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Navigating Uncertainty: Developing Talent for What's to Come


The world of work is changing at an unprecedented pace, driven by forces like rapid technological advancements, globalization, and climate change. This renders any ability to truly predict the future quite limited. While uncertainty reigns, organizations must continue developing talent to flourish amid disruption and navigate what's to come.


Today we will explore research-backed approaches for how leaders can cultivate an adaptive, future-fit workforce capable of thriving regardless of what uncertainties may arise.


Developing Adaptability through Continuous Learning


Research underscores continuous learning as paramount for developing adaptable talent. In uncertain times, the half-life of skills is decreasing, necessitating agility and a growth mindset. Leaders must foster a culture where learning is an ongoing, dynamic process rather than an endpoint. Some strategies include:


  • Emphasizing learning over credentials. Focus less on degrees/certificates and more on curiosity, willingness to learn, and adaptability. Reward experimentation.

  • Encouraging skills-based development. Provide varied learning experiences through on-the-job challenges, stretch assignments, and rotation programs. Identify cross-functional opportunities to build a diverse skillset.

  • Embracing self-directed learning. Equip employees with resources to pursue autonomously-driven learning through online courses, peer-to-peer learning, and personal development activities.

  • Experimenting with micro-credentials. Recognize dynamic skills acquisition through micro-certifications for specialized skills that complement formal qualifications.


A focus on continuous learning fosters adaptable talent ready to adapt skills as needed. It also bolsters engagement by appealing to employees' innate desires to grow. Media company Thomson Reuters exemplifies this approach through its Lifelong Learning program emphasizing self-directed, skills-based development.


Cultivating Cross-Functional Dexterity


As work becomes increasingly cross-disciplinary, developing talent with cross-functional dexterity enhances adaptability. Exposure to diverse perspectives and skillsets builds a flexible toolkit to take on new roles. Some proven strategies include:


  • Job rotations. Provide rotational assignments in different departments to gain exposure to various functions, processes, and skills.

  • Cross-training. Offer opportunities to train in adjacent areas through shadowing, mentorship, or project work. Develop a broad operational understanding.

  • Multidisciplinary teams. Bring together employees from diverse backgrounds for project-based collaboration. Foster communication, cooperation across silos.

  • Developmental task forces. Temporary teams tackle strategic initiatives, optimizing processes through diverse problem-solving lenses.


Professional services firm Deloitte exemplifies this approach. Job rotations through diverse business units and “reverse mentoring” between junior/senior staff help nurture a dexterous, collaborative culture ready for uncertainty. Cross-functional experiences also boost engagement through stimulating work exposure.


Building Future-Fit Skills and Mindsets


Contemplating likely skills needs 5-10 years out allows proactive development. Research indicates several future-fit competencies will remain critical regardless of specific role changes:


  • Complex problem-solving. The ability to break down complex challenges, connect diverse issue domains, and devise innovative solutions.

  • Critical thinking. Logical reasoning abilities for analyzing ideas, facts, and arguments objectively and making sound judgments.

  • Creativity. The development of novel and useful ideas through experimental thought processes like brainstorming and design thinking.

  • People management. Skills in coordination, development, and motivation of self and others through empathy, emotional intelligence, and supervision.

  • Resilience. Adaptability and stress tolerance skills for handling uncertainty, change, and ambiguity with mental and emotional flexibility.


Investment firm BlackRock exemplifies developing these skills holistically. Through a personalized curriculum blending coursework, projects, and coaching, the "BlackRock University" program hones a growth mindset aligned with long-term change. Assessing skills demands 5+ years out guides a proactive yet flexible approach.


Supporting Employees Through Transition


While developing adaptable talent reduces disruption risk, uncertainty inevitably sparks transitions for some roles. A supportive culture cushions these impacts:


  • Early identification. Proactively scanning trends allows supporting “at-risk” employees through retraining/upskilling well before layoffs are considered.

  • Transitional roles. Where full reskilling isn’t viable, facilitate internal role changes through project assignments or temporary assignments that utilize existing skills.

  • Outplacement assistance. For unavoidable redundancies, provide career coaching, resume/interview preparation, and networking support to ease external job search.

  • Lifelong learning benefits. Offer learning/ tuition reimbursement even post-employment to cushion transitions and encourage later re-entry.


At Anthropic, an AI safety startup, leaders address potential impact of advances like AI through training all employees in multiple in-demand disciplines. Transitional roles tap diverse skills, reducing potentially crippling disruptions from uncertainty. By smoothing change, organizations build loyalty while readying talent for whatever may come.


Cultivating a Learning-Oriented Culture


Ultimately, developing adaptable talent at scale requires embedding a learning culture where everyone takes ownership of growth. Leaders must role model growth-mindset behaviors and champion a philosophy emphasizing learning over static job titles/roles. Strategies include:


  • Skill-sharing. Encourage employees to regularly share acquired skills knowledge through lunch-and-learns, workshops, or online collaborative platforms.

  • Recognition for learning. Highlight continuous learning achievements during performance reviews, through internal awards/badges of honor or highlight articles.

  • Resources, not mandates. Stock libraries with online courses/books and provide study time, but avoid a punitive, test-based atmosphere that impedes authentic motivation.

  • Reinforce iterative growth. Accept that learning happens through trial and error. Focus on experimentation over perfection as employees stretch into new domains.


Companies fostering a learning culture report higher employee engagement, according to Gallup research. Grosvenor builds this muscle through "learning days" allowing immersive skill development and an internal education stipend. Together, these strategies reinforce adaptability as a virtuous skill constantly nourished.


Conclusion


In uncertain times, the ability to develop talent primed for unpredictability represents a major strategic advantage. A focus on continuous learning, cross-functional dexterity, future-fit skills and mindsets, career transitions, and learning-oriented culture arms an organization with adaptive talent ready for myriad futures. While disrupters lurk around every corner, proactive approaches smoothing change help both business and individuals weather disruption through curiosity, collaboration and growth. Leaders empowering employees to navigate uncertainty through lifelong learning will thrive, regardless of what new challenges tomorrow may bring.


References


 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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