March 27, 2020
For decades, companies have designed work as fixed roles with a title, department, and defined set of responsibilities. Employees started their careers in entry-level positions and progressed to increasingly more senior positions along a linear career ladder in a given department. In most cases, they worked the majority of their career at one company and in one department.
But businesses of yesterday didn’t face the near constant disruptions that companies of today do. And workers of yesterday had different demographics and preferences than many of the workers of today. This is especially true in white-collar, high-growth professions.
Today’s economy is punctuated by near constant change. Faster innovation cycles make competitive advantage and market leads obsolete quicker than ever. Globalization has introduced greater competition to markets without corresponding protections for domestic businesses and workers. And, automation is replacing old jobs and creating new ones at a near unimaginable pace, with few solutions to support workers and businesses through these transitions.
At the same time, a great majority of the workforce is now made up of Millennials and Generation Zers. Partly due to growing up amid such disruptions, and partly due to a greater desire to balance work and home life, this cohort of workers seeks more constant learning and more flexibility in their work than prior generations.
All of this means that the way we think about work is changing, and companies must face what I call the “talent mobility revolution.” Business leaders and managers must recognize these trends and redesign work in a way that makes companies, careers, and communities agile and resilient proof. The solution is to redesign fixed roles rooted in titles to be dynamic jobs rooted in skills.
So what does this mean? Each individual has a set of skills, some of which may reflect her current job. For example, an accountant may have good quantitative skills. But she may also be a great communicator, or highly creative, or speak Spanish. These skills may not be applicable to her current role and responsibilities, but they may be to a different job. As disruptions hit—for example, her role is replaced by artificial intelligence accountants—she may be out of a job. At the same time, new jobs in the company may be created. If we think of her as having a broader set of skills, she could easily be matched to a new and different job in the company. Some of these jobs may last for years, some may be shorter project-based jobs requiring her unique skills. Either way, the company and managers will be supporting our former accountant to find her next job, not unabashedly laying her off.
The same principle holds for recruiting. Businesses increasingly look for specific sets of skills to complete jobs. Recruiting has historically been based on sourcing candidates who have experience in a particular department and have built up a set of career progressions and titles tied to that department. But business is more dynamic than that today—and we increasingly see employers looking at skills rather than titles in deciding who to hire.
How do you redesign fixed roles to be dynamic jobs? A three-step summary is:
Reclassify workers by skills. To get to a world of dynamic jobs, you must first understand and log the skills that each worker has. Start by mapping each worker’s skills along a “skills graph” so that you have a dataset of all the employee skills available. This should be done for your existing workforce and for a broader set of workers outside your company that you may recruit from.
Reclassify work as dynamic jobs. Next, break down the work in your company into a set of dynamic jobs. These should be long- or short-term projects, with the skills required to do them.
Build a talent matching process. With both workers and work classified by skills, you can set up the process of matching available workers (from internal or external talent pools) to available work. This will be a near constant process as workers are available from completing a prior job, or from a disruption occurring, or from recruiting.
Following this playbook will set your company up for success in our rapidly changing business environment. It fulfills both a business and moral imperative: business resilience in the face of disruption, and worker transition in the face of disruption. Those who start this process now will be set to succeed in the 21st-century business environment. Those who don’t will likely wish they had in a few years.