install air conditioners, wire the thermostat, and install grills. A change-out occurs where technicians exchange an existing furnace or air conditioner.
  • Service diagnosis, a task that involves diagnosing issues with an existing furnace/AC unit and determining how to fix it, or if it should be replaced. 

These tasks won’t be universal, but they should illustrate how you can break down what a company does into recognizable tasks. 

Getting to know the job also means getting to know the people who do it. By this point, you should have created a staff list. That list should contain their name, how long they've been employed, how much they make, and when they received their last raise.

Creating a Skills Matrix

At this point, you can start identifying key people within the organization. Begin by keeping track of who in a company can do things that no one else can do and who is better at a specific task than everybody else. The former signifies a lack of depth in an organization. The latter can serve as a guide – how can you replicate their work ethic or process and make it teachable to other employees?

The best way to accomplish this is by creating a skills matrix. A skills matrix, sometimes called a competency matrix, is a framework that can be used to map and monitor employees’ skills and their individual levels. It’s laid out in the form of a grid with whatever available information exists about each person’s skillset and their evaluations.

NamePositionAbility To Eat SpinachAbility To Eat Hamburgers
PopeyeCaptain101
WimpyFreeloader110

We use skill matrices to manage, plan, and monitor the existing and desired skills for each role, team, department, and project. So, in the example above, if we’re looking to promote someone to the position of Spinach Eater, we won’t be calling Wimpy. 

These are important tools for any company that uses data to drive its growth. They can be used to keep tabs on qualifications, certifications, and competencies in each department and they can reveal skills gaps that can then be corrected.

Expanding The Skills Matrix

Now that you have a basic understanding of the work and a list of employees, you can go to the seller and start breaking things down further. Ask them to explain the major steps in each task. Then determine how long each step should take, how much each step costs, what percentage of the work does each step represent?

At that point, you can pull out your employee list and have the seller explain the role of each person on the team from their perspective. For each task, ask the owner to grade each employee from one to ten. This will allow you to determine what each employee is capable of and where they have difficulties.

Here’s an example of the one created for Anderson:

The whole process can take a few hours but by the end you should have something similar to the skill matrix template above: a list of each employee, every single task, and what the owner thought was their ability at each task. 

From this, you can glean a number of insights, including who is being underpaid, who is being treated unfairly, and which employees may not be worth keeping around. It will also reveal the outliers, those people who are performing head and shoulders above their coworkers.

Some questions you may not think to ask:

  • Can they speak English?
  • How would you grade their English?
  • Can they drive?
  • Do they have a driver’s license?
  • Do they need any specific certification?

The process will also reveal the depth of an organization. In the case of Anderson, the average score for the entire organization for rough-ins was 8 out of 10, with over a dozen people scoring 8 or above. The average score for set-outs was five, with just a handful of people scoring 8 or above. That shows where we can start making improvements in training.

You can also use an employee training matrix to define employee progression. If you can say what each position entails, you can demonstrate for people how they can rise within the company.

Another thing the skill matrix is good for is identifying if one person in the organization can do things the others can’t.  As an example, we found that there was just one person in the organization who knew how to do an important wiring job that happens at about 10% of job sites, and only one person who knew how to service a specific type of air conditioner that is growing in popularity.   

As Kellie Wong writes on Achievers’ blog, “Employee retention is a key goal for every company, but it's important to drill down into this metric and make sure you're doing a good job of identifying and keeping your top performers.”

Once you’ve identified that type of person, you can begin making explicit efforts to have them train their coworkers. It’s a way of diversifying your knowledge base and creating depth within your organization chart.

We’ve provided an Employee Skills Matrix template here if you’d like to create one for yourself. Simply copy the document and save it to your own Google Drive before beginning.

Language Barriers

When we were going through this process at Anderson, which is located in Northeast Arkansas, we noticed that a lot of their technicians were new immigrants, nearly all of whom were Latino. 

A lot of these people don’t speak English or speak it rather poorly. So, the crew leaders inevitably ended up being those people who could speak English well enough to be translators. 

This made us realize that one of the first things we needed to do was hire a bilingual office manager who could be tasked with some of the employee experience development.

Especially in the case of home services businesses, many of the people who have worked in the industry for decades are preparing to retire. Meanwhile, there is a large population of workers who are ready and willing to work very hard, but often encounter issues based on their lack of English or just outright racism. If you’re able to create an atmosphere where this segment of the population can truly prosper and grow, you’ll find yourself with a happy, loyal, and dedicated workforce.

Revelations

An employee matrix has the potential to reveal many interesting things about a business. In the case of Anderson, we realized that the highest-paid people in the organization were often performing tasks that the lowest-paid people in the organization could do. 

It can also show you how to create a career trajectory for workers. Begin by having new workers start with the job that everyone can do, so they can learn the process. Once they’ve mastered that, they can be promoted to the next task where they can continue learning. They’ll also be able to teach people under them how to do the more basic jobs. 

We realized at Anderson that people should start by doing the rough-in process, then they would be promoted to set-outs, then installs, then service, and eventually, they could reach management if that was something they wanted. We were able to define the skills they would need for each new position, and tie that to specific wage increases. 

The process allowed us to define a career trajectory that no one in the organization had before this point.

It also helped resolve any resentment issues in the event that we needed to hire someone from outside the organization for a higher-up position. We had something that we could point to in order to show that we lacked the skills and knowledge at a certain level, but we could also encourage people to work hard in order to reach that same level.

Moreover, these employees can now set their own goals.

Conclusion

Walking into a business you’ve just acquired can be intimidating. You may be unfamiliar with the industry, you’re almost certainly unfamiliar with the people, and you’ll probably have very little idea of how the actual work is done.

Fortunately, your new company comes with one of the best resources for closing this knowledge gap you can find: the previous owner. These owners tend to stay on for six to twelve months to help ease the transition. Within that period, it’s your responsibility to gain as much knowledge from them as possible – to download their brain.

The nuts and bolts of how a company is run may be a mystery when you first show up, but they don’t have to be for long.

The nuts and bolts of how a company is run may be a mystery when you first show up, but they don’t have to be for long. And the sooner you can get to work understanding how each person fits into an organization, the sooner you can start making improvements and energizing lives.

Let us know if you found this post useful in the comments below and if you did, we’d love it if you could share it around. If you’ve ever thought about acquiring your own company, feel free to get in touch with Acquira and we can tell you about our process.

Key Takeaways

  • Get to know the job – what tasks are your employees carrying out on a daily basis?
  • Create a list of employees and score them on each task.
  • Take as much knowledge from the previous owner as possible, input that into a skills chart template, like the one provided.
  • Use this information to systematize training programs and career trajectories.

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