Made Tech is where we are because of our people. We see the importance and value in progress and self-improvement and encourage a culture of openness and sharing because it creates an enjoyable and productive environment. With learning at the crux of everything we do, we wanted to improve software delivery within our own organisation first and create capable mentors to help everyone in the team progress.
We therefore decided a new approach to employee development was needed. The idea was to provide clear paths for improving ability both internally and in customer teams. While reviews and continuous feedback systems work on a general level, we wanted to find the most effective way of increasing skill parity across a company, so we trialled a skills matrix.
A variety of strengths and weaknesses can lead to inconsistencies in the delivery and quality of software. With the sheer speed at which technology is changing, it can be difficult to know where to focus learning and personal development. Rather than relying solely on self-reporting, observing behaviour can actually assist with diagnosing issues with both individual and team capabilities.
We created a skills matrix based on the properties held by our team in relation to core engineering skills, programming languages, agile processes, products and techniques. We then invited people to add to the property list and rate themselves against each on the following scale:
- I would like to, or am happy to teach people this skill/technology
- I consider myself proficient/expert at this thing
- I know about this thing, and can do some productive things with it
- I'd like to learn more about this
- I don't really know this
This helped identify areas of expertise versus inexperience among staff and create individual development plans that incorporated a mentor/mentee matching system so that everyone could work together to plug any gaps.
Generally, some are quicker to take up the self-evaluating bastion than others, and therefore traction may be gentle rather than hurried. Egos can make it difficult for people to be honest about where or what they might be lacking. Plus, marrying awareness of expertise can also be challenging when people view such expertise of each property i.e TDD, in a different way. This misalignment can cause further confusion when trying to improve specific skills and therefore requires isolated focus to reach uniformity, which takes additional time.
The most crucial element to ensuring efficacy of any skills matrix, is creating a culture that promotes psychological safety - ‘the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking’. People need to feel comfortable and have a ‘safe space’ to acknowledge their own fallibility and open up about the gaps in their skills set. By asking the right questions, you can encourage people to think about what they want from their job and particularly, which set of skills they want to acquire.
A common performance platform is powerful, but does not always equal efficiency. People need to be free enough - and ‘enough’ is key - to share the things that they wish to improve, both in relation to skill set and their place within the team and wider (including limitations to collaboration and productivity) without fear of recrimination. It’s just as important however, that they feel heard and that changes will be made or support offered to help overcome any obstacles to progression. A failure to do so will undermine the psychological freedom if concerns are simply shared into a vacuum.
Having a list of essential skills mapped out has made the ongoing task of self-development more accessible and efficient. Approaching employee development in this way allows organisations to positively impact their teams’ innovation and speed. It ensures faster failure, discovery of creative solutions to problems and better results.