A New Perspective on Corporate Skilling

The new world economy dictates us a strong change how we approach the selection, onboarding, skilling and enablement of our employees. Employees need to be given full latitude over the breadth, depth and timing of their skill development and utilization, and the pigeon-holing – the practice of limiting people to working only in areas where they have worked previously- needs to be eliminated. Skill utilization no longer happens purely by employer mandate, but equally by worker interest and desire. In this new world, I believe the refreshed ideas for skill development and utilization are the followings:

  • The stitch-shaped person: Deep capabilities with an enlarged frame of perspective on business and the world
  • The death of pigeon-holing: Specialization for those who want it, when they want it.
  • Leveraging the Re-Makers: Using their power to remake themselves to remake the business

Let’s look them one by one:

T-shaped person is an individual with deep expertise in a particular area but otherwise very sound knowledge and understanding of a broad array of areas, as well as usually of the world in general. Usually they gave often worked in a broad range of businesses and industries carrying out a potentially a wide range of roles. They have a broad exposure to a wide range of cultures and people groups. These produce a greatly enlarged perspective on business and its work. As a result, these tend to be highly entrepreneurial individuals, driven to achieve specific objectives and outcomes in an impactful way. Stitch-shaped people are a variant of T-shaped persons who have developed deep expertise in more than one area-perhaps in three or more. This tends to make them incredible versatile and capable across a broad range of roles and functions, as well as all the more knowledgeable of business and the world in general. In the new era of business, businesses must cultivate as many as of these individuals as possible: innovation demands having T-shaped, ideally stitch-shaped persons more and more. Since these individuals have such a broad understanding of and appreciation of for many different areas of the business, there tends to be extensive empathy for each function & role; and thus, highly effective cross-functional interaction between the different teams and roles. This allows the teams to work effectively together and produce some of the highest business impact innovations possible.

Pigeon-holing- the practice of limiting people to work only in areas where they have previously worked- was a standard of practice of the industrial era that stemmed directly from the Scientific Management principle of division of labour. However, it is a practice that cannot satisfy the needs of the entrepreneurial era. It is not that laser-honed skills are no longer needed- they are very much needed. But the difference is that individuals now must be free to choose which skills they will develop and to some extent when they will develop them, as well as when and where they will use them. This enables them to develop deep skills in numerous areas and over time become increasingly broader, eventually becoming the stitch-shaped individuals that corporations so greatly value. Since the pigeon-holing makes it nearly impossible to develop stitch-shaped persons and since enterprise innovation need these types of employees, the abolition of this practice is a must. This also provides the sort of autonomy over skills and career development that progressive innovation-minded professionals demand, allowing those who desire long-term specialization to pursue that, while also allowing those who desire broader generalization to likewise pursue that, according to each individual’s own personal aspirations at any given time. This individual autonomy can go a long way in reinforcing the cultural agility the business desires and in keeping those employees -especially the Millennials- deeply engaged in the focus of the organization.

Re-Makers are the employees who have completely remade themselves from one identity or career to another, often a very different one. This is not uncommon among people who have a propensity for becoming stitch-shaped employees. People who have the capability to remake themselves often hold a valuable skill, the ability to remake most anything. Businesses- in those times when they are trying to remake themselves- should leverage these individuals’ skills and capabilities in defining the new and pursuing an actionable plan for achieving that. They are the ones most capable of helping the business survive the transition of reinventing itself into something quite different from what it has been in the past.

The journey is not easy. But the payoff of grand-scale change in the modus operandi is very big. We live in a new world, and we need to have a new perspective how we look into skills. Let's stop asking what the future will bring, as if somebody else made it. We make the future. It is not made in California and Silicon Valley or in Beijing or any other place. We decide the future every day, by action and by inaction. This is the key question, “What do we want our future to be?”

Ancora imparo- Michelangelo