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1. What, if anything, is the practical use of the skills matrix?
2. What mileage can be gotten out of it in other ways?
The odds are that the answer to #1 is "nothing," and thus the important
thing is to participate in the exercise with enough diligence that you
aren't singled out for more than your share of criticism. Let's move on to
Any time you list the skills in your group, you have the opportunity of
hyping your group's enormously impressive competence. Go for it! But the big
win may be to list several skills you don't actually have, but would like to
have. Then, in the next budget cycle, you can demand training funds because
your group is falling woefully behind on required skills -- "See, they're
right here in the skills matrix" -- because of the inadequate training funds
you've been receiving.
This is all open and aboveboard, in spite of the delay between lighting the
fuse and hearing the bang.
(For what it's worth, I consider Technical Illustration to be the most
glaring omission from most tech writers' toolkits.)
This reminds me of a trick I once used before I became a consultant. The
company I was working for had an enormous list of all the "official" job
descriptions in Silicon Valley, with pay rates. I went through the list
carefully to determine which job titles fit me and the members of my group,
to make sure that our business cards had the highest-paying title that
actually fit. One of the things I discovered was that I had the wrong job
title (I was Technical Publications Manager when I should have been
Technical Writing Manager) and that this was costing me $1,000 a year! I
showed HR the two job descriptions, got my title changed, and when raise
time came around, my salary was adjusted. Not automatically -- I had to
ask -- but without any fuss.
It's a comfort to managers to be able to make a decision based on some
official document, so you should couch your arguments in these terms when
possible, rather than deriving your requirements from first principles. If
you happen to be responsible for what the official document says, you should
wait for the ink to dry before using it to advance your skills or career.
Any halfway decent manager is all for people advancing their skills and
careers, but if do it in an unseemly rush, they'll think they're being
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