Skillability: Will It Solve the Talent Crunch?

The current talent market poses numerous challenges for leaders and employees, alike. Perhaps the most disruptive force redefining the post-pandemic business landscape is persistently high employee turnover. This Great Reshuffle” demonstrates just how quickly teams can change—even beyond the pandemic shift to remote work.

A New Business Necessity: Skillability

This fluid employment environment brings good news and bad. Employees are welcoming it as an opportunity to advance their careers. But among employers, it has given rise to the practice of talent poaching. Global companies are proactively pursuing candidates from all over the world, culling the best talent away from other, smaller businesses.

And on top of this highly competitive talent market, employers are now struggling with the effects of inflation. As the cost of living continues to increase, so do demands for higher wages. And candidates are willing to hold out when employers don’t meet their salary expectations. These dynamics can make it tough to fill openings, even for high-paying, highly-skilled roles.

At the same time, employees face a volatile economic landscape that is sending conflicting messages about how to weigh the stability of an existing job against other attractive options. Today’s sky-high inflation hasn’t done employees any favors, either. Even though individuals have more bargaining power, inflation quickly eats into any wage increases gained from a job switch. As a result, economics plays a much more active role in career choices these days.

But despite all of these issues, both employers and employees can rely on one shared secret weapon. It’s something I call skillability.

The Power of Skillability

A skill is an individual’s capacity to perform a job task or function, based on existing knowledge, ability and competence. Skillability, in contrast, is an individual’s capacity to develop proficiency in an unfamiliar skill.

The faster and more efficiently someone can develop a skill, the better. So, skillability can be measured by determining the time an employee needs to develop new skills, along with the investment needed to build those skills.

Training, alone, is not enough to improve skillability. It also requires a supportive, learning-forward work environment. Together, they can nurture professional growth and create a win-win for individuals and their employers.

It’s essential for leaders to develop key workforce skills internally. This gives them new ways to support employees in their current roles, while helping them prepare for future growth within the organization. At the same time, by proactively encouraging team skillability, leaders can uncover new growth opportunities for themselves.

For example, consider technology advancements. While new technologies may promise greater operational efficiency and profitability, they also require specific skills that existing employees may lack. Employees with a high level of skillability can help companies hedge against the uncertainty of changing technology by being adaptable and agile in the face of change.

Building Skillability Within Your Organization

Skillability may sound like a trait, but the ability to develop new skills can actually be learned. It’s all in your approach to training, development, and talent acquisition. Here are just a few ideas to help your organization move forward with this strategy:

1) Consider Candidates Who May Not Fit the Mold

Candidates who lack one or more “required” proficiencies can bring a background or experience that enables them to quickly pick up new skills, duties, and responsibilities. Don’t screen out these individuals.

This approach offers several advantages. First, it opens your organization to new, often untapped talent pools. Also, it encourages the development of existing internal talent, which can drive retention and avoid the consequences of unwanted turnover.

Think about it. If you hire new employees for skillability and their desire to learn, you’re not just investing in their future, but in your organization’s future competitiveness, as well.

2) Build Achievable Benchmarks Into Training

Benchmarking is nothing new. Business leaders use it to determine the highest standards of performance. However, it can also be used for training and onboarding. Benchmarks and timelines can spur self-driven learning over a defined period.

Industrial technology provider, Emerson, relies on a powerful version of this model. It instills lifelong learning “DNA” in new employees to ensure that they will be skillable throughout their employee journey. This kind of approach indicates early on whether employees are likely to grow continually and take on new challenges as they arise. It also encourages the most enterprising employees to quickly distinguish themselves and demonstrate their skillability.

3) Break Employees Out of Their Comfort Zones

Sometimes, the most effective way to cultivate skillability is to nudge employees toward learning opportunities that push their existing boundaries and routines. This strategy is inspired by the fact that people learn more effectively when they’re somewhat uncomfortable as they explore new ways of thinking and doing things. 

Effective learning disrupts the status quo, so to speak. And overcoming these challenges has a way of encouraging people to continue pursuing learning opportunities for themselves. This means you’ll want to put employees in new situations that force them to challenge their thinking, expand their knowledge, test their abilities, and ignite their desire to grow and evolve in their careers. 

4) Establish a Supportive Environment

The climate you establish for new and existing employees is paramount to skillability’s success. It’s important to create a setting where fear is seen as an invitation to grow, rather than a signal to hold back.

Often, leaders inadvertently discourage growth in others because they fear negative consequences or they’re anxious about their own ability to grow. This can intimidate others and put a damper on skillability. One way to avoid this is for senior leaders to consistently and openly encourage all team members to develop skillability, and for the organization to reward people at all levels who step up to the challenge.

Final Thoughts

Employers can become so invested in hiring for a specific skill set that they fail to consider a candidate’s skillability. When you hire people, you’re already planning to involve them in training. So, why not broaden your talent options to include those with a stronger likelihood to learn much-needed skills in the future?

Even if you look within your ranks for employees with motivation and a commitment to continuous learning, you’re likely to find viable job candidates you might not have otherwise considered. It may only take a gentle push in the right direction and an environment that gives them the support they need to grow and succeed.

How Company Culture Drives Digital Transformation And Business Adaptability

I don’t think companies put enough stock in their cultures.

Company culture is like an employee’s attitude; it will make or break you. Your company’s culture is a strong determining factor in its adaptability. We’ve established that the only constants in the future of business are change, agility, and the ability to pivot in response to market shifts—and that technology is essential to the success of a company.

Your organizational attitude is marked by your business’s aptitude to change. Are you prepared for the future?

Stress Test Your Organization

The best way to see where your company stands is to test the waters. Digital transformation by its very nature scares enterprises. It goes against the grain of management methods we’ve been practicing for centuries, as power shifts from top-down to peer-to-peer. The sharing of information is now more organic, and expertise develops naturally.

You might have a problem if you think decision-making power still belongs in the C-suite. We’re no longer at the point where top-down processes mean efficiency. The companies embracing digital transformation and eschewing traditional company roles are best poised to adapt. The risk-averse find themselves vulnerable in the face of change. You should do a mental inventory, as the following characteristics are common among companies with undesirable cultures:

  • A slow decision-making process. Whether they’re due to internal politics or a lack of efficient communication, stalled decisions produce a vulnerable company.
  • An inability to show value. When your return on investment (ROI) calculations are lacking, your C-suite, stakeholders, and investors lose faith in the organization as a whole.
  • Tunnel vision. When your company invests too much in one aspect of its business—technology, for example—it loses opportunities to achieve meaningful change.
  • Fear. Senior-level managers may fear they’re losing control of basic company functions because of digital transformation.

Is your organization guilty of any of these weak spots? If confronted by a large change, which one would affect your business most?

Set A Business Adaptability Goal

Once you’ve assessed your weak spots, formally begin your journey to business agility by setting an adaptability goal. Your company culture is as important as—if not more important than—its strategy. A toxic culture will keep your business from achieving its goals in a time frame appropriate for today’s competitive marketplace. Fortunately, you can correct your weak spots if you address them in the right ways:

  • Eliminate political infighting with a clear sense of vision and shared purpose. Your organization, from the C-suite down to every associate, should be moving in the same direction. Shared values create streamlined business processes. I’m a firm believer in the notion that a business is only as good as its people.
  • Freedom trumps fear. When people feel free to make their own decisions, good things happen. They prioritize effectively and innovate. Don’t let fear of losing control hold your company back from exciting new possibilities.
  • Be responsive to outside influences. Living under a company umbrella is a surefire way to lose track of your ROI and disappoint your shareholders. Take stock of the world around you and invest in new technologies strategically.
  • Distribute your decision-making. A sense of autonomy goes a long way to keeping employees productive. Centralized decision-making is an outdated mode of thinking—let those on the frontlines of customer engagement have their say in what works.

The common thread in all of these solutions is adaptability requires involvement from every level of the enterprise. Your organization can’t be adaptable without the help of the entire organization. Adaptability, when combined with execution, is what creates business agility and the ability to keep pace with today’s competitive marketplace.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.