by Tara Whitehead Stotland, Lead Strategist for Strategy & Sales Enablement at Cognizant Consulting’s Imagine Group
Over the last 60 years, a college degree or a technical skilled labor certificate was the key to beginning work and maintaining long-standing employment. During the last decade, requirements have shifted. And post-COVID, the ways of working and team collaboration are changing even more rapidly.
Disruption is real, and service providers, including VAR partners, must adapt to support their clients. According to Gartner Research, 29% of the skills listed in 2018 job postings for IT, finance, and sales are no longer required in 2022.
The pandemic accelerated corporate investment in digital technology and the adoption of Agile approaches. With automation taking over low-skilled jobs and most jobs requiring some level of technical capability, leaders must identify and reskill workers toward expertise that will drive successful outcomes for individuals and the organization.
Given the ongoing challenge of the Great Resignation, companies are relying more on partner firms to provide key capabilities. Companies are moving toward Agile delivery models, including team-driven POD (product-oriented delivery). So, how can leaders best support their business while ensuring the success of high-performing individuals, teams, and third-party partners?
Companies on a successful journey to business modernization include leading organizations with visionary leaders such as T-Mobile, Comcast, Pepsico, Southwest Airlines, and CVS Health. They have adopted a two-pronged approach to ensure long-term financial success:
- Drive individual excellence
- Adopt tools to future-proof your workforce
Factors to Achieve Individual Success
Whether you are on a team looking for a new member or want to be an ideal candidate, here are ways a potential employee can stand out:
- Know problem-solving strategies. It’s not enough to memorize answers. You really need to know how to approach a novel case. In fact, problem-solving strategies are what I value most from my graduate degree.
- Be a team player. Demonstrate how you work on a team. Be able to contribute to solutions.
- Lead a team. Know your leadership style. Everyone needs to know how to lead a project or even a portion of it. Leadership experience is invaluable and develops strategic thinking. You can lead through understanding how to translate data into information, which can help influence your audience to understand your point of view.
- Communicate with integrity. Showing a green (good) status when there is a problem is a mistake. Learn to communicate with integrity so that you establish trust with those around you. Any project is going to have challenges, so face them with transparency!
- Be a citizen of the world. Today’s organizations are diverse, so understanding a variety of cultures across the world is important. Studying or traveling abroad broadens the mind and teaches you that other people think differently.
- STEM or STEAM education is critical. Almost all positions require some level of language fluency and both data and technology capabilities.
- Develop emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient, is increasingly recognized as just as important as IQ. The more that robots and automation perform day-to-day menial tasks, the more humans will be called on to do high-level thinking and apply human judgment.
- Know how to tell a story. Executives don’t have time to absorb endless pages of reports and material. Give them what they want based on their role and interests. Identify what matters most and summarize the relevant details succinctly. When asked to provide an update, highlight your top three to five achievements or outcomes. This skill increases your value to the organization in the eyes of management.
Tools to Future-Proof Your Workforce
While the characteristics above are desired and even necessary for membership in a high-performing team, building such a team can be a significant challenge in this job market. These strategies can help you start:
- Leverage diversity and inclusion
- Identify academic partners
- Explore flexibility in return-to-work policies and tools
Leverage Diversity and Inclusion
Considering the constant state of change in today’s job market, you’ll need the right mix of cross-functional thought leaders and solid technical experts to drive excellence. Diversity and inclusion are extremely important. In optimal teams, diversity of thought and perspective drives the best outcomes.
Identify the Right Academic Partners
One hard truth: most schools woefully under prepare students for jobs in the modern enterprise, thus failing to prepare them for the future of work. Investing time in key partner academic institutions, beyond just recruiting, can yield extremely valuable results. Your company can influence degree requirements, leverage programs to upskill and reskill workers, and develop interns into full-time employees who are anchored with relevant experience and an immediate understanding of your culture.
When identifying these academic institutions (universities, vocational programs, and magnet schools), ensure they map to your company’s philosophies, and that they have adequately prepared students for the professional environment. Ensure students learn “how to think,” not “what to think.” A few ways of getting to know potential partners include:
- Speak in classes
- Serve on advisory boards
- Show interest in the students and what they are learning
Forging relationships with the right educational institutions will help ensure that you are sourcing the best possible skills from the Gen C community.
Reconsider Return-to-Work Policies and Work Tools
During COVID, corporate rules and ways of working changed immediately. Now, as most companies urge employees to return to the office, many are responding with their feet. A recent New York Times article discusses these issues, citing a Gallup poll where more than one-third of U.S. workers who can work from home want to remain remote-permanently. Given the job climate, organizations that adapt to employee needs, such as Google, Facebook, and Cognizant, are winning the race in the Great Resignation’s toughest game—recruiting and retaining the best and brightest.
The new corporate culture must accommodate in-office, hybrid, and fully remote employees when the work allows for flexibility. Agile and adaptive organizations will require more flexible deployment of workers and capabilities. Furthermore, employees must have the right tools and technology in their new workspace. Conducting a quick assessment of requirements across job roles will help you determine how to best equip your teams for the future of work.
The Key Message: Future-Proofing Your Workforce Remains Human-Centric
As companies feel increased pressure to grow and modernize their business models, leaders must continuously seek ways to identify, develop, and deploy talent in this new, digital-driven world. Leveraging the two simple guidelines outlined above to enable employees to achieve personal and professional success and providing the right tools to support their work journey is crucial for organizations to find the path toward a future-proof workforce.
Tara Whitehead is a Lead Strategist at Cognizant.