Hudson’s latest research reveals that only one in two employers are confident their team has the capabilities to deliver what will be required in the future. But before we even think about tomorrow’s technical skills and blue-sky predictions, we need to address what we can fix – and change, and enhance, and radically improve – right now.
The new Hudson Report: Today’s workforce demands tomorrow’s skills finds that significant numbers of employers across the Asia Pacific are concerned their people don’t have the skills required to perform in the workplace today, let alone tomorrow.
Why this lack of preparedness? The factors at play here are many. The business world faces the eternal challenge of balancing short-term needs – financial results, shareholder satisfaction – with the long-term initiatives required for growth. How do leaders couple the market’s quest for a quarterly focus on returns with the business’ need to drive future plans?
Tied to that is how leaders invest to be ahead of the curve, and whether they focus on developing their people for immediate performance or future performance – because these are not necessarily the same. And third is the real and practical question: ‘Just what are the skills and capabilities needed to compete, both today and tomorrow?’
So many questions, all of which can amount to one enormous problem that appears too hard to handle. Every day we’re hit with a new statistic on the unknowability of the future. Consider these two quotes I came across last week:
- From Professor Richard Foster, Yale University: “By 2027 (only 11 years from now) more than three quarters of the Fortune 500 will be companies we have not yet heard of.”
- Or this, from KPMG’s new report The Great Rewrite: “… the way almost everything works is being rewritten: how we interact, how we buy and sell, how we make things, how we get from place to place … Power is dispersing. Markets are being blown to bits.”
And the risks for organisations, should they not tackle the new reality of volatility and change? Falling behind competitors that are more innovative or future-looking, and losing out to new players that are disintermediating and disrupting value chains.
Yet I believe there is a fix.
If we look at this less along the lines of ‘How do I eat the elephant?’ and more along the lines of ‘How do I start the conversation?’ then I believe it’s also something that employers can begin working on right now.
The fix comes in two parts but based around one concept: capabilities.
Fix one: Embrace the concept of capabilities
When people think of ‘skills’ there’s a tendency to think of technical or hard skills, but in my view the gap is actually around capability. Because while technical skills can be taught, building capability is more of a fundamental challenge as it is the capability of talent that will determine an organisation’s future.
And in today’s environment, real capability lies in being able to challenge the status quo, negotiate ambiguity and influence stakeholders. It’s having leaders who can drive and manage change, think critically and be resilient. It’s having teams and individuals who can change tack quickly, adjust to new business opportunities, consider competitor threats and create and drive new ideas.
Ultimately, it’s about building the capabilities you will need in the future into your people today. In that respect it begins with mapping the capabilities you have today as a baseline – in your senior leaders, managers and individual contributors – and then building the strengths where you need them.
By building the exact capabilities in your people that will help you solve your current challenges and be primed to face future challenges, you’re setting up your organisation to be ready for whatever comes. For one organisation that might be learning agility. For another, the ability to deal with change. For a third, the ability to respond to the change they see around them.
The key is to identify and then build the right capabilities for your organisation.
Fix two: Define and build the right capabilities for you
But just what are the right capabilities?
Interestingly, we asked both employers and employees to name their top soft skills for the years ahead and there were some key divergences on what employees want to learn and what think they need.
Our research finds top of the list for employees is negotiating and influencing. The more cynical among us may put this down to employees wishing to negotiate a higher paycheck or promotion. But I think for many it’s the frustration of having an idea and the will to build it out, but not knowing how to sell it.
Conversely, organisations feel they most need people who can drive and manage change. They’re saying it a different way but perhaps both sides want the same thing: to drive their ideas through, to survive and keep surviving.
In terms of development in a business context, I’m a big believer in the 3 Es: Education (which should only ever be 10%) coupled with Experience and Exposure.
By giving experience and exposure to pressing business challenges to people who show the potential and earn the opportunity, you can build the skills both sides want and need. It also sends a message that yours is a company with an eye on the future that is willing to listen to ideas and run with them. This is the hallmark of a true meritocracy.
Winning on both fronts
It can seem more practical for businesses to invest in helping their people tackle today’s challenges rather than throwing resources at challenges they may face in the future. Analysts and the market more broadly focus on quarterly returns, and uncertainty in its various degrees has always been an obstacle to the allocation of resources.
But we all know what can happen when businesses forget about the future. They get disrupted by new and innovative players or fall behind their competitors, and ultimately end up belonging to the past.
Fortunately this isn’t a zero-sum game. For an organisation that knows what skills it wants to build and takes its people along for the ride, addressing today’s challenges and building the competencies to tackle tomorrow’s can both happen in tandem.
That’s a less daunting and far more satisfying challenge – for all involved.
||Mark Steyn is CEO of Hudson Asia Pacific, responsible for establishing Hudson as the region’s pre-eminent provider of talent solutions, as well as driving growth across Hudson's three business lines: specialised recruitment, Recruitment Process Outsourcing and Talent Management.