SumTotal Blog

HR Lessons from 10K Feet

February 25, 2015



My decision to hurl myself out of a perfectly good plane at 10-thousand feet may seem crazy to some. But for me, it was the culmination of 20 years of desire wrapped up in a present to yours truly. I did it to mark my 40th birthday.

While I’d wanted to try skydiving for decades, money-, time- and life-constraints always seemed to get in the way. Thank goodness I overcame those hurdles and took the plunge!

But funny thing happened on my way up and down…I encountered one of my coworkers, Akio.

Akio is a SumTotal IT wizard who I’ve called on many times to solve my computer, phone or other technical difficulties. It turns out that he also has a secret set of skills – Akio freelances as a high-flying photographer/videographer. He happened, by chance, to be the guy who immortalized my first jump.

Kim Jamerson on her first sky diving experience

My first skydiving experience captured by the talented Akio!

So as I nervously prepared for my inaugural skydive, Akio’s presence calmed me. Then, as the plane circled and climbed, it got me thinking about a lot of random things, like the skills gaps that many organizations face within their workforce and how many unknown employee skills might be hiding within those organizations that go untapped. (Warning: These thoughts may represent a need for me to take a real vacation.)

The Skills Crisis
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we can fix the global skills shortage simply by uncovering hidden talents. The gap is just too big:

  • McKinsey Global Institute projects that the global labor market will face a deficit of nearly 85 million skilled workers within the next five years.[1]
  • Another report, which examined the disparity between our educational systems and the job skills employers’ need, noted that, in the US, 45% of employers said lack of skills was the “main reason” for entry-level vacancies.[2]

But I am questioning how many organizations have enough insights into their own talent pools to make educated decisions about initiatives that are designed to close those gaps.

Know Thy Employees
Here at SumTotal and Skillsoft, we’re dedicated to helping organizations provide the learning and development their employees need to be better at their current jobs and advance in their careers.

But as a manager, and someone who wants my company to succeed, I believe doing that effectively begins with taking a step back. I mean, the only way you can close gaps is to really know what skills and competencies your employees have, right?

That requires:

  • Encouraging managers to have conversations with employees
    These discussions must go beyond annual reviews. You need to understand what employees want to do moving forward, enable them to get down that path, and uncover the hidden interests and skills they may have that could help them find new opportunities within your organization.
  • Capturing employee information
    Who cares if you ask if you can’t act on the answer? And what about the questions that go unanswered? Organizations must take steps to document, extract (such as from third-party sources like LinkedIn), and mine this information so they can use it to find the next great “fill-in-the-blank employee.”  Detailed talent profiles will help you ensure you’re not wasting valuable resources searching for external talent when you have it within your own organization.
  • Celebrating talent mobility
    Most organizations reward managers primarily, if not solely, on what their departments accomplish. Managers rarely receive much recognition for enabling their people to find jobs in other areas. Meanwhile, Bureau of Labor Statistics research shows that younger workers change jobs every 1.8 years. If your organization isn’t giving managers incentives to grow employees and help them move into new positions outside of their purview, your best people are likely looking outside your organization for their next position.
  • Training to fill gaps
    No organization that I’ve ever known has a set of employees that can fill open positions as is. If you’re an exception, congratulations! But if you’re among the rest of the 99% (made up stat), you need a better picture of your workforce’s talents and interests. Armed with that information, you will be able to develop and retain employees to fill many of your gaps.

Here’s why that’s important. Studies have shown that internal hires:

  • Perform significantly better the first two years on the job
  • Have a 20% lower turnover rate
  • Are substantially less expensive

Take Measured Risks
Skydiving is, hands down, one of the most exhilarating and life-changing events that I’ve experienced to date.

But I hope this post, and my epiphany with Akio, means that you won’t need to plummet to the earth at 120 miles per hour to learn from my experience. That said, I highly recommend it, and I want pictures if you do!

Related Resources


[1] McKinsey Global Institute. 2012. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/economic_studies/talent_tensions_ahead_a_ceo_briefing.

[2] McKinsey Global Institute. 2012. http://mckinseyonsociety.com/education-to-employment/report/.

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