Written By Donald McNaughton

‘Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.’ — Will Smith

The definition of talent is the natural endowments of a person.

The definition of skill is a learned power of doing something competently: a developed aptitude or ability.

You learn skills, and you are born with individual talents.

How skillful we can become in a specific activity depends on the talents we are born with and our physical attributes. However, becoming more proficient at something is available to most of us if we are willing to invest the necessary effort.

Early in my work life, I took a year off to backpack through Europe with my then-girlfriend, now my wife. Travelling was a tremendous learning experience for a young person, encountering daily unfamiliar situations and challenges and overcoming them.

One simple, seemingly insignificant, learning experience from that year has always stuck with me. We would take photos and periodically have them developed (yes, this was long before smartphone cameras). On one occasion, when having our image’s processed, the store had a promotion that included three small juggling balls and a pamphlet with step-by-step instruction on how to teach yourself to juggle. Following the step-by-step instructions, I taught myself to juggle, a skill I still possess today.

When challenged to learn a new skill, I think back to learning to juggle, and it affirms that with desire and the willingness to practice, skills can be acquired.

My mentor George Palmatier and I would often talk about the notion of time and how we use our available time.

George would say, ‘we all have the same amount of time, 24 hours a day; it comes down to how we choose to use that time.’

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit’ — Aristotle

So the question becomes what skills are essential for us to lead a fulfilling and enjoyable life and earn a living by remaining a valued contributor to an organization’s mission and achieving its objectives and goals. And are we dedicating the appropriate amount of time to maintaining the skills we have and learning new required skills?

There is a significant change in the required skills as we move from the information age to the intelligence age. The demand for specific skills, seen as essential to organizational success, is outstripping supply.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), machines may displace 85 million jobs by 2025 due to labor division between humans and machines. However, the WEF estimates that 97 million jobs will be created to accommodate the demand for new roles, especially those that include humans as partners to machines.

Skills are typically categorized as either hard skills or soft skills. Hard skills are technical capabilities gained through education, training, and experience. Soft skills are personality attributes and work styles that we naturally possess but can be enhanced through education, training, and experience.

As you would expect, the current in-demand hard skills include data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, digital marketing and strategy specialists, process automation professionals, business development, digital transformation managers, information security analysts, software and app developers, internet of things (IoT) specialists. Also, there are the perennial in-demand hard skills like doctors, nurses, engineers, demand managers, etc.

It is essential to refresh your hard skills through ongoing learning to ensure that you stay current with your industry and profession’s latest best practices.

Organizations are also facing a growing soft skills gap. A recent study found that 89% of executives reported difficulty recruiting candidates with the requisite soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, communication, adaptability, innovation, collaboration, learning mindset.

These soft skills are becoming increasingly essential as the pandemic has pushed people into temporary — or, in many cases, permanent — remote work. Without access to in-person education and training, developing these vital soft skills can be challenging.

There is another challenge. Reward what you value. While executives opine at the shortage of people with the requisite soft skills, the financial reward for hard skills is twice that of soft skills. If soft skills are not rewarded according to their purported value, then top talent will not be incentivized to focus on them, choosing instead to invest their time in acquiring hard skills.

As individuals, there are steps that we should take to develop our soft skills in concert with the development of our hard skills. The first thing we should do is assess our soft skills, this can be challenging, but some tools can help. I have personally found ‘Strengths Finder 2.0′ (now branded as CliftonStrengths) to be effective.

A tool like CliftonStrengths helps you identify your top strengths, adds color and details to these strengths, guides you to strengthen what you naturally do best, provides suggested actions to take, and highlights blind spots to watch out for.

Organizations that demonstrate sustainable long-term performance emphasize the performance of the organization and the health of the organization. Research has found that organizations that demonstrate this balanced approach outperform their peers threefold.

The development of people’s capabilities in four key areas is needed, the business model, the management model, individual contributions, and individual behaviors.

The business model. People need to understand how the business makes money, the value proposition, the objectives and goals, the strategy, the strategic initiatives, the financial statements, etc. An example of this would be a formal program to improve all employees’ financial acumen to understand the financial statements better.

The management model. People need to understand how the business is managed, the organization structure, the governance forums, the processes used, how the processes integrate, the enabling technologies, etc. An example of this would be education, training, and coaching on the Integrated Business Planning (IBP) process.

Individual contributions. Technical and functional education, training, and coaching programs need to be designed and made available to build the hard skills required to meet the organization’s current and future needs. An example of this would be education, training, and coaching on additive manufacturing to support a new product line.

Individual behaviors. Soft skills education, training, and coaching programs need to be designed and made available to help individuals develop and demonstrate the soft skills that the organization values and expects. An example of this would be education, training, and coaching on critical thinking in support of assessing information to make better business decisions.

An organization must have a mission, objectives, and goals and the business and management models to realize them. Soft and hard skills must be developed in the context of the organization’s business and management models.

Developing the required capabilities of people to balance organization performance and health requires a learning culture that helps people develop the necessary understanding, skills, and behaviors to operate in this manner.

Developing a learning culture is a daunting task and a learning experience in itself. Like most professions, learning and development practices are changing rapidly, mostly driven by technology and the ‘new normal’ caused by the global pandemic.

To give you a flavor of the emerging technologies, here are a couple of videos. Firstly, a sample virtual reality training simulation. Secondly, this week Microsoft launched Viva, which includes Viva Learning.

While technology advancements are exciting and vital enablers, experience has taught us that the integration of people & behaviors, processes, and technology guided by the organizations business model is what delivers sustainable organizational performance and health.

‘Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.’ — Scott Adams

Keep learning and developing your hard and soft skills.