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Why Skills are like Oxygen: Ericsson’s Vidya Krishnan + Peter Sheppard

by Dani Johnson and Stacia Garr | May 8th, 2024

“Skills are like oxygen, invisible but necessary.” 

This mindset shift is the brainchild of Vidya Krishnan, the Chief Learning Officer, and Peter Sheppard, the Head of the Global L&D Ecosystem at Ericsson. 

Much of their job is identifying the oxygen and making it visible so they can do something with it. To do this, they’re taking a top-down and bottom-up approach. They’ve worked with senior leadership to define seven key skills they think everyone in the organization needs. They also work with the job leaders who own the skills to make sure their skills taxonomy is continuously updated. 

Vidya and Peter are passionate about what they do. They’re working tirelessly to systemize learning to take care of and serve the individual. Because, ultimately, systems-first means people-first. 

What is a skills-based organization?

According to Vidya and Peter, a skills-based organization is one that makes decisions—that involve people—based on skills. If the decisions come from a skills angle, it creates a skills-based organization. 

It’s a gritty job. It requires numerous changes in processes, systems, and activities. They’re creating the ecosystem for putting skills to work. 

Companies that are skills-based leverage their decision-making by using skills to unleash know-how in places of need. Being skills-based gives you the ability to help transform the people you have into the people you need—quickly, decisively, and repeatedly.  

It enables a level playing field. Hiring and promotion decisions are made based on sound reasons connected to skills. Organizations are constantly pivoting. Skills can support business strategy and agility. 

The scope of skills in their organization

To execute corporate strategy, they asked, “What are the vital few skills that need speed, scale, and accountability?” They’ve narrowed down 7 global critical skills that transcend job function. This enables them to build the future critical skills they need before they need them. 

They also focus on bottom-up skills, i.e. the skills of someone’s particular job role. Skills help them differentiate what makes a difference in a job role. When they recruit into that job role or promote someone, they recruit against those skills. 

When they decided to refresh their job and skills architecture, they digitized all of their job roles, creating over 1,200 new job profiles with skills at the heart of them. They made them available in their talent marketplace and LXP. They also created a company-wide proficiency scale to gain visibility across the company. They also put in place new criteria for their job staging (levels of each job). 

Determining the important skills for a role

Job roles aren’t owned by L&D. Instead, the job role owners in their different business functions define and continue to refine the job role. They determine the 15 essential/signature skills that characterize a job role and how they should change. The job role owners know when to segment them and how to shape them.

There are over 90 people organized by the 21 functional areas in their company involved in this process. It’s a responsibility that’s taken seriously by everyone. Their taxonomy has 16,000 skills in it that are updated by an external partner. The skills area owner goes to the hub every month to update their taxonomy. They organize their architecture into skill areas, skill clusters, and the skills themselves to stay organized and to find the skills that matter easily. 

How they determined global critical skills

To determine global critical skills, they created a four-step system that started with:

  1. Connecting skills to strategy using skills sensing (a partnership with the people who co-own the critical skills). 
  2. Defining four levels of skill proficiency within the company that is standardized across every area of the company.
  3. Creating experiential project-based learning journeys to achieve different levels. You move up through the levels via assessment and demonstrating proficiency. They lay out the exact way you can qualify for the next level. 
  4. Measuring what matters. The only measurement they care about is how many people they need at each level to achieve business objectives (and how many are there right now). It’s shifting from where they are to where the target is. 

That’s the system they use to build future critical skills. They know this makes a difference because they’ve shown the targets that have been met. In 2023, they almost doubled the amount of people who upskilled in global critical skills. 

It allows for upward mobility into new jobs based on the skills someone’s acquired and lets them deploy those critical skills on strategic projects. A skills focus allows them to unleash their supply on their demand strategically.

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