Maggie BleharDecember 12, 2023
Topics: HRIS

How to Add Skills to Your HR Tech Stack

Why should HRIS and HRIT teams care about skills? For many reasons, actually. Organizations are using technology — often multiple solutions — to gather and manage information on their employees, automate workflows, and streamline HR processes, among other things. That’s a lot of data to sift through.

Because more and more companies are focusing on skills to help attract, retain, and grow their talent, HRIS and HRIT teams must consider where skills intelligence technology can fit in with their current stack. If they don’t integrate, all that data is difficult to decipher and harder to use.

But let’s back up. In this blog, we’ll take it back to the basics and cover:

  • What a successful HR tech stack really looks like

  • Why skills and data are one of the most successful combinations for your company

  • How to use skills and technology effectively to deliver a world-class experience for employees, candidates, recruiters, and managers

Balancing Your Technology

“Tech stack” is a misnomer for a lot of companies. The word “stack” invokes the image of one thing neatly placed on top of another, not a precarious arrangement of point solutions teetering as you add to it. Yet, this is the reality for many IT professionals in their daily work: grappling to get the systems to fit neatly together and holding vendors to task for value delivery.

For HRIS/HRIT teams, this battle can happen without leaving the department. They have to satisfy the need for core HR functions and the talent acquisition group that’s trying to quickly attract the best candidates. Add to this the learning and development group trying to help employees grow their skillsets, as well as the talent management leaders attempting to mitigate risk by identifying relevant successors for critical roles while also workforce planning for the company’s future needs.

Without correct usage of technology, all the data companies could be leveraging falls by the wayside.

Instead of struggling to make sense of it all, let’s get into how to use all this data effectively — throughout your entire organization.

HRIS and Your Tech Stack

Enter the HRIS. Here’s one system that purports to solve all of the problems of Human Capital Management (HCM), eliminating the need for other systems and simplifying the tech stack. But a tech stack doesn’t need to be monolithic to keep from tipping over and making your business fall apart; it just needs to be tightly integrated.

Unfortunately, the lure of the single system is strong, especially because so many HRIS systems bundle SKUs for “whenever you’re ready.” When it finally comes time to light up a new part of the HR strategy, it’s a flip of a switch for your vendor to turn on the new module. Of course, the switch flip takes several months and a lot of change management, but neither the vendor count nor department expenditures increase. This sounds like a win, right? Not really.

Once enabled, nobody is accessing the new module, nobody is entering information, and the new program isn’t getting any traction. This leaves the HR team feeling frustrated. They took the path of least resistance but they aren't experiencing success because they didn't choose the best technology to meet the needs of their strategy. More than a third of HR professionals feel the technology they use is not appropriate for the tasks they want to accomplish.

Let’s move from generalities into the specifics of a program, like succession planning. Robust succession planning is the ultimate risk mitigation, but to make it robust requires input from almost everyone in the organization. The talent management group must create a common language that can be used to assess talent and readiness. Historically, this has been job title driven, but more recently skills have surfaced as a better way to understand capabilities and where talent can potentially move within an organization.

Skills + Data: The Most Powerful Combination

Skills as a common language will give an organization maximum flexibility, but skills management comes with a set of challenges that many HRIT professionals are familiar with — chief among them being data integrity. Whether you’re going the monolith or the tightly connected route, the application of skills to roles and employee profiles needs to be carefully thought through.

Identifying skills for roles has historically been a manual process, which means it’s not only time-consuming but also more prone to error. For instance, a point-in-time discussion between an HR business partner and a team manager about a given role may be impacted by recency or affinity bias. So even if you take the time (up to two years for a 20,000-person company), the data set that comes out the other end is potentially flawed.

Identifying employee skills might be even more difficult for data integrity. Who is tagging skills to employees? If it’s the manager, you have similar problems to the role exercise. If it’s the employees themselves, how do we confirm they actually have those skills? And if they do have them, how proficient are they in a given skill? If it’s an assessment, what kind of assessment are you using? Is there an assessment that covers everything an employee might actually be skilled at?

The real answer is probably a combination of these things, so how do you make sure the data is consistent between multiple sources? How do you ensure that what a manager identifies as a skill (e.g. demand generation) is or is not equivalent to what an employee said (e.g. lead generation)?

Skills Validation

Validation of skills is paramount to creating a system of integrity. One step that companies are taking to help this effort is by implementing skills taxonomies or ontologies that are a part of their HRIS. This is the best move because the HRIS is already in use, so it’s simply the “flip of a switch.”

The main problem with the HRIS skills systems in the market is that they stop short of the complete picture. They will help you standardize the skills you use. They will even give you the ability to systematically add skills to employees, giving relevant suggestions for skills based on other skills already in place. But they fall short of tying skills to roles, which means there’s still a lot of manual effort and interpretation to close the loop.

Some companies are turning to third-party “skills vendors” to help close the data gaps between roles and skills. The third-party systems are typically more well-rounded in their association of skills to other skills and skills to roles, but it’s still up to the HR team to figure out how to make the data actionable for employees and managers. If you do have additional systems in your stack (e.g. a Learning Management System or Learning Experience Management), the HRIT team must figure out how to map the skills from those systems to the HRIS. If proficiencies are involved, they must determine whether “Advanced” in one system is equivalent to “Expert” in another.

Creating a Skill-forward Strategy With Workforce Intelligence

Because of this complexity, many companies get stalled with their skills-forward strategy. Even if they are able to effectively align skills to roles and skills to employees, and they have what they feel is a solid dataset, the next challenge is getting people to engage with the data. Who is identifying the appropriate successors? Is it the talent management team? Is it the department heads? Is it the team managers? If it’s managers or department heads, are they just looking at their own teams? That’s pretty limiting and potentially paints a bleaker picture than what might be the case. If it’s talent management, how are they identifying where in the organization the skills they need are sitting?

Workforce Intelligence ties this all together. It’s the idea that you can create a frictionless experience for your employees, talent management teams, HR business partners, and team managers built on a system of skills that ensures data integrity and tight integration with your HRIS.

This idea is realized through a combination of a large public data set, the relevant sources of information from your organization, and AI in the form of multiple ontologies that tie skills to skills, skills to roles, and roles to roles. It is a system of data normalization, personalized recommendations, and continuous learning.

Workforce Intelligence is the solution for HRIT professionals who want to deliver a world-class employee experience for not only succession planning, but also career pathing, upskilling, mentoring, gig work, team management, internal mobility, and more.

With Workforce Intelligence technology, you can:

  • Expose learning opportunities to employees

  • Keep employee skills information up to date

  • Present career pathing opportunities

  • Help with succession planning

  • Provide managers with tools for employee reviews

Workforce intelligence shortens implementation time and keeps insights fresh by constantly learning from decisions made across the organization.

Want to dive deeper? Check out our Workforce Intelligence Guide to learn how you can achieve a skills-first strategy without sacrificing data integrity or a tightly integrated tech stack.

Or watch Skills Day on demand.

Maggie Blehar

Maggie is a writer at Phenom, bringing you information on all things talent experience. In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling, painting, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. 

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