Article

4 shifts to succeed with tech skill development

KC Jorgensen

Talking about “training” is pretty much standard operating procedure in the tech industry. But training doesn’t go far enough when it comes to upskilling technology teams—and that’s a big problem.

You need to shift conversations toward tech skill development and focus on skill initiatives that are workforce driven, collaborative, ongoing and ultimately more creative.

1. Shift from top-down training to employee- and-objective-driven skill development

The interest in skill development in service of career growth continues to rise among tech employees. More and more people are pressuring executives and businesses to provide them with opportunities to acquire new skills on the job. They embrace the perspective of constant improvement and understand that tech skill development never ends.

It’s essential that C-suite executives champion skill development and understand which skills their people want to gain. What do they need to be effective today? Which skills will they need tomorrow?

Filling the skills gap really comes down to a) understanding the strategy of your organization, b) identifying which skills your people have and c) identifying the skills your people need (and want) to meet company goals. As leaders, it’s on us to implement the right types of programs and platforms to fill gaps and make sure people are quickly building the right skills.

In short: How are you helping people uplevel their knowledge to unleash their full potential?

KEY TAKEAWAY: In my experience, these efforts cannot be solely top-down. Listening to your people and surfacing their suggestions results in more interest and higher levels of engagement. When you can tap into existing desires in a way that aligns with business objectives, you can create a solution where everyone wins and employees understand the “why” behind what they’re learning.

2. Shift from one team’s problem to a company-wide journey

People often ask me whether the CIO or the CTO should initiate tech skill development or if it’s dependent on HR seeking out opportunities to build tech skills initiatives.

Honestly, it’s neither, and it’s both. Anyone at the C-suite level should be having regular conversations with other executives to understand the organization’s pain points. The HR team can offer a different perspective on what the organization needs than the CIO or CTO. The conversation around new skills can originate in either office or from a different role altogether. 

Anyone who cares about the skills and education of the people who work within their org can start the process, but it helps if you also have someone fully dedicated to tech skills at your company who can build programs around the information. 

KEY TAKEAWAY: The most important thing to understand is that relevant, productive skill development starts from a place of partnership. Having an open dialogue is much more critical than identifying whose job it is to initiate it.

3. Shift from emphasizing quick wins to the value of the long game

To build a successful tech skill development strategy, you should establish meaningful goals from the beginning. Every leader needs to identify the right measurements for their organization. Just as critical is setting benchmarks for progress. Where do you want to be a year from now? When will you stop and assess the changes you’re implementing?

The truth is that most successful tech skills initiatives are suited to the long haul. If your organization implements skill development with the goal of immediate returns, disappointment is likely. Mastering and applying new skills takes time, and delivering results to customers requires even more. Skill development exchanges short-term costs for long-term gains. 

Which is exactly the point. You have a knowledge workforce, and you don’t want to just do what everyone else is doing. You want to lead the market. You want to excel. That requires investment in your people and patience as their skills develop.

KEY TAKEAWAY: You may not be able to measure the impact perfectly in either the beginning or the long term. Accepting this fact is difficult in such a data-driven field, I’ll admit. But if you have a firm grasp on why tech skill development matters to your org and to your workforce, having clear and adaptable goals becomes more paramount than precision.

4. Shift from finite thinking to taking the moonshots

I’m often inspired by an idea from Simon Sinek’s book The Infinite Game. He writes about the difference between an infinite mindset and a finite mindset. In business, we sometimes get stuck on doing X to achieve Y results. That’s a finite mindset. The rules are clear, the objectives defined. An infinite mindset acknowledges the open-endedness that exists in much of business. The real challenge isn’t winning the game, it’s to continue playing.

When you realize how much the world of work constantly evolves, especially with a knowledge workforce, you understand the importance of an infinite mindset around constantly giving your people access to knowledge. It will have a positive impact on your business, however imperfectly you can measure it. 

Adopting the infinite mindset is perhaps the biggest shift of all. It can be terrifying to recognize that your plans may not happen when you think they will or that you’ll accomplish goals you can’t yet imagine. You should see the learning process as more of a hypothesis to be tested.

Moonshots change an organization’s direction, mold the expectations of employees and customers and sometimes uncover new lines of business. They aren’t supposed to “work.” You’d never optimize for them because the economics don’t line up. But in retrospect, they look genius.

KEY TAKEAWAY: How do you balance optimization with the need for creativity, innovation and room for growth and improvement? Remember that data is retroactive. You use it to make informed decisions. But you shouldn’t follow the data just for the sake of saying you did. Data helps us predict the future, but it doesn’t define it.

Shifting from “training” to technology skill development is critical for organizations to thrive as the pace of change accelerates. But for a skills strategy to be productive, it can’t be top-down. It should align employee career growth with key business objectives. It needs long-term championing throughout your org. And though identifying success might not be a perfect science, that can’t discourage your efforts.

This moonshot is one worth taking.

KC is the Chief People Officer at the award-winning startup Textio. A self-proclaimed People & Culture nerd, KC loves all things talent management and excels at developing talent strategies that are in line with the operational goals, building out global rewards programs and leading teams of exceptional recruiting and HR professionals. Throughout a successful career, she has developed a reputation for exemplary leadership, advocacy, employee relations, and talent development. A natural recruiter, she has proven to be an outstanding assessor of talent.

Whether engaged in organizational transformation or developing new programs, she devises strategies and plans that coincide with corporate objectives and always maintains a keen eye towards fostering cultures that deliver on the promise of equity and belonging. 

Overall, KC is driven to make sure Textio is an amazing place to work.