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Agility: Not just for athletes

I’ve talked a little bit about this in the past, but I think one of the things employers really value right now is employee flexibility. That seems to be obvious on the surface but I think for a long time people were heavily recruited for very specific skill sets. The idea was that employers were looking for deep knowledge in specific technologies. For example, you wanted to have a Java developer with ten years of experience or a C++ guy with ten years of experience and you really valued that time on the keyboard. I don’t want to say what I’m about to say without the caveat that there are lots and lots of situations where you are definitely recruiting for depth of experience within a specific subject matter or expertise area. With that being said, I think from a more general standpoint there are a lot of places that are recruiting more with the idea that those skill sets are going to change several times over the course of an employment period.

Employers are looking for the types of people who can scale into new jobs, are able to learn new things, and have flexible mental frameworks. The world is changing so fast that you simply can’t expect today’s skills to be applicable tomorrow if those skills are very specific technology skills or very specific subject matter skills. This increased pace of change is going to place a newfound emphasis on more general skills like the ability to collaborate and the ability to communicate, things that I think got the short-shift in the past because we were so focused on looking for some very specific expertise. Say your business is retail or something like that, an employer might be interested in the candidate having a background in mobility but they may be less concerned about what specific technology implementation it is because that may change over time. It may be beneficial if you happen to have the specific technology they’re using, but all things being equal they may pick you up no matter what. I think they will be more interested in whether or not they can they collaborate, they can they work well in a team, and whether or not they can make a jump or a shift if they need to.

I think this represents a positive shift in the way companies are thinking about their employees, as longer term assets. I think there was a period where people were very focused on the idea of hiring knowledge workers, but those knowledge workers really looked more like factory workers of the past. By that I mean you made widgets and whether those widgets were code widgets or sprinkler heads it was a very specific set of skills that went into it. So they could just hire anyone with that set of skills and the ability to communicate to other people wasn’t necessarily as important as knowing how to piece together the widget. I believe that that’s changing a little bit. I think that there’s a widespread belief that good people are really hard to replace and what defines good people is that ability to transition rapidly between assignments, to communicate well with others, and to work well in teams. Those are the things that drive high levels of performance and just an innate ability to learn, understand, to go forth and conquer problems, and have a mental framework for dealing with problems that you haven’t solved before as opposed to a skill where you solve the same problem repeatedly.

I’m not trying to make a blanket statement across all organizations performing all things. As I mentioned earlier, there are industries that require enormous subject matter expertise and that will probably never change. I just think that the more general trend is towards finding the right people. Hopefully they have the specific right skills right out of the gate but I believe that there’s more of a willingness to shape that after you’ve made sure that the person has the right mental framework, the right outlook, the ability, and the desire to be able to deal with evolving situations. So I’m curious what other people think. I know some of my view is tinted by being in the industry that I’m in which is consulting. In our industry there’s a focus on being able to be a problem solver first and a technical expert second. So often what you find in an engagement is that a lot of the heavy lifting is in positioning the problem and being able to step back and see the whole system for what it is. Secondly, it’s maybe a specific technology implementation or a specific skill set that’s required to address that area. So again, just very curious to get feedback on this.

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Dick Davies

I’m working on a post about rentseekers, who have made a contribution and now want to hang on by virtue of past contribution. I see more and more of it as the pace of change increases. It’s not just IT. It’s customer service who no longer serve, coaches and managers remembering their glory days. We’ve got to make the jump to focusing on today’s contribution.