Dr. Curtis Odom is the Managing Partner at Prescient Strategists, and an Executive Professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

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Welcome to 2022! As the new year gets underway, the time for setting corporate goals and making business plans takes center stage. As such, many senior leaders are joining the hot topic discussion of assessing the skills of the current workforce. Their attention is on how they can deliver better performance for the organization. It also includes making more of an impact through solutions that build on their skills in their current role.

Enter upskilling for team members focused on doing better in their current role. Upskilling is a go-to strategy where critical skills are discussed in a more straightforward manner in deciding how to approach progress. Many organizations are looking at their internal talent who they have upskilled each year against those with critical skills who they brought in from outside the organization.

Reskilling, on the other hand, is when your talent moves to a new job. It may be what’s happening because of the way their career is going, or because of organizational changes driving the move. Reskilling programs require a higher level of assessment and different requirements. Organizational skill-building through reskilling is a progression that is actually a more important metric in terms of the impact of particular skills learning.

What many leaders have done over the last couple of years is to deliberately send the message that critical skills are important. However, in the midst of a pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about skills as the new workplace currency, signaling that there has been a sharp interest in organizations gaining wealth in that area. The wealth comes in the way of capabilities, behaviors, context or skills. As such, there is often confusion as to what is the connection between skills and capabilities, skills and behaviors, and behaviors and context. Below is a way to think through these connected similarities:

1. Skills and Capabilities. Once you start to gather different skills together, then sometimes you can also have a capability. We also distinguish between skills and behaviors, as well. Because some skills are synonyms. Right through to whether a skill is growing, whether it’s shrinking, whether it’s emerging, and so on. Understanding that skills intelligence includes attributes as well is an important part of understanding the skills you have in the organization.

2. Skills and Behaviors. Behaviors act as a kind of accelerator. You’ve got skills that you can develop through experiences, through specific learning. But then that can be accelerated or multiplied by the behavior you have, which is either going to push you forward or pull you back a little bit. This then leads to the impact.

3. Behaviors and Context. This connection makes a difference, as well. But skills are what we do. They are most effective when applied in context and based on authentic behaviors. This is an important distinction because once you start to get into looking at what skills within your organization you want to focus on — the catalog, the taxonomy of behaviors or competencies — then you have your baseline list of skills for the organization.

Unsurprisingly, my conversations with my executive coaching clients who lead people have shifted a bit. Many meetings now include discussions about how to get results long-term with the many jobs that will be made obsolete in the very near future. As suggested in a study by McKinsey, by 2030, about over 50% of the jobs that we currently see will disappear. It is almost impossible to know what skills will be needed for the jobs that we don’t even know about that are around the corner.

As a related connection, a recent Washington Post article (paywall) further illustrated the impact of there being 10 million jobs open right now. This staggering number points to a timely convergence of how organizations and leaders need to think about the importance of retaining critical skills during the era of the Great Resignation. People are voting with their feet, as well as with their work and lifestyle preferences. Why? Because the pandemic has shown us that most office work can be done in a hybrid manner, which encourages people to make different decisions perhaps not considered pre-pandemic.

Yet to maintain senior leadership attention, a direct connection must be made between the current and needed skills of the workforce and to the organization’s long-term growth strategy. The important business element of keeping the skills sharp of current internal talent is paramount. Organizations want to have a variety of different experiences to make their future leaders for tomorrow. Leaders are now starting to draw a straight line of sight from key business goals to the key capabilities that are needed. With that line of sight, organizations can take a targeted inventory of the skills needed in both the present and the future to then think about whether to use either upskilling or reskilling in developing their talent.

Whether the choice is made to go with an upskilling or reskilling targeted initiative, it is all about future-proofing the organization. Companies that have a real future focus on having a dynamic skills taxonomy will constantly update the team’s skills, and in doing so, the employee experience. These iterative changes will lead to a stronger skills profile for each employee and subsequently each organization. A strong skill signature profile for each employee will help drive future growth by future-proofing the skills profile of the organization and its talent.


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