Across industries, businesses are weathering a perfect storm: Organizations must adapt to the accelerated rate of technology-driven change while applying these technologies to create experiences that make customers feel valued, cared for, and understood. In response to a growing set of market pressures, business leaders tell us that they are most focused on transforming their data and technology (53 percent) and customer experience (50 percent) capabilities.1 And with the right skills, these challenges aren’t insurmountable. In our research, 72 percent of business leaders say that “knowledge/skills” is a top factor impacting their preparedness to address strategic priorities.2 In other words, the organizations that reskill their people will best adapt and respond to the demands of transformation. An intentional focus on Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) can help HR leaders create a "just-in-time" reskilling climate within the organization—one that can equip employees to keep up with the pace of change. I&D comprises the methods and strategies to cultivate an inclusive and diverse workplace that better positions companies for competitive differentiation and future performance.
I&D can help your organization unlock new opportunities to accelerate reskilling, while also nurturing a continuous learning mindset that powers ongoing transformation. The good news is that reskilling and an I&D culture reinforce one another. Organizations not only need employees who have diverse perspectives and backgrounds. They also need them to have a diverse skillset. In today's business climate, there are countless headwinds and competing considerations, such as cost reduction imperatives, regulatory-driven changes, and customer expectations. In addressing this complexity, diversity must be a core tenet of employee reskilling. HR and functional business leaders need to identify, appreciate, and plan for a wide array of employee experiences, backgrounds, and styles at work.
By giving employees across races, genders, and generations constructive ways to challenge themselves, organizations will better engage employees and help them grow in meaningful ways, while also strengthening the organization’s ability to grow and become even more inclusive and diverse over time. There are many opportunities for I&D and reskilling to join forces. But it all starts by understanding the complex and unique perspectives across the organization.
For example, when new parents return to work after leave, they may be particularly willing and able to adapt to a new role—perhaps more so than employees who remained on the job without taking an extended leave. Generational diversity is another area of significant opportunity. For example, younger, more digitally-savvy generations can support the reskilling of older generations (e.g., Baby Boomers) on digital tools—unlocking opportunities for collaboration and knowledge transfer across diverse segments of the workforce. With COVID-19 forcing many organizations into remote work for the first time, reskilling for virtual work can facilitate more effective cross-generational collaboration and help organizations rise to the challenge.
There's also value in inviting interaction across diverse seniority levels. Organizations can nurture the development of new skills (especially soft skills) when they bring multiple groups together for collaborative dialogue. In doing so, you will mutually reinforce your I&D efforts. By involving every level of the organization, you’ll be able to draw on a more diverse, robust set of feedback and perspectives to inform future strategic direction. Active and visible sponsorship by leaders can increase participation in these dialogues and bolster the continuous development of new skills and value realization.
When planning for reskilling, make a concerted effort to incorporate diverse examples, ways of applying new skills, and opportunities to learn as you go. Be intentional in seeking feedback from different audiences. Feedback will help you identify and respond to specific challenges, as well as evolve your reskilling efforts to address a diverse set of experiences and needs at your organization.
To power reskilling efforts through I&D, here’s how you can get started:
Determine the skills needed. Start with an assessment and evaluation of your organization’s current skills in the context of your business strategy. This exercise may surface gaps in the current skills mix. Any skill gaps that may inhibit your organization from achieving its strategic aspirations should be prioritized in the learning and development backlog. From there, flag the aspects of diversity that can help your organization to support reskilling efforts, and more importantly, how those areas can accelerate reskilling. For example, your organization may find that generational diversity can promote skill development through enhanced collaboration and knowledge transfer.
Understand the different levers of diversity across your workforce. Diversity takes many forms, whether it be generational diversity, gender diversity, racial diversity, or diversity in backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. To identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness of reskilling through diversity, first identify the facets of diversity across your workforce. Just as you should identify current skill gaps, identify any diversity gaps that may hamper reskilling efforts and prioritize them for development in your comprehensive I&D strategy. In this effort, be sure to consider diversity in thinking styles and personalities. Use testing such as the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to learn more about the diversity across your workforce. These tools offer insight into how employees work best together and how leaders can best design reskilling strategies in response.
Set the tone with leadership. Both reskilling and the needs of I&D require many of the same leadership principles. Aligning KPIs and individual performance frameworks to both reskilling and I&D targets, openly communicating one’s reskilling and I&D journey, and modeling a growth mindset are universally valuable techniques that leaders can apply.
Adapting to rapid advances in technology and powering relevant customer experiences are key to organizational performance and competitive differentiation. Keeping pace with these imperatives requires a strong foundation of reskilling that I&D supports. Collaboration and cross-functional thinking help employees appreciate diverse perspectives, which, in turn, fuel a continuous growth and improvement mindset. As such, any organization that is committed to always-on transformation, growth, and improvement must embrace I&D as a core tenet of its approach to employee development.
1, 2: In September 2019, we surveyed more than 700 business leaders from organizations across industries that had 2018 revenues greater than $1 billion and that are headquartered in the U.S. or U.K. Survey questions aimed to analyze organizational attitudes and determine the most critical strategic priorities for 2020.