Reskilling: How to Create a “Learn-It-All” Culture With Career Pathing

Established companies are reshaping workforces at an unprecedented scale. AT&T, for example, launched an initiative to retrain nearly half its workforce to the tune of $1 billion after discovering that nearly half of its people lacked the necessary skills needed to keep the company competitive. Over a four-year period, Accenture reskilled nearly 300,000 employees, investing approximately $1 billion annually in training.

Without these kinds of major reskilling investments, many traditional firms will be disrupted out of existence. Software companies dominate the list of the largest companies in the world by market cap, and billion-dollar startups are no longer as rare as unicorns. Across all types of organizations, automation poses a risk — not through the elimination of jobs — but in the form of skills gaps created by new types of roles.

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Companies embarking on these critical transformations are doing so in an era of uncertainty, at a time when demographic shifts, trade tussles, economic instability, and political stalemate can make it difficult to predict future operating environments. The goalposts are constantly moving, and determining where, who, and how to reskill so as to make the biggest business impact is not an easy feat.

While tackling the complex job of reskilling will involve many approaches, successful organizations are leveraging the human drive to learn to foster a “learn-it-all” culture that can help employees put growth mindsets into practice to fill skills gaps.

Microsoft is a perfect case in point when it comes to reskilling. When Satya Nadella succeeded Steve Ballmer as the CEO in 2014, the company had a well-known “resting and vesting” attitude amongst employees and was trading at $36.35 per share.

By December of 2018, the company had briefly reclaimed its position as the world’s most valuable publicly-traded company and was trading above $133 per share. Speaking at a conference on business rejuvenation, Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s top dealmaker, attributed this dramatic shift to the spread of something called a “growth mindset” through the company’s ranks.

This way of thinking was first identified by Stanford psychologist Carol S. Dweck, who discovered that — when it comes to underlying beliefs about learning and intelligence — people can be separated into two camps: Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (growth mindset) and individuals who believe talents are innate gifts (fixed mindset). Dweck’s main finding is that a growth mindset drives motivation and achievement, while a fixed mindset only gets in the way of success.

The Business Value Of A Growth Mindset

Gaining a growth mindset is becoming increasingly important at a time when employees are constantly being stretched to acquire new skills. At the individual level, a growth mindset can help people remain engaged and employable as roles evolve to become less routine and more cognitively or emotionally demanding. For businesses, a “learn-it-all” culture can be their main source of competitive advantage.

But organizations that truly embody a growth mindset, argues Dweck in an HBR post, are “committed to the growth of every member, not just in words but in deeds, such as broadly available development and advancement opportunities.”

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Putting the Growth Mindset to Work with Career Pathing

One tangible framework on which employees can stretch the canvas of a growth mindset is career pathing. With strategic career pathing, firms can shepherd employees into new roles that are becoming critical to business transformation, helping people grow and gain new skills in the process.

When HR leaders and line managers know how people move from job-to-job within the organization and how quickly they did this in the past, they have the structure they need to discuss real career options, assess timelines, and identify mentors. People analytics can sift through all of an organization’s movement history and distill it down into an interactive journey map for use on the front lines of leadership, helping organizations to:

  • Show the likelihood of every role transition for an employee and presents all the data in an interface that doesn’t require a data science degree to use.

  • Instantly filter the population by who is currently in a high demand position, and determine the paths they took to get there.

  • Surface any commonalities, such as business analysts eventually getting into hard-to-fill computer forensics roles. HR can then encourage line managers to broach the idea of a specific role with people who are currently in low-demand roles during career coaching conversations.

  • Help HR to instantly gain an accurate understanding of how long it typically takes for someone from a non-technical background to move into a particular position, and determine what the average time is for someone to get into that role. The managers and employees can either use this information to reevaluate goals or gain a realistic understanding of how much work is involved.

  • Uncover hidden gems of mentors who can guide people through tricky transitions.

Learning is a basic human drive. With data-driven career pathing, people can put this natural affinity into motion going farther and achieving more — for themselves, and the business. This way, learning becomes more than a perk to keep employees engaged or a compliance requirement — it becomes an engine for business transformation that propels long-term growth.

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