Skill building is the new employee currency. The days of a college degree, a job title or years of experience being the way to the next step in your career are nearing extinction. The change is already occurring. LinkedIn has created new ways for recruiters to search for candidates on skills and data shows that 45 percent of recruiters are already using this new methodology. While the impact may be most felt in terms of recruiting and hiring, it also has significant implications for the role the manager plays in employee development.
Career ladder vs. squiggly careers
Organizations and workers have embraced the “squiggly career” that Sara Ellis and Helen Tupper discuss in their TEDTalk. The traditional career ladder that was the foundation of employee development is useless. Gone are the days when you prepared the analyst to become a sr. analyst and then an analyst manager.
Is it reasonable to expect a manager to be able to develop employees for the indeterminate number of career options that the squiggly career provides? Yes, provided the manager takes cues from the organization and focuses on skills.
What managers need to know about skill building
The formula is simple: every job requires skills. Many skills carry over into multiple roles. The manager needs to stop focusing on the job title and work with the employee to identify the skills needed to move to the next stage of his career.
Consider this example: An employee in a call center wants to move into a project management role as her next career choice. Likely, the call center manager doesn’t have the skill or expertise to help develop someone for that role. Instead of focusing on the role, the two start to break down what skills are necessary to succeed as a project manager. They discover that storytelling and persuasion are key skills for a project manager. It is likely the manager can support ways to build that skill and provide opportunities to apply the skill in the current role. The employee can then say they have the skill, but also a clear story to share with hiring managers on how she successfully used the skill.
Here are three key things that every manager should do to help employees build skills:
- Teach employees how to define, demonstrate and communicate skills.
- Require employees to create and keep updated a Brag Book.
- Assign project/tasks that enable employees to add desirable skills to their Brag Book.
Define, demonstrate and communicate skills
The goal for skill building is to develop competence of a skill. However, the competence doesn’t matter unless an employee can communicate the skills she has – a significant part of that is defining the skill and finding a way to demonstrate competence.
As part of employee development, the manager must ask the employee what direction she wants her career to go and then help identify the skills necessary to get there. This conversation is rarely straightforward, so the manager must be able to ask the right questions to define the skill and identify how to demonstrate competence. For example, an employee may indicate she wants to get into the data sciences and knows she must improve her Excel skills. Excel has a lot of functionality, so the manager needs to help dig deeper to identify exactly what Excel skills are critical to getting into the data sciences.
The manager does not have to be the expert. The manager simply needs to help identify the skill and then provide any available resources (time, budget, etc.) to helping the employee gain the skill in addition ensuring accountability.
Once the employee demonstrates skill competence, the manager should work with the employee to document this result in a way that enables the employee to communicate it to potential future hiring managers. The best way to do this is using a pattern like the STAR method.
Require employees to create and update a Brag Book
Once an employee develops several of these written skill demonstrations, they should keep them in what I refer to as a Brag Book. Managers should require employees to maintain this book of skills with all the documentation, organized by skill topics. For example, all skill documentation related to communication should be stored together.
The Brag Book has many uses:
- Great way to show growth and success stories for performance reviews. When you ask an employee how they have grown, they can show you all the things they have added to the Brag Book in the past year.
- Excellent preparation for a job interview for their next desired role. For most people, the most stressful and difficult part of looking for that next job is preparing for the interview. The Brag Book becomes study material.
- Beneficial if, unfortunately, something happens at the company that puts jobs at risk. For example, I was a manager at a company that had been acquired. The acquiring company evaluated staff to see if there were any cuts to be made. Instead of panicking, my team had our Brag Books that I could use to demonstrate value. When the acquisition was finalized, my department was the only one that didn’t lose staff.
A manager should review everyone’s Brag Book once a quarter. Don’t be surprised if employees complain about this project as useless extra work. Ignore them. When they need it, they will find it saves them stress and effort. Imagine if you were one of the tech employees who was laid off recently, but you had a Brag Book you had been working on for the past two years. You would already be a step ahead of everyone else in the job search.
As you review the Brag Book, find the gaps. For example, someone may have taken a course on creating pivot tables in Excel but hasn’t found a good project to apply that skill. Find a project on your team or someone else’s where they can apply the skill. If you can’t help, encourage the employee to find some way to apply the skill. It can be easy sometimes (do a project at home or even a project for a local charity).
Holding the employee accountable for this helps them prepare for that next role which will improve the engagement level of the employee. It can also provide a benefit to the organization as you may provide a resource that another group needs that helps them out.
At first, the Brag Book seems silly. Some will resist because they don’t like the concept of bragging. Others will resist because they think it is a waste of time. Every employee, when faced with a chance to get promoted or being forced to look for work, has been happy this resource was available.