The shelf life of every business model is getting shorter, and HR leaders know — in theory at least — what the impact will be on skills: You’ll need skills you currently lack, and many of the skills you currently have won’t be relevant tomorrow. But how do you know which skills will be critical to drive future business goals?
I’ve seen a handful of different approaches to define those needs, which I’ll share here, but spoiler alert: There’s no silver bullet.
The thinking is that senior executives know the business priorities, so must know what associated skill needs are needed. But that often isn’t the case
Learn more: Do More With Data to Close Critical Skill Gaps
Ask business leaders
The most common approach is to ask business leaders — for obvious reasons. The thinking is that senior executives know the business priorities, so they must know what associated skills are needed. But that often isn’t the case, as I can illustrate with a recent example.
Last fall, Gartner TalentNeuron™ was called in by the head of recruiting at a national logistics provider. The company had almost a century of experience leading the trucking industry, but the CEO had mandated that the company “figure out” machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). The company wasn’t at the vanguard of autonomous vehicles and drones, but the CEO knew the business model had to adapt as the industry evolved. The recruiting executive was frank: The management team had no idea how to make that happen, and yet she had to hire ML and AI specialists to drive company ambitions.
You can’t assume that your business leaders know how business transformation will actually translate into skill needs
This company’s story is playing out in every region and industry, because of the radical nature of business transformation. The future business strategy of many organizations will look nothing like today’s. Even if the strategy stays much the same, the way value is delivered might be very different, leveraging new levers such as technology and the gig economy.
In this environment, you can’t assume that your business leaders know how business transformation will actually translate into skill needs. In the case of the logistics provider, TalentNeuron data showed that competitors were heavily recruiting skills in a widely adopted ML tool — skills that weren’t even in the top 50 for which the organization was currently recruiting. Only with this type of data-driven insight in hand could the HR exec feel confident recommending those skills as a must-have for the future.
Another approach I often see, especially with organizations that have fully embraced an agile approach, is to ask employees. The thinking is that the individuals who are closest to the work will be able to identify the skills they need but lack.
When we look at the democratization of learning and information — along with the open-source share mentality — we assume it’s easy for any employee with internet access to analyze their own weaknesses and figure out what skills they need to develop.
We may not want to acknowledge that the skills we’ve spent a career honing aren’t going to matter in the future
But the reality is that the pace of change has overwhelmed employees. Seventy percent say they haven’t yet mastered the skills they need for the job they have today. Just one in five says they have the skills they need for both their current roles and future careers.
So can we really expect employees to master both the skills they need today and identify the skills they’ll need tomorrow? Probably not — especially given the speed at which skills are evolving, emerging and expiring.
And let’s not forget, we’re all human and generally don’t like change. We may not want to acknowledge that the skills we’ve spent a career honing aren’t going to matter in the future.