Laying off staff? Make transparent decisions using a skills matrix

During this article we talk about making transparent decisions when laying off staff using a skills matrix. Find out how to navigate tough choices with clarity and fairness.

Nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty. And although you want to avoid doing so, unforeseen economic circumstances such as the current corona crisis might mean you’ll have to lay off staff. If it gets that far, it always involves making radical and gut-wrenching decisions. This article explains how you can at least make the decision-making process honest, objective, and transparent.


Why redundancies? Copied

Having too many people in employment is referred to as ‘redundancy’. There are numerous reasons why this arises, for example economic downturns, which cause revenues to drop and prompt organizations to cut their staffing costs. Take, for example, the airline, travel, and entertainment industries hit by the corona crisis. Travel restrictions and reduced passenger numbers or visitors have caused profits to nosedive, forcing organizations to cut their workforces.

Robotization and automation are other causes, where machines replace humans on a production line or chatbots replace customer support representatives.

Other causes include organizational strategy changes, for example a shift toward greater specialization to gain a competitive edge. This can mean divesting certain tasks, services, or products, and with them superfluous staff.


Skills matrices Copied

It’s always a gut-wrenching process to have to fire people, especially when they work and perform well. After all, it’s a decision that negatively impacts the life of your employees. If the step is unavoidable, then it’s vital that your decision-making process be honest, objective, and transparent.


Skills matrices help you achieve this because they provide a clear, concise, visual representation of your staff’s skills, competences, knowledge, and qualifications. They list your employees’ names down the left-hand column and all the skills needed to perform a certain task along the top row (or vice versa). There are several types of skills matrix depending on the complexity and number of skills and competences you’re mapping and monitoring.

You can illustrate your employees’ competence or proficiency level in any one of several ways:

  • ranking – low/medium/high
  • percentage (%)
  • score – 0-4 or 0-10
  • descriptive – poor/average/reasonable/good/excellent

Take a closer look at these examples, 5 free skills matrix templates & samples

How to use skills matrices when laying off staff Copied

But how should you use a skills matrix to make honest, objective, and transparent decisions about who to lay off? Below are a few guidelines to help you get off on the right foot:


1. Create a selection pool

Select those people who you’re considering laying off. A good selection pool includes people with the same roles or jobs, but also others in different roles who share the same skills and competences.


2. Use objective selection criteria

Put fair and objective selection criteria into place. Look closely at skills, experience, work quality, engagement, professional conduct, etc. Do not select people based on subjective and discriminatory criteria such as gender, age, race, religion, beliefs, or non-work-related interests.


3. Examine attendance

It is, of course, tempting to look at factors such as absenteeism when making a selection. Has someone been away from work for an extended period in the past? Or is someone repeatedly off sick for a few days at a time? The temptation is to make cuts among these people.

Although attendance is a valid selection criteria, it shouldn’t be your guiding light. Dig deeper and find out why they were out of the running for so long. It’s not justified to lay off staff simply because they suffered from a serious illness.


4. Be clear about the process

Explain your decisions clearly and concisely. Communicate to your workforce how you arrived at certain conclusions and the criteria you used. If need be, refer directly to your skills matrices. Based on the skills and competences most needed in the future, you can justify your decision using the skills matrix.

By explaining your choices with facts, staff tend to accept the decision sooner and more readily. It’s also advisable to discuss your criteria with your works council or trade union in advance, to demonstrate that the process is both fair and objective.

Templates for skills matrices Copied

You can include your selection criteria in these skills matrices templates. List the employees you’re including in the selection pool down the left-hand column. List the vital skills and competences you want to retain along the top row. Next, enter each staff member’s proficiency level until you’ve completed the matrix.

It’s never pleasant having to lay off staff, but you can justify your decisions more easily using a skills matrix. What’s more, matrices help you make the process honest, objective, and transparent.


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Original version | January 19, 2021

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