In today's work environment, we need a completely different way to describe skills. Once you see this simple approach, you'll never look at your skills—or the skills of your team—the same way.
- So we tend to use the word skill in a variety of ways. Some people use it as the label for a trade, like doctor or carpenter. Other think of it as a set of capabilities, like building a house or fixing a car, and still others think of it as a specific activity, like analyzing or synthesizing information. Research on how to categorize skills goes back to the mid 1950s from work done by a man named Sidney Fine who I first met in my late teens and thought of, kind of, as an uncle. Sidney broke skills down into three main categories, knowledges, transferable skills and self-management skills.
Knowledges are those bodies of information that are rooted in a particular area. A knowledge of brain surgery probably isn't very useful outside the operating room, so it's anchored in that specific field. Transferable skills are your abilities that can be used in a range of situations. Managing teams effectively is a skill that can be used in a wide variety of work environments. Transferable skills are usually gerunds, words ending in I-N-G. Self-management skills are often called traits. They're the skills that act on us, like being on time or completing a task.
They're highly transferable too in a variety of situations so it's common to lump them in with transferable skills, but the three general kinds of skills can be boiled down to three simple concepts, what you know, your special knowledges, what you can do, your transferable skills, and how you do your work, your self-management skills. So why is it important to separate out knowledges from transferable and self-management skills? It turns out that as work itself is becoming unbundled, the balance of importance between knowledges and skills is changing dramatically.
In a variety of fields, some special knowledges are going to become less and less valuable because we'll just be able to learn them just in time. Now, the example I use is of a car mechanic. Let's say you're the manager of an auto shop and you have a worker who hasn't been trained to work on a particular engine. In the past, you'd either send that worker to school to learn that engine or you'd hire someone who already knew how to fix it. All of that is changing rapidly. Before long, you're going to give that untrained worker something like Google Glass, using what's known as mixed reality software, and the program running the glasses will display illustrations in real time to your mechanic, walking through the steps to repair that specific engine.
So this kind of just in time learning is going to become critical in a wide range of fields because it will allow people with tremendous transferable skills to easily gain the information they need to perform tasks that used to require extensive training. Think of courses like this one as providing that kind of skills upgrade, offering knowledges as they're needed. This is where more and more of our learning is going to come from, and it's critical for you as a manager to recognize this dramatic shift in the balance between what a worker knows and what they can do.
Now, obviously, this doesn't work in every field. No matter whether you believe author Malcolm Gladwell's contention that mastery takes at least 10,000 hours of practice in a field, there will always be areas that require extensive study and experience. I don't want my brain surgeon to be learning just in time where to put the scalpel, but this mentality of just in time learning provides a challenge for a hiring manager. Do you hire the candidate with extensive training but perhaps not the clearest set of transferable skills that would allow them to adapt rapidly or do you hire the candidate with less training in a specific field, but who's a fast learner with a proven track record of problem solving? In the past, you might've thought the safest decision was to take the highly trained candidate, but in a constantly changing world, you're going to need to think long and hard what the highly adaptable candidate could bring to your team, so this is especially critical when you have completely new problems to be solved.
You can't ask for a candidate to have 20 years' experience in social media marketing to millennials when neither social media nor adult millennials have been around that long, but you can look at the transferable skills that would be most applicable to the work to be done and determine what a candidate would need to know or learn to be able to get quickly up to speed.
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- Dealing with disruptive change and the new rules of work
- Establishing a new contract with workers
- Rethinking job qualifications
- Hiring for diversity and inclusion
- Identifying key skills for adaptive workers
- Helping your team become lifelong learners
- Leveraging automation for your team
- Becoming an adaptive manager
- Making human resources a partner
- Recognizing when your adaptive strategy is working