In the not-so-distant past, humans were mere cogs on a production line. All an employer wanted and needed to increase employee productivity was a little boost from technology, the equivalent of attaching a super-charged battery on the back of each employee. It was a simple formula — more productivity meant more products could be made cheaper. Cheaper products meant increased consumer demand. Increased consumer demand meant more employees were hired. And as long as the employee followed the rules and didn’t ask questions, everyone was happy. How the times have changed. Today, employers need workers who are agile, adept and have a passionate desire to learn and grow. With the accelerating change being experienced in the workplace, the critical skills workers have today may be irrelevant tomorrow. Everyone needs to be evolving, growing and adapting. Greater thinking capacity isn’t just desirable — it’s essential. It’s the one resource most organizations can’t hire enough of.
The shift from brawn power to brain power requires a massive realignment in mindset for both employees and employers, as well as a new blueprint for the critical skills today’s leader needs in each and every employee. Over the years I’ve identified six critical skills that workers will need in the coming decades.
- Curiosity: In a world of accelerating exponential change, characterized by uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, curiosity may be among the top critical skills most required to survive and thrive in this age of acceleration. Curiosity is much more than the dictionary definition of a strong desire to know or learn something. To become a valued skill, curiosity requires a willingness to explore new experiences, take risks and the desire and ability to reflect on those experiences.
- Creativity: This is a word that is bounced around in today’s workplace. Some leaders praise it as a cure for our future; others claim it to be a massive distraction and threat. However, in the context of job skills, there is no doubt that creativity is crucial. Someone’s ability to generate new ideas and turn them into solutions, to see the world in a new way and to connect the dots in ways that others have missed is essential in today’s rapidly changing business world.
- Conscientiousness: A staggering amount of research links conscientiousness with success, regardless of the employee’s role or the employer’s industry. Someone who is conscientious is dependable, responsible, organized and proactive. He or she arrives on time, stays late, does his work, meets deadlines, exercises self-control and manages themselves well. But is conscientiousness a skill or a trait? Can you increase or improve it? Train people in it? The truth is, conscientiousness is probably a combination of genetic hard wiring, environmental influences, skill training and motivation. And this is good news given that many employers will need to nurture and grow it within workers.
- Critical Thinking: When brawn was valued over brain, workers were asked to check their critical thinking at the door. Now employees’ critical thinking is highly desirable and essential. Their employer needs the ability to analyze, evaluate and create. They’re expected to carry out a growing list of responsibilities and meet higher expectations with fewer resources. That requires them to think analytically and apply the results of all that thinking without benefit of supervision or experience.
- Collaboration: Organizations are shifting from a hierarchical, top-down structure to a network of teams. What’s more, thanks to technology, the internet, globalization and mobility, employees may be working with team members they’ve never met. In the ever-changing, complex environment of today’s workplace, employees will be valued because they are skilled collaborators who are able to communicate using multiple platforms, keep up with the flow of information, and accept the responsibility that comes with collaboration in both physical and virtual spaces.
- Agility: Agility is the ability to keep pace, shift gears often and quickly, and keep current with the flow of information. Workers need to move nimbly and draw conclusions quickly. That requires both high personal energy and fast cognitive abilities so employees can perform well in many jobs and functions. The more aggressive, dynamic and growth-driven an organization, the more agility matters.
Ira S. Wolfe is president of Success Performance Solutions.