Future proofing your workforce is about capability, not skills

Posted: 13th September 2021 Julie Leo, HR Consultancy Director

With ongoing advances in technology and the need to continually evolve the way we work and deliver products and services to customers; how do organisations ensure they have the right skills for the future?

If you are asking yourself this, then you are asking the wrong question.

We have moved beyond ensuring employees have the right skills. Previous ways of “workforce planning” and ensuring employees are competent to carry out a particular role are outdated. Strategic workforce planning is now all about assessing and developing organisational capability. This enables a more holistic view of the capability requirements of the organisation based on its future needs.

How is capability different from skill?

Neil Tambe in his research defines a skill as something you learn to do and the more you do it the better you become. Whereas a capability, he describes, as a deep-rooted ability which can be applied in many contexts.

Assessing organisational capability is an important part of any transformation and change programme, but one that many organisations miss. From designing their target operating model, many move straight to redesigning defined roles and defined structures, when what they actually need to do is take a step back and look at the core organisational capabilities required for the new target operating model that will support future delivery of their strategic goals and objectives.

Once an organisation understands its core capability requirements it can start to assess, which of these capabilities the organisation already has and what are the gaps. A strategy must then be put in place to fill those gaps. This will often be through attraction of new talent with the required capabilities or, through developing those capabilities within the organisation. This means many organisations will also have to review their approach to learning and development (L&D) programmes, ensuring they are designed to develop future capabilities.

It’s about creating a model where employees’ talents can be used flexibly across the organisation based on the core capabilities they bring, rather than having to fit into a pre-defined role. It moves away from vertical, hierarchical structures with roles that are static and defined to flatter, matrix style structures where roles move and evolve more fluidly to meet the needs of the organisation. Having an approach such as this also gives organisations greater opportunity to retain talented individuals based on their broader capabilities, whilst giving individuals the opportunity to develop into newly emerging roles.

Increased flexibility for the future workforce

So, whilst the conversation of the moment is around the future workforce in relation to hybrid working, this is just one further example of the need for organisations to become increasingly flexible and agile in both their approach and design of future models of working, and ensure they successfully assess and develop future organisational capability.

Written by HR Consultancy Director, Julie Leo.

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