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“Skills-First” – A Boon to Security Functions

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“Skills-First” initiatives, and the determination to become a “Skills-Based organization”, can remove a long-time damper on organizational productivity and growth as well as employee happiness and loyalty – which help to reduce insider threat security risk. With 76% of companies adopting skills-based hiring as of 2023, this approach is shaping the future of recruitment.

The Need for the Skills-First Approach

It is a common situation that a security staff member has a high school education as well as board-certified competencies, such as the ASIS Certified Protection Professional (CPP®) and Physical Security Professional (PSP®) certifications, and others such as the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification and the Security Industry Association’s Certified Security Project Manager (CSPM®).

But regardless of outstanding job performance and growth, many individuals can’t progress beyond the supervisor role or into a higher pay grade according to their years of progressively increasing responsibilities – simply because they don’t have a 4-year degree. So, less qualities people with fewer accomplishments and less experience can have a degree in Geology or Agriculture and qualify for a Security Manager position. Or someone promoted into the manager position may not be given the pay normally provided at that level, because of the degree barrier.

This is common in other functional areas, not just Security. Working in this domain, I have found that recently many HR functions welcome help in revising job description requirements for Skills-First relevance and basing them on skills, abilities and actual job competencies not just years of experience and former job titles.

The Benefits of Skills-First Practices

Skills-First hiring is a modern approach to recruitment that contrasts with traditional hiring practices in several key ways that can help Security functions remove historically common advancement and pay level barriers, as well as prioritize company-supported security education and have it count for something in future role considerations.

In many organization, heads of Security should easily get any needed support or guidance from HR in updating job descriptions. In many cases this is allowing people to be promoted to positions they are very well-qualified for but have been stymied by the 4-year degree requirement.

Furthermore, the skills-based concept includes designing career paths where the company supports higher educations, so that a 4-year degree in something relevant to their current or prospective job roles can put them in an even better position. But the skills, abilities and competencies come first and are often the focus of higher education curricula.

This also reduces personnel turnover, which happens because employees who have hit a ceiling look elsewhere. That’s nothing new, but now the likelihood of them finding a better job situation is grows rapidly as more and more companies adopt the Skills First perspective.

In some companies the “Skills First” mantra is dismissed as “just another piece of management hype”, when in fact it’s an expanding global trend transforming companies in ways that boost productivity and employee retention, while also achieving many diversity, equity and inclusion objectives simply by focusing on getting great results for both employees and their companies.

One of the benefits for Security functions is that the Skills-First focus enhances security teams because it facilitates everyone having a deeper understanding of each individual’s skill sets and competencies, and to whom they can turn for help with something from someone who is more adept at it.

So, don’t look at it as another corporate program to comply with, because its really a corporate program where the more you take advantage of it, the better off you and your teams will be! You’ll win and the company will, too. Do make the most of the opportunity.

A Key Ingredient in Making Skills-Based Practices Work

Is is important to find or develop meaningful ratings of skills, abilities and competencies. Otherwise, the steps to improve from one level of ability to another cannot be assessed, and so a path to improvement cannot be defined. “Meaningful ratings” are those that are measurable or observable, relative to the level above and the level below, and help you define a path to improvement. They constitute a small list of gradients from, for example, the lowest or minimum level of skill or ability required to the highest or maximum level of skill or ability needed to get the job done.

So let’s start by getting specific about the meanings of those three terms, in order to make it possible to rate them.

Skill. A skill is a learned capacity to carry out specific tasks. Skills are often acquired through training, practice, and experience. They are measurable and can be developed over time. Examples: Programming, writing, machine operation, language fluency, data analysis.

Ability. An ability is a natural or acquired talent or capacity that enables an individual to perform a task. Abilities can be innate or developed and often relate to the potential to use a skill effectively. Examples: Critical thinking, problem-solving, physical dexterity, mathematical reasoning.

Competency. A combination of skills, knowledge, abilities, and behaviors that enable an individual to fulfill a role, carry out a responsibility or perform a task very effectively with consistently excellent results. Competencies are often used as benchmarks for hiring, training, and evaluating employees. Examples: Leadership, communication, teamwork, customer service, project management.

Meaningful Ratings

Skill, ability and competency ratings must facilitate two things. Firstly, establishing objective standards of performance or capability that can be used to establish requirements and preferences relating to the required and preferred job performance levels. Secondly, they must make qualifying distinctions that can be used to set minimum capabilities for a job, and that can be used along with other criteria to select a specific job candidate over others.

The following are common criteria often used in performance appraisals, talent management, and professional development programs. The specific criteria can vary depending on the organization and the nature of the job, but they often include the following factors:

  • Job Knowledge and Expertise
  • Quality of Work
  • Productivity and Efficiency
  • Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
  • Communication Skills
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Adaptability and Flexibility
  • Initiative and Proactivity
  • Leadership and Management Skills
  • Professionalism and Work Ethic
  • Goal Achievement
  • Learning and Development

Although the above items are often referred to as “criteria”, meaning the standards, rules, or tests by which something can be judged or decided. However, I think of these as criteria categories because they require a breakdown of the attributes of each on which a rating can be performed.

Measurable Criteria

Here is a breakdown of the above categories with examples of criteria that are observable/measurable and rateable.

  • Job Knowledge and Expertise:
    • Understanding of job-specific tasks and processes.
    • Depth of technical or professional knowledge relevant to the role.
    • Ability to apply knowledge effectively in different situations.
  • Quality of Work:
    • Accuracy and thoroughness of work produced.
    • Attention to detail and adherence to quality standards.
    • Consistency in delivering high-quality outcomes.
  • Productivity and Efficiency:
    • Ability to meet or exceed productivity targets or expectations.
    • Efficient use of time and resources.
    • Balancing speed with quality in task completion.
  • Problem-Solving and Decision-Making:
    • Ability to identify and analyze problems effectively.
    • Creativity and effectiveness in finding solutions.
    • Soundness of judgment and decision-making under pressure.
  • Communication Skills:
    • Clarity and effectiveness in verbal and written communication.
    • Listening skills and ability to understand others’ perspectives.
    • Appropriateness and professionalism in communication.
  • Teamwork and Collaboration:
    • Ability to work effectively with others.
    • Contribution to team goals and support for colleagues.
    • Skills in managing conflicts and fostering a cooperative environment.
  • Adaptability and Flexibility:
    • Willingness and ability to adapt to change.
    • Handling unexpected challenges or work pressures effectively.
    • Versatility in taking on new tasks or roles.
  • Initiative and Proactivity:
    • Taking charge and going beyond the basic job requirements.
    • Anticipating problems and acting to prevent them.
    • Demonstrating a self-starting attitude and seeking opportunities for improvement.
  • Leadership and Management Skills (if applicable):
    • Effectiveness in leading and motivating others.
    • Skills in planning, organizing, and managing resources.
    • Ability to develop and mentor team members.
  • Professionalism and Work Ethic:
    • Demonstrating responsibility and reliability.
    • Adherence to ethical standards and organizational values.
    • Positive attitude and respect towards others.
  • Goal Achievement:
    • Meeting or exceeding set performance goals or targets.
    • Contribution to organizational objectives.
    • Ability to prioritize and focus on results.
  • Learning and Development:
    • Willingness to learn and embrace new skills.
    • Application of new knowledge or skills on the job.
    • Engagement in professional development activities.

Workable Ratings

To make these criteria actionable, we need workable ratings that managers can use effectively. These ratings should be straightforward and enable meaningful comparisons. Here are some types of rating scales:

Numerical Scale:

  • • Typically, a 5-point or 10-point scale, with each point’s criteria clearly defined.
  • For example, on a 5-point scale, 1 might represent “Poor Performance” and 5 “Exceptional Performance”.

Descriptive Scale:

  • Uses descriptive categories instead of numbers to rate performance.
  • Common categories include “Exceeds Expectations”, “Meets Expectations”, “Needs Improvement”, and “Unsatisfactory”.

Frequency Scale:

  • Rates how often an employee displays a certain behavior or skill.
  • Categories might include “Always”, “Frequently”, “Sometimes”, “Rarely”, and “Never”.

Goal-Based Scale:

  • Focuses on the extent to which an employee has achieved specific goals or objectives.
  • Could be as simple as “Achieved”, “Partially Achieved”, and “Not Achieved”.

Developmental Scale:

  • Used primarily for developmental purposes rather than formal performance evaluation.
  • Might include stages like “Beginning”, “Developing”, “Proficient”, and “Expert”.

Advantages to You of Skills-Based Talent Management

Adopting skills-based job descriptions not only aligns with organizational strategies but also benefits you personally. It enables the definition of a clear development path to bridge any skill gaps, enhancing your and your team’s qualifications. This approach also values professional certifications and supports upskilling, facilitating funding for educational programs.

Upskilling refers to the process of for an individual to learn new or improve existing skills relating to job performance. Upskilling can involve various forms of training and education, ranging from formal courses and workshops to self-directed learning and on-the-job training.

If your organization embraces a skills-based approach, having your competencies rated can qualify you for future roles. Many skills and abilities are transferable, relevant across various positions. You might already meet, or be close to meeting, the requirements for a more advanced role.

By collaborating with HR to update job descriptions and establish market-based compensation, you’re not just complying with a corporate strategy but actively leveraging it for personal and organizational growth.

A Skills-First approach is more than a talent management strategy; it’s a key to enhancing employee satisfaction and loyalty that also helps reduce insider threat security risks.

The main point is, don’t look at a skills-based company strategy or initiative as just another corporate program to comply with. It’s really something to take maximum advantage of! You’ll win and the company will, too.