Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.
Top image: Orion Constellation visible above a frozen lake.

 

In 2018, we engaged in work on the future of skills with a large industrial client. They needed to build competency models for each of their key disciplines and then understand where the skills identified currently exist and how they are being used. Few companies can answer even these foundational questions, but this company wanted to go further. It wanted to know what skills will be needed for the future of work in its industry.

Working together, we developed ways to use TeamFit’s platform to scan about a thousand articles about the future of the industry. We made sure these came from many different sources and covered various time horizons. The Skill Extraction module was used to unpack skill concepts embedded in this data and the Skill Inference module was then used to extrapolate from this and generate a larger set of potential future skills. This generates a connected set of more than 10,000 skills, which was of course too much for us or our client to deal with directly.

So as a next step, we compared the future skills with the current skills so that we could focus in on what is changing. This still left us with a large number of possibilities, so we filtered this to find the most differentiated skills. Some of the resulting skills were similar to each other, and there were clear clusters around areas such as Robotics, Internet of Things, Big Data and AI, Resilience, Sustainability, Energy Supply and so on. Working together, we came up with short lists of 30 or so skill clusters that are being used to frame conversations at this client and to plan future learning and development.

There is a risk to this approach though. We may have filtered out some of the skills that will be critical to future success. These may well be lurking in the long tail of skills not presented. The best solution to this we have come up with is to have experts sift through the long tail skills and to watch for emergent skills that are surfacing through our analysis of actual skills in use. One can think of this as an example of science fiction writer Bill Gibson’s adage ‘the future is here, it is just not evenly distributed.’

Doing this work has led us to think of skills in three different ways: official or core skills – provided top down by company leadership; emergent skills – surfacing through interactions on the TeamFit platform and analysis of actual work documents; future skills – the skills that will probably be needed at some time in the future (and may already be present in the emergent skills).

Official or Core Skills (The Power of Competency Models)

These are the skills captured in formal competency models. Later this year, TeamFit will make available a competency model design tool (the internal codename is Orion). This will make it easy for organizations to develop, share, implement and evolve multiple competency models. These models serve several purposes:

  • Help staff understand the core competencies that everyone in a discipline is expected to develop
  • Connect competencies to learning and development resources so that the core competencies can be developed and applied
  • Provide a lens to see how these core skills are distributed across the organization
  • Measure the impact of these skills on business results

A shared competency model is something every organization needs to develop and evolve. These top down models have their limitations though. They are normative and they do not help people develop and communicate their unique skills and abilities. In many cases, they are also disconnected from how work actually gets done.

Emergent Skills (Personal and Differentiating Skills)

At TeamFit, we complement top down competency models with bottom-up skill maps that capture the unique skills and potential skills of individuals. These skills bubble up from individuals social interactions around skills. On TeamFit, you can suggest skills to other people and their actual work records (project reports, patents and other work projects can be uploaded to TeamFit to provide skill evidence).

Differences are as important as similarities, and abstract skill names can cover over real differences in how people approach their work. Take a skill like Pricing Expert. In 2018, we worked with our partner company Ibbaka to research the skills of pricing experts. We found strong evidence for three different ways in which people are pricing experts.

The strategist – works with the C suite on how to use the pricing lever to achieve organizational goals.

The analyst – crunches data, lots of data, and finds patterns. This role was prominent in the B2C and distribution industries, but with new technologies like deep learning, it is becoming more in demand at B2B companies.

The coach – works with other functions to clarify, shape and help implement pricing strategy. There are sub-patterns depending on whether the focus is sales, sales operations, product development or product marketing.

When you unpack this, you find that each person approaches these roles differently. Yes there is a set of core skills, that could be represented in an organizational competency model, but each person we interviewed brought unique skill sets to their roles.

Future Skills (Skills that Will be Needed)

Core and Emergent skills do not tell the whole story though. As the work described above on future skills demonstrated, there can be important skills that are not yet widely known or applied, but that will reshape entire industries. It takes time to develop new capabilities. It is often very hard to hire in the new skills needed (by the time human resources realizes the need demand already exceeds supply, as can be seen, today with experts in machine learning).

Going back to the work we did on pricing research, a close examination of the data we collected through surveys and interviews suggested that there may be a fourth role emerging. The pricing designer.

The designer combines pricing skills with skills from design thinking and customer service design. This is the approach that Ibbaka is taking to its pricing work and may be an important part of its differentiation. See for example Don’t set prices, design pricing and Where does pricing fit in the customer journey.

In 2019, skills and competencies will be central to talent management and development. The best practice will be to combine formal competency models (Official or Core Skills) with bottom up approaches that surface emergent skills and each person’s unique skills. Companies that want to go beyond this, and develop a resilient business that can evolve quickly will also invest in understanding future skills, in their own industries and in adjacent industries that could disrupt them.