A premise: Can skills run the world (of work)?

July 25th, 2022

The skills situation

There is no question that the pandemic accelerated new ways of working. Organizations needed more flexibility and fluidity as employees went remote and shuffled companies. This caused many to throw out the proverbial rule book and begin thinking differently about how work gets done. One of the largest changes we’ve seen during this time is the acceleration of skills. Organizations have begun to realize the benefits of quantifying work at a much more granular level.

Thinking in terms of skills rather than roles has allowed organizations to:

  • Better determine the skills needed for specific roles and better gauge the qualifications of an individual to fill those roles
  • Identify transferable skills across roles and organizations – making mobility more than a pipe dream and a solution to the many talent shortages organizations face.
  • Rethink roles by determining which skills could be combined to create new or eliminate old roles.
  • Create more flexibility and mobility – both in traditional roles (moving from one role to another) and things like talent or opportunity marketplaces and gig work.

Exploration into all these things is increasing the number of conversations we’re hearing about the promise of utilizing skills.

Organizations aren’t ready to capitalize on skills…yet

Unfortunately, while the promise is there, most organizations face several roadblocks when starting their skills journey. For example:

  • Roles vs. skills. In most organizations, work is not structured around skills but around roles and job titles. Organizations often structure work around those roles, so they see the value of skills only to define roles better even though they can do so much more. This roles-based lens may prevent organizations from accurately understanding their workforce’s strengths and potential.
  • Data structure and completeness. Thinking in terms of skills requires a greater level of data evaluated at a greater frequency to be truly valuable. Many organizations lack data norms, processes, and technology to make skills truly work for them.
  • Existing systems and processes – Many people’s processes weren’t initially designed for and therefore don’t easily accommodate skills. Leaders of people functions are finding the need for very close collaboration to ensure that skills can be leveraged for the good of the organization. This often means redesigning systems and processes.

Because of these challenges, many organizations wanting to move to skills struggle to identify who to engage, how to get buy-in, what tech to invest in, and what data to track. The good news is many are beginning to actively think through these challenges and look for ways to learn from others who have already done some pioneering work.

What's needed is guidance on getting started

This brings us to this study. In the past year and a half, we’ve had over 20 conversations with leaders who have begun down the path toward skills. Combined with this study, those conversations will result in a playbook– a getting-started guide to help organizations start thinking through the hard things.

This study will answer 3 fundamental questions:

  • How can organizations build a foundation or people infrastructure to prepare for a change to skills?
  • What roadblocks should organizations look out for, and how can they sidestep them?
  • How can organizations get started?

If you follow RedThread, you know that we believe in doing research out loud. We publish as we go and involve leaders in the process continually. Please join the community to follow the project updates, collaborate with other leaders, and help to solve the skills challenge together.


Dani Johnson Redthread Research
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst
Lauren Caddell
Research Analyst at