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The seven key competencies for the future of work

by jcp
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By: Dan Hughes


Without doubt, the last 18 months have had a profound impact on the world of work. And many people have taken the pandemic, furlough and redundancy as an opportunity to reassess lifestyle and career choices. So much so that a ‘great resignation’ is predicted later this year, with Microsoft research revealing 41% of the workforce is considering leaving their employer.

While many organisations are assessing how they attract and retain employees to address this challenge it is also important for businesses to consider what they will need to look for in their new and existing talent in the reshaped world of work. What are the essential skills and competencies for the workforce of the future, to deal with the challenges they will face? And if the changes brought about by the pandemic have caused you to consider a career move or role change, what competencies might you need to succeed in the next decade?

Changing landscape

The existing trends of digital disruption and globalisation have been changing the face of business long before the pandemic. The virus appears to have accelerated this transformation, and we can expect the impact to be long lasting. Research shows that hybrid working is here to stay, as organisations see the potential benefits of lower costs, increased productivity and improved employee retention. From the employee perspective, many individuals want to embrace the move towards a better work/life balance, less commuting and greater autonomy.

However, the widescale shift to remote and hybrid working will also create fundamental challenges and changes, as we move beyond the survival focus during the pandemic and consider this as a long-term shift. During the pandemic, employees who moved to a remote working arrangement experienced challenges with insufficient communication from their leaders, as well as a lack of connectedness and sense of social belonging.

Again, organisations are taking steps to address these challenges, with measures to improve the remote work experience and investment in additional technology. While these developments are essential to realise the benefits or remote working, and vital if organisations are to succeed into the future, individual competencies also have an important part to play. Organisations and individuals need to develop the key behaviours and skills that will enable them to be successful in future. And our research shows these have changed.

Past and future trends

The team at PSI wanted to explore the skills and competencies that might be needed to manage the key demands of the future world of work, to better understand how these might change and highlight any new themes emerging. We started by looking back at over ten thousand 360-degree feedback assessments conducted between 2010 and 2020 which drew on our library of work competencies. From these we identified the top competencies most frequently used in these 360-feedback assessments, to contrast with the next decade.

Drawing from the substantial research conducted into the future of work over the coming decade and different perspectives, we identified the new competencies that are most likely to emerge and become more prominent. This research included The Future of Jobs Report published by the World Economic Forum, among other reports and white papers. We found a common thread running through much of this insightful research – that the rise of automation and globalisation is going to drive a change in the skills and competencies needed for success. Alongside this, we also looked at the key trends from the pandemic and other events over the last 18 months, to consider what long-lasting impact these are likely to have on the world of work.

When comparing the two lists of competencies, we found that most of the competencies that were frequently assessed in the past decade reflected people-focused aspects of performance. While the social aspects of work performance will certainly continue to be important, particularly considering the expected increase in hybrid working, there are other competencies which we also anticipate will be in high demand. To deal with continuous disruption and change, people will need to be able to cope and adapt in many ways to be effective. This requires a balance of different personal and interpersonal competencies.

New competencies

Based on our analysis, here are our top seven competencies for the next decade. These new competencies signify openness and flexibility in how we think, harness digitalisation, connect with others, and manage our own well-being.

These new competencies can be viewed through three lenses, which reflect the major aspects of work performance important for individual and organisational success:

  • Connecting – how we communicate, gain support, and collaborate with people.
  • Transforming – how we create change, make decisions, and lead the way for others.
  • Achieving – how we deliver results, overcome obstacles, and adjust to change effectively.

Let’s look at each of these three lenses in turn, and the key competencies within them that we expect to rise to prominence in the next decade.

Connecting competencies

  •  Building Relationships

With more automation, the remaining jobs will increasingly focus on areas where human employees will still outperform machines, such as Emotional Intelligence and social skills. And with remote and hybrid working likely to remain for many professional roles, there will be a lasting need for employees to be proactive in how they communicate and collaborate.

Employees need to be able to connect easily with others in both virtual and face-to-face contexts, gain trust quickly, and maintain effective relationships. And organisations will need to hire with these skills in mind while also supporting their people to develop these important behaviours.

  • Embracing Diversity

There is positive evidence that more diverse organisations achieve better business performance. Managers and individual contributors need to seek out and actively include diverse individuals and perspectives to successfully create ideas and solve business challenges. Alongside this, they need to ensure that people are treated fairly, regardless of background and be willing to advocate and act where this is not happening.

What’s more, research into remote working during the pandemic suggests that workplace interactions have become more focused on immediate colleagues while interactions with other departments and wider networks have diminished. Individuals will need to build and maintain broader networks more proactively in a hybrid working model to avoid the risk of proximity bias and discriminating against those who work remotely. And organisations will need to support teams to build trust and collaboration with people they have never met – or might rarely meet – in person.

Transforming competencies

  • Critical Thinking

As we start to look to the post-pandemic future, teams and organisations need to rethink purpose, strategy and direction, and consider how business models may need to transform. According to the WEF Future of Jobs report, critical thinking and analysis is the skill area with the most increasing demand from organisations.

Faced with complex and ambiguous problems, as well as ever-increasing amounts of data, leaders and managers need to appraise information from a range of sources accurately, quickly understand what data is essential for decision-making, and objectively question ideas and assumptions.

  •  Learning Agility

In this rapidly changing work context, it is less effective to rely on strategies and approaches that have worked in the past. To be effective now, people must critically and objectively evaluate their experiences, and apply their learnings to new situations and opportunities.

With context and conditions changing continuously, teams will also need to work in an agile way, learning on the fly, and applying that learning in new situations to drive innovation.

Achieving competencies

  •  Digital Dexterity

The pace of technology adoption and disruption is expected to continue to accelerate, with rising interest in artificial intelligence and robotics as an example. These advanced technologies present fantastic opportunities for increased productivity, enabling better insights, and process optimisation. But for individuals at work, this provides both opportunity and challenge.

Employees need to grasp and leverage new technologies rapidly, either through personal learning or by empowering others to achieve innovations and efficiencies. We all need to ask ourselves: How can I ensure I am ready to embrace new technologies in my field of work? What new digital skills do I need to develop? How can I obtain them?

  •  Resilience

Alongside the need for supportive leadership and organisational climate, the recent pressures on employee well-being and mental health arising from the pandemic have highlighted the importance of building personal resilience.

To be effective at work, people need to cope with setbacks and change and bounce back from these effectively. This requires self-belief, optimism and a growth mindset to put these setbacks in context and move forward with a positive mindset.

  • Change Orientation

The rise of digitalisation and automation is changing job requirements, organisational structures, and market needs. Employees ultimately need to maintain a positive, open-minded attitude towards change in work activities, skill requirements, and organisational structures by embracing the change and appreciating the opportunities that it presents.

The good news is that it is possible, through learning and development activities, to develop flexibility and the ability to adapt our thinking and behaviour to changing situations. For example, a focus on building Emotional Intelligence develops key competencies for the future – including the emotional resilience to bounce back when things go wrong, and the ability to build significant connections with other people, either remotely or in person.

Robust foundation

None of us can be sure what the future will bring. However, we can be sure that the world of work will continue to be fluid, disruptive and fast moving.

We anticipate these top seven competencies will rise to prominence globally for managers and employees in the post pandemic world of work. Organisations should consider keeping these competencies in the forefront of their minds as they update and evolve talent acquisition and development processes, to help build a future-ready workforce.

What’s more, if individuals can demonstrate these competencies, alongside other essential skills for their specific role, they will offer a robust foundation for successful performance. One that is relevant and transferable across a wide range of jobs as we emerge from the pandemic – and will enable people to go from surviving to thriving at work.


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