by Gary Bolles
Since Henry Ford built his first assembly line in 1913 and assigned workers one of 84 individual tasks and called that their job, workplaces around the globe have done the same. And for a time, this led to worker productivity and growth for many companies. But there have been radical changes in how—not to mention where—our work gets done since then. So, the companies that have clung tightly to the processes they’ve fallen in love with and this traditional way of approaching their workforce are not setting themselves up for having the right skills to grow and innovate today or in the future.
After two years of the Covid pandemic made many of our low-paying, public-facing jobs incredibly stressful, many workers have had it with the traditional workplace model. They don’t want to work for low wages in a poor environment at a job that makes them miserable. They want to apply their skills and interests in a meaningful way for companies that appreciate them.
Unfortunately, many companies’ old way of doing things has led to a recurring cycle of disengaged employees who are now simply quitting their jobs with or without a new job in place. Now, employers are finding it challenging to hire replacements for those open positions.
We thought it would be robots and AI and other technological advances that would be driving the future of work — but we were wrong. That wasn’t what left us with 10-million open jobs to fill in the U.S. It was our desire to cling to our comfortable org charts and legacy processes and structures.
The problems that many organizations face are clear. They can’t hire fast enough. Their workers aren’t engaged in their work. “The Great Resignation” means employees could quit any day. They can’t find the 21st-century skills they need. And for those who have tried to catalyze new ways to solve these problems, they find they can’t get buy-in from decision-makers.
It’s now clear that we need to shift to a new model — one focused on the critical importance of human skills.
Why We Must Make the Transition to a Skills-Based Workforce
So what does it take to break free of our traditional way of managing our workforces, and the work that needs to get done each day? It takes a skills-based approach where companies can understand, train, develop, and retain their workforces.
For too long, enterprise leaders have known far too little information about the skills, experience, and capabilities of their workforces. They have locked those skills into heavily-structured hierarchies, and left a huge amount of human potential to languish.
Every enterprise must embrace a new era of human skills, a new paradigm that encourages every employee to better understand their own skills, empowers managers to encourage skills development, and treats skills as an enterprise resource.
Insights from Our First Skills Accelerator Session
So how do we make that leap? How do we define the work that needs to be done? And what does this mean for employee career development? These were all key topics in our conversation in the second Skills Accelerator / Magnet Group session.
We found that there are three critical steps to take: Adopting a new Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset.
First, the organization needs a new Mindset, an enterprise-wide perspective that skills represent the way that the problems of today and tomorrow will be solved.
Second, the organization must treat the development of skills as a new Skillset, a set of new capabilities that empower skills development and broad-ranging skills application.
Third, the organization needs a new Toolset, a variety of techniques and technologies that can fuel an enterprise skills model.
A Unique Opportunity for CHROs
All of this represents a tremendous opportunity for CHROs. The transformation to a skills-based enterprise can help fill open positions rapidly, by better identifying needed skills and matching to internal and external candidates. It can dramatically increase worker engagement, as workers identify more ideal work for themselves. It can help to retain workers by offering them far greater opportunities within their current employer. It can fuel the rapid development of employee skills, to more effectively fill workforce gaps. And it can deliver visible results, which can help to secure decision-maker buy-in.
We look forward to sharing more of the insights and actions from our collective journey through the development of the skills-based enterprise. To make sure you don’t miss the next post—or the registration for the next cohort—sign up for the Hitch mailing list.
About the Author
Gary A. Bolles (@gbolles) is the author of the new book, “The Next Rules of Work“; Chair for the Future of Work, Singularity University; Co-founder, eParachute.com; Partner, Charrette LLC.