Skills You Need Today

December 11, 2010


With unemployment hovering around 10% the latest thinking suggest that while the unemployment rate will get better many people that were unemployable during the recession will continue to be afterward. There are a lot of companies that have figured out how to do without skills they had that now through automation, outsourcing, and strategic partnerships they won’t need. In other cases the work that was done is no longer required.

So what new skills will be needed tomorrow? I want to highlight 2 specific skills or attributes that will be needed more in the near future. One is around strategic thinking and the other is around managing in a matrix environment.

One of the clients I provide advisory services to is a manufacturing company that prior to the downturn had full in-house teams providing warranty service planning. Today there is a piece of that work that has been automated through the introduction of a new ERP system, a portion of the work has been moved to their partners and, lastly, they have found a strategic outsourcing partner to contract a significant portion of planning and repairs.  What was a 47 person strong service team is now 9 with a more complex matrix of automation and partnerships with a entirely new set of required skills to pull this off. These partners are worldwide with different personalities, customs, and work ethics.

There are several transitions in business models that will drive a new set of required skills. For one a lot of outsourcing has moved work from the US to overseas. Initially this work was very tactical which meant that a lot of the skills required were also tactical. Now the outsourcing includes development, innovation services, and are design-centric. These new-breed outsourced partners are now much more ingrained and  impacting to the success of the business. On top of this we are left with smaller companies (employee count) with less traditional hierarchy. In more and more cases functional silos will need to be replaced with organizations that are aligned to the process of work flow, product development, customer service, etc. then to the traditional functions like IT, HR, and marketing. The human side of the skills required to make this new model work are far different than what business schools educate to, companies hire to, management develops for, and companies organize around. Business will need people with the ability to define a set of goals around meaningful objectives and influence the people (inside the company and out) to seamlessly do specific work within a bigger framework of results.

Additional strategic thinking skills at levels below the CEO will be necessary at a far greater level than today. More strategic decisions that will drive tactical requirements for direct employees and partners will be required to be made at lower levels in the company. This will occur for several reasons. First is for expediency. The factor of time ( to develop offerings, change direction, enter new markets, etc.) will become more of a differentiator and then a core requirement to compete. There will be no time to have all strategic decisions made at the upper levels of management. Second is there will be far fewer managers. Companies that have lowered the number of resources through outsourcing, automation, and partnering require fewer managers at all levels based on the fact that there will be fewer people to manage. For smart companies this will drive more non-tactical decisions further down in the company and the need for the right skills in the people doing so.

The next critical skill is the ability to matrix. What is different here is this new type of matrix is well beyond management across different functions within a company.  In addition to this, the ability to matrix outside the company to external partners and suppliers will be required. These skills will require a strong ability to think outside the company. To include the “partners” as an extension of the core team, to develop metrics and expectations that include instead of exclude, and to provide regular feedback on performance. This new extended team will be the foundation for innovation and improvement and be held accountable for the results of the business. The mechanisms for payment to partners will have to include new degrees of alignment for success, that is the partner’s success need to be aligned to yours.  There will need to be a much greater visibility of performance across the company and its partners. Here is an example:

In today’s world a company might outsource the internal IT help desk. Today there are a lot of outsourced help desk contracts in which the outsourced partner gets paid on a per hour basis. This arrangement while easy to track does not align the goals of the company with the outsourced partner. In this example the outsourced help desk partner will not go out of their way to reduce a call time or possibly innovate around eliminating calls which are 2 goals of the company doing the outsourcing. This doesn’t mean they will try to do the wrong thing – it just means as they are not motivated to do the right thing, they won’t. In tomorrow’s world where the help desk represents one of many outsourced work items, perfect alignment and clarity into the workflow is essential. The help desk partner’s objectives will directly drive the company’s goals. In this example I could imagine the outsourced help desk partner being paid more for shortening and eliminating calls while retaining high levels of quality. This might encourage them to invest in skills and technology to drive this result and improve their margins.

It will take a special skill to understand this and effectively develop and manage the programs and relationships to achieve exceptional results.

The future looks bright although a bit different. While many of today’s skills will become a thing of the past new ones will be needed very soon. Smart companies recognize this and are preparing for the need and creating the environment to attract, develop and retain these new skills. The smart people in career transition are learning these new skills and preparing themselves to take on the world!


About Frank Picarello

Frank is a well-respected leader in providing technology services to small and medium-sized businesses. He is currently COO for TeamLogic IT, Chairperson for CompTIA's Small Business Owner's Group, and a member of CompTIA's Unified Communication Committee.

View all posts by Frank Picarello

Comments are closed.