The secret weapon in managing our data team

March 10, 2020 - Geert Verstraeten

When I meet fellow entrepreneurs, I sometimes hear complaints about young employees being spoiled, lazy and disengaged. I completely disagree. Instead, we find that young highly skilled professionals are extremely engaged as long as you take two critical aspects into account: their skills and their interests. This article introduces our skills & interest matrix as a crucial asset in a competence-driven knowledge economy.

Our Brussels-based data science team is packed with highly skilled professionals. They all have the opportunity to start working at another company any day of the week and are frequently invited to do so. Yet we do have a good track record in terms of employee retention, with Pieter Van Bouwel (who stayed almost 10 years) topping the charts. So how do we accomplish this? In 2016, we introduced the first version of our skills & interest matrix. Today, it is one of our most important management tools and we use it every single day. So what does this matrix contain?


We ask our employees to regularly update their skills in terms of business domains (eg marketing, risk, HR,…), industries (eg retail, banking, telco,…),  data domains (Data warehousing, Data Science, Analytical translation, Dashboarding, …), (cloud) technology and tooling, coding (eg Python, Pyspark, SQL) and frameworks (Tensorflow, PyTorch, Scikit-learn). Additionally, we register their skills in terms of languages (important complexity in Belgium), project management approaches (Agile, etc), organizing training and workshops and giving conference presentations. For each of those 106 topics, we ask our employees to indicate whether:

  • ( ): they have no skills
  • (1): they are beginners, meaning they could accomplish a task with some help of a coach or some development time
  • (2): they are users, able to handle this autonomously
  • (3): they are experts, able to coach others in this field


It is crucial to realize that in a modern and ambitious work environment, skills are only half of the picture. It is not because somebody can do something, that he/she is necessarily interested in doing the job. And vice versa, it is not because someone is unskilled today that he/she might not be extremely motivated to learn. Hence, for all the same topics, we also measure people’s interests:

  • ( ): neutral
  • (1): they are interested
  • (2): they are extremely motivated
  • (-1): they are not interested

In this way, we create a giant matrix – in fact, the image used in this article shows an actual screenshot of a part of this matrix. This allows everyone in our organization to understand each other skills (represented in the blue columns) and their interests (represented in the green columns).

Why do we bother?

Registering skills and interests in detail has a large number of benefits:

  • Prospection: when a client approaches us with a challenge, we immediately know whether we have people who are able to solve a certain problem
  • Assigning projects: we also immediately know how motivated an employee will be to be assigned to work on a specific problem
  • Talent development: we know at all times what people want to learn next
  • Internal coaching: if one of us is stuck, we can immediately identify an expert within our team and ask an expert for help
  • Strategic focus: we know where we stand strong today, but we also know opportunities for growth – represented by areas where our summed interests are larger than our summed skills (this is what we call skills gaps)
  • Recruitment: we ask new potential recruits to fill out this matrix to understand their profile, and we can see what they bring to the team exactly.

And true, sometimes, compromises are needed, and people do occasionally work on projects that would not be their first choice in terms of content, location or industry. BUT:

We care deeply about the fit between a project and a team member, and as a result, our team cares deeply about nailing every single problem. In a place where people thrive, quality is ensured. And the fun follows.

If you are working with highly skilled knowledge workers, and you don’t consider the skills and interests of the individual people in your team yet, I strongly suggest you put a starting point in place, because your top competitors just might be ahead of you… #winningthewarontalent

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