Plug your skills gaps

 In Gill's Blog

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Personal development must be at the core of your firm’s business plan

Competency - plug your skills gaps

All businesses seek to find a competitive advantage over their rivals. To this end, designing strategies such as ‘achieving client satisfaction with the quality of the firm’s advice 100 per cent of the time’ can help set a business apart. Such goals require key performance indicators to measure the competence of the firm’s members and the quality of its service delivery.  In achieving their goals, firms depend on the competence and approachability of their employees; an employee’s personal development is key to the achievement of a firm’s strategy. Looked at another way: how does a firm ensure that a member’s development progresses its business plan and works in tandem with it?

Start with the business objectives

Take the firm’s business-plan objectives, or more likely a team’s objectives, and decide with each person in the team what their individual objectives should be for the team and the firm to achieve theirs. These may focus on financial targets and client satisfaction. Many objectives will require team members to have certain skills, e.g. the ability to scope work, deliver it on budget or complete it efficiently on target.

Use an appraisal system

If the firm has an appraisal system, use it to explore what objectives mean for each individual. If your firm does not operate a formal appraisal system, conduct focused discussions between line managers and team members. This should identify not only skills gaps, but also other factors affecting performance. Conversely, there may be behaviours or skills that are inhibiting the success of the company. In which case, it may be a good tactic to address those performance inhibitors and ask the following questions:

  • Is the performance of that skill essential?
  • Is the practitioner rewarded for that skill?
  • Do the owners discourage that behaviour?
  • What other obstacles to performance exist?

Be clear if there is a skills gap

A firm needs to be clear that any failure to perform is in fact a skills gap that needs plugging with learning and development. However, a performance deficiency does not always mean a training need exists; it could be caused by many other factors, such as unsuitable working conditions, inefficient equipment, lack of motivation, badly designed working methods, or insufficient staff or resources.

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Objectives, skills and competences

Once you have identified that training could provide some or all of the solution to a problem, you need to:

  • agree learning objectives that reflect business priorities;
  • decide which skills or competences any training is intended to improve;
  • identify whether individuals have the competence to deliver the objectives, and any competences required; and
  • establish a clear link between your proposed learning activity and your training objectives to help focus on the skills people need to deliver the longer-term objectives.


The deceased-estates team at Heritage Property Ltd has a core objective: to achieve client satisfaction with the quality of the team’s advice 100 per cent of the time. James, a solicitor in the team, has an individual objective: to achieve client satisfaction with the quality of his advice 100 per cent of the time. This requires him to:

  • scope the work accurately;
  • set the fee at the correct level to be fair and reasonable to the client and the firm;
  • use efficient working practices;
  • research effectively;
  • demonstrate competence in estate administration; and
  • communicate effectively with the client so there are no surprises and the job is completed on time and within budget. James and his line manager, Elizabeth, appraise his competence in each of these areas and set measurable learning objectives – i.e. his personal-development requirements.

For each requirement, suitable training or other options need to be considered, budgeted for and booked. Before each aspect of the plan is started (and, if appropriate, at intervals along the way), Elizabeth and James will discuss what the event, project or work is supposed to achieve and how it will help deliver James’ objectives. The effectiveness of the learning should be regularly evaluated so that James and Elizabeth discover what works best for him.

This article was first published in  |  August/September 2016 issue

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