The accelerating wave of digitalization is altering the competencies and skills that companies expect their employees to possess. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s not had a Rip van Winkle kind of existence for the past decade or so. Customer expectations around convenience, personalization, safety, privacy, service levels and cost-effectiveness have been constantly rising. Regulators too are coming up with new laws and tweaking existing ones. In response, companies are upping their ante on product and service innovation, operational excellence and compliance. Their responses are enabled by diverse new digital technology capabilities and a quantum jump in computing power. New business/ revenue models are emerging. A lot of the disruption is spearheaded by startups, forcing even established businesses to counter-innovate at a frenetic pace to stave off the risk of falling behind.
An array of technologies will form the bedrock on which business edifices will be built in this maelstrom of digital disruption. But in all the excitement about “tech” and “digital”, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that companies need more than just technical expertise to successfully transform themselves and win in the new world. Superior technical capabilities are undeniably necessary; however, they are not sufficient. Organizations will need employees with a range of “soft skills” to be able to act as bridges between the two traditional silos of “business” and “technology”. For this, companies will seek, hire, train and retain employees who can function as:
- visionaries and “sketch artists” who can paint a picture of the future;
- curators who can preserve valuable elements from the past;
- interpreters and translators who can facilitate communication and reduce friction between teams to achieve tangible progress towards the vision; and
- navigators who can call for course corrections as necessary.
No single individual can play all the above roles, so as always, the power is in the team. Therefore, companies will need in their ranks a mix of people who possess deep understanding of how the “old” worked (and can extract the good parts) and those who have the ability to envision how the “new” should work (given what the evolving environment demands). Employees and teams must be able to think outside the box to identify both incremental as well as radical changes to processes, offerings, technology etc. But much more is needed for companies to successfully convert visions and strategies to goal-oriented actions. As new stakeholders join business ecosystems to address new priorities, companies will need employees with higher emotional intelligence, superior business acumen and greater political savvy to manage complex stakeholder relationships both within the company and externally.
The ongoing pandemic has added a whole new layer of complexity by forcing individuals to work remotely. This fundamental shift has required changes to existing processes so that customers continue to be served well despite reduced levels of in-person interactions. Such changes are forcing people to cope with the challenges of virtual interactions; in turn, this has implications for leadership, delegation, performance management and indeed every aspect of running a business. Even after large segments of the world’s population have been vaccinated (at this time, nobody knows when that might be), businesses will continue with hybrid models where only a small proportion of employees work from offices at any given time. Thus, employees with the skills to function well in a low-touch, high-tech environment will be invaluable to organizations.
And while all this new busines architecture is being put in place, employees must collectively ensure that the different moving parts in the organization continue to keep customers (and other stakeholders) delighted. Policies and processes will therefore need to be constantly fine-tuned to ensure that they enable, empower and encourage performance in the new context. Comparing business transformation with changing an aircraft engine mid-flight is apt: the task is complex and risky, and requires strong leadership skills and immaculate teamwork. Naturally, companies will actively seek out people who have demonstrated such skills, capabilities and competencies.
It is in the context of the above that the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs survey 2020 makes sense. The survey concludes that in the next five years, 40% of the core skills required for the average (corporate) job will change. The survey also lists the following five skillsets as being “top priority” by 2025:
- Analytical thinking and innovation
- Active learning and learning strategies
- Complex problem-solving
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Creativity, originality, and initiative
As headhunters and executive search experts, we at LS International are already seeing evidence of these shifts in the market. Savvier companies have taken the lead, and will therefore benefit by having “first dibs” on the best talent. It is still not too late for those that have not- but your time starts now!