The rise of technology in the workplace has many employees looking to adopt new skills in order to keep pace, like coding or data analytics. But these skills will likely have a short shelf life. Artificial intelligence has already been trained to code, meaning even a developer’s job isn’t safe from future disruption.
Meanwhile our soft skills, such as empathy and communication, urgently need our attention. That’s because even though technology aims to drive efficiency, save time, increase productivity, it’s stressing us out. And under stress, it’s difficult to practice skills like empathy. Instead of understanding that some people take longer than others to adapt to change, for example, managers might lash out at an employee who is falling behind. The employee, in turn, might feel more resistant to a change initiative because of the stress they’re already experiencing in the workplace.
But as technology continues to upend the way we work, these soft skills—specifically: adaptability, delivering feedback and empathy—will ensure that employees can continue to work together and problem-solve. By developing a regular practice for each, managers and employees can better navigate today’s workplace disruptors like the rise of the gig economy or the increase in mergers and acquisitions. These skills help employees stand apart from passing trends and ongoing change and give them staying power.
Change Is Constant—So Become Adaptable
Even though change is a normal part of life, people tend to be bad at it. Part of the reason is described in Ann Salerno’s change cycle, which shows that we all experience feelings of fear and loss when we’re first confronted with change. Think about the announcement of a merger acquisition, for example: With it, employees feel the loss of the status quo, the fear of possible layoffs, uncertainty about new team members or technology. In fact, most M&As fail—and it’s often due to a lack of preparation and adaptability for such a change.
But change is the new normal in our digital age. To see success with disruptors like M&As, we need to practice adaptiveness, starting with the acceptance of those feelings of loss, fear and doubt. Know that these are temporary and work to take actionable steps towards a new normal, where everyone will reap the benefits of the change. The goal is to move more quickly from those early stages to more productive experiences with change, which will come with practice. Any time your company experiences a change, big or small, acknowledge and discuss it. Meet regularly with teams to discuss ongoing change initiatives. By keeping employees aware of what’s ahead, they can prepare for it—and even get good at transformation.
Delivering Feedback is No Longer the Manager’s Job—It’s Everyone’s
As how and where we work changes, so too do office dynamics. Across industries, titles have dissipated and there is less top-down command. More people are working remotely. And more offices are hiring contract or gig workers with specialized skills for short-term projects. As a result, typical chains of feedback are no longer effective; instead every employee needs to be able to accept feedback from every angle and know when to deliver it, too.
As a manager to many, I’ve gathered techniques for delivering feedback well that can be applied at all levels: First, take the time to get to know colleagues and their strengths, weaknesses and motivators. This will help build a rapport and make feedback feel fair and actionable. Then, goal-set. This step is crucial: By establishing specific expectations at the outset, it’s easier to determine whether or not critical feedback is necessary—if someone did not meet expectations, have a conversation.
Empathy—The Best Way to Handle Any Kind of Change
Empathy is the ability to examine a situation from another’s perspective to better understand their reaction or struggle. And in our ever-changing workplaces it’s more than just a soft skill — it’s a superpower. In fact, one study found 92% of employees believe empathy is undervalued in their workplace. Empathy allows employees to approach each other with kindness and understanding first, and set aside the stress or frustration they might be experiencing in this new world of work. By practicing empathy, managers and employees alike can make space for everyone to process changes, for example. This means not emoting frustration — through body language, words or tone of voice — when some are slow to adapt.
To exercise more empathy, begin by checking in with yourself. Create a weekly calendar appointment and take time to think about where you practiced empathy in or outside of the office. Did you enter a fit of rage when someone cut you off in traffic? Did you lash out at a remote co-worker who was unreachable when you needed them? Sit and think about where you did and didn’t practice empathy, observe your triggers and think up ways to change your immediate responses.
Adding technological innovation in the workplace is no longer predicted—it’s expected, and employees will have to continue adjusting to its resulting changes. But amid all this variability, there is one constant solution: honing in on our innately human capabilities. The fact of the matter is AI and robots can’t practice empathy, resilience or thoughtful communication in the same way humans can. This difference will set employees apart, and even become a point of emphasis, as disruption accelerates in the coming decade.
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Creating an Action Plan for Your Agency’s Skills Gaps
Times change, and agencies cannot predict when their employees will need new skills. Triggers such as new hiring mandates can leave agencies painfully aware of the abilities their workforces lack. However, there are many strategies that exist for closing these skills gaps. GovLoop and Cornerstone OnDemand put together this worksheet to help you and your agency develop an action plan for effectively filling its skills gaps. In this worksheet, you’ll gain insights into: Best practices from the public and private sectors for addressing skills gaps. The strategies for closing skills gaps including recruitment, reskilling, and upskilling. Your agency’s triggers, biggest skills gaps, and the best approach to eliminate those gaps. Download this worksheet to create your action plan to close your agency’s skills gaps.
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5 Ways to Empower Employees with Future Skills
With the onset of artificial intelligence and automation, the demand for a highly-skilled workforce dedicated to continued learning is growing. Though these tech tools have vast capabilities, employees need specific skills in order to engage with this emerging technology effectively. But many simply do not possess the necessary knowledge: according to a new report from Deloitte Insights, there could soon be too few college graduates to fill the over six million currently vacant jobs—52 percent of employers say they consistently can't fill open positions. The skills gap is real, and it's widening. Increasingly, organizations need individuals who are able to learn quickly and who are adaptable to outside factors like emerging technology. In today's skills economy—where employees' existing knowledge and their ability to gain new skills are their biggest assets—a lifelong effort to learn new technical, social and managerial skills is a required reality. In partnership with Cornerstone OnDemand, the Institute for the Future unveiled a Future Skills Map highlighting the capabilities that modern workers will need to thrive in an ever-changing, fast-paced, tech-focused work environment. Below are five of the 15 skills outlined in the map that you can already nurture in employees today, and advice for empowering employees to attain them: 1) Get [Course] Credit for Everything To ensure career growth, employees shouldn't rely on existing skills alone. Lifelong learners never stop developing, always getting credit for every new skill they develop, and using those credits to propel themselves along their career paths. Hiring managers can identify individuals who have pursued relevant courses, certifications or made other efforts to learn, and reward them. For example, before looking outward to fill open positions, consider candidates internally who have prioritized gaining new skills. Seeing their colleagues grow will also motivate other employees who may have been complacent in the past. 2) Upgrade Your Digital Fluency Robots aren't replacing humans any time soon, but there's no denying that automation is changing employees' roles. By 2020, companies will spend $150 billion on artificial intelligence, $83 billion on robots and $70 billion on AI-based systems—lifelong learners aren't afraid of this; they embrace it as an opportunity to develop their skills. Managers should help employees more wary of automation focus on ways the technology can simplify their work lives by demonstrating how AI can help them. In the healthcare space, for example, AI now plays a growing role in digitally verifying insurance coverage information, reducing the need for manual calls and freeing up office managers' time to take on important projects, like pricing new technology for the office. 3) Connect the Dots to Make Change Thanks to increased mobility and connectivity, the modern workforce is dispersed. Because of this, insight into everyone's tasks and projects can be a challenge. Lifelong learners make a consistent effort to understand what their colleagues work on—it's the only way to gain a full picture of overall organization goals and help fill gaps that appear. Empower employees, especially leaders, to better understand how their own teams, and other teams across the company, function. This may require bringing on new technology. To connect the dots for its workforce, plumbing-product manufacturing company Kohler implemented a new talent management system across all of its business units. This solution gave leadership deeper insight into employees' roles, skills and team structures. 4) Grow Your Multicultural Dexterity Diversity today means more than different genders, races or religions—it's now about uniqueness of experience, and how these experiences shape individuals and their workforce interactions. Lifelong learners are not afraid to work in unfamiliar situations or with new people, and can quickly and appropriately shift their mindsets and approaches depending on the environment they're working. This skill doesn't come easily to all. Improve employees' multicultural dexterity by challenging them with new environments. Does your organization span multiple offices? Encourage employees to travel between them and interact with colleagues they don't see every day. 5) Grow Caring at the Core Even in the age of automation and AI, humanness is essential in the workforce because it determines how machines are programmed, and how the insight they gather is applied on the job. Empathy is an intrinsic characteristic of lifelong learners because the ability to reflect is key for growth. For others, empathy can be a learned skill. Building empathy should be an ongoing practice in every organization. Open, respectful conversations that address biases and opinions are one way to start. Self-discovery training programs that help individuals assess their own personality types and psychological needs can also help employees better understand themselves before they attempt to understand others. Creating a culture that celebrates lifelong learning and inspires employees to achieve more will only work if the organization's leaders make it a priority. When developing a learning strategy, organizations would do well to remember that just as consumers have expectations of the brands they engage with, employees also expect a great deal from the companies that employ them. The onus is on organizations to deliver the kinds of learning experiences employees now crave—personalized, on-demand and holistic. Photo: Creative Commons
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Use Skill Adjacencies to Upgrade Reskilling Efforts
In today’s job market, employers prioritize technical and specialized skills, especially when hiring junior-level employees in an effort to address ever-changing needs. But technical skill shortages in the labor market exist and are likely to continue as technology continues to evolve and rapidly permeate our working lives. As a result, organizations are developing learning and development strategies to address their urgent need for tech talent. Our team at the Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL), in collaboration with the Human Capital Institute (HCI), recently explored this trend, and researched viable solutions for closing the tech talent gap. The final report, titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change," found that one way that organizations can start to more proactively and quickly address skills gaps—sometimes even before they appear—is by locating skills adjacencies and leveraging them to develop new and necessary skills. This is also referred to as "new-skilling," which is defined as a proactive, data-driven approach to learning that leverages partnerships and tools to simultaneously strengthen existing skills and develop skills for new roles. What Are Skill Adjacencies? Skill adjacencies are linkages between employees’ existing abilities and those that they need to learn. By identifying these adjacencies, HR and L&D professionals can identify opportunities for upskilling or reskilling to meet emerging needs. For example, Gartner Research recently analyzed billions of job postings and found that a company in need of a natural-language processing expert can look to employees with machine learning, Python or TensorFlow experience because these skills are closely related. Similarly, employees with email marketing skills have experience that will help them more easily learn community management, while those with interface design skills can pick up the tenants of modern user research. How Do You Locate Skill Adjacencies? Our findings showed that 46% of high-performing organizations actively work to identify adjacent skill sets to better inform reskilling programs, while only 26% of other organizations do. But while using skill adjacencies to refine upskilling and reskilling efforts can bolster the success of an organization, our research also suggests the methods used to identify skills adjacencies might not be effective enough. Our survey revealed that the most common way to study skill adjacencies was by collecting information on similar employee capabilities online and saving that information into spreadsheets and databases. But these tracking techniques can be esoteric and, especially for larger or more complex organizations, collecting and analyzing the massive amounts of data necessary to identify trends is challenging without more advanced technology. As the need for more technical skills revolutionizes work roles, companies will be better served using emerging technological tools like machine learning or artificial intelligence tools to collect, analyze and identify skill adjacencies. These tools empower companies to parse more information—from not only online job postings but also internal skills surveys, competency models, certification requirements, experience metrics and more—in a faster, more automated fashion. The use of these tools will also ensure that reskilling and upskilling efforts zero in on changing skills trends as they appear and address them before they create deficiencies. Skill Adjacencies Keep Employees Confident In addition to their ability to improve a workforce’s agility, there’s another underlying benefit to skill adjacencies: increased employee confidence. Today, some 40% of employees aren’t confident that their abilities will be relevant in the future. But by directing them to skills development and training that’s aligned with their existing capabilities and their interests, employees will more easily and rapidly transition from their current roles, to emerging positions, to new needs within their organization. To learn more about Cornerstone’s HCI Survey and how to use its findings to inform or update your skills development efforts, click here to download and read the full report.