September 2020

Upskilling: Questions and Answers

Russell J. Barcelona, Ph.D.

Q1: What are effective assessment tools to identify internal candidates for upskilling?

Interesting question…let’s turn this one on its head. First, what is truly different between the circumstances of upskilling and taking on that first job, whether on the frontline or in professional settings? Instead of thinking of the tools (sorry, hate the word), the assessments used to help predict whether an individual has the capability to upskill needs to start by examining the issue(2) in three ways:

  1. What current skills/behaviors prove to be transferrable to the target role that requires upskilling? (Example: Conscientiousness)
  2. What current skills/behaviors would likely detract from performance in the target role? (Example: Task Routinization)
  3. What skills/behaviors are not demanded in the current role; yet, are critical to the target position? (Example: Multi-disciplinary Collaboration)

So, while the answer is not fully satisfying, we, at Ascend Talent Strategies, suggest you first analyze the current and target positions and understand the “criteria” or gaps that exist before you seek the “tool.” Then, you can choose your assessment(s) wisely with good science and sound human resource practice as your foundation.

Q2: What are the ways to remove bias from that process?

This topic has been longstanding, weighty, and not always constructively addressed in the assessment of people within the workplace. It is a complex question and, therefore, no easy answers exist that can resolve the inequities (blatant, subtle, and systemic) that are present in our society/culture. But, let me provide this guidance at the risk of making half the audience unhappy and half the audience indifferent.

  1. After deciding what criteria (skills and behaviors) are important to success, choose methodologies that have robust reliability (measure accurately) because, without reliability, your conclusions have limited to no validity (i.e., practical value and application).
  2. Second and stated simply, examine the level of skill or behavior that meets a minimum requirement especially in the areas of new or novel learning or behavioral habits for the target job. Too often the hiring entity sets the bar way over what is reasonably required for an individual to successfully perform in the role.
  3. Leverage assessments that have robust reliability and fidelity with the target role. When possible, invest in a “realistic” assessment process that allows incumbents to solve problems, collaborate in a “cellular unit,” and/or address a gnarly customer complaint.

Q3: How to encourage managers’ willingness to develop and potentially lose talented team members?

Again, wish I had a silver bullet to resolve this age-old problem. Let’s start from the source—the organizational culture. Sorry, back to a list of three!

  1. Select leaders who have humility and empathy. More specifically, look for leaders that share knowledge versus weaponizing information and seeking to use knowledge for self-serving intent.
  2. As both an organization and organizational culture, identify how to effectively reinforce the “people developers.” Examine and use the results of engagement surveys to provide resources (not just compensation and perks) to those who sorely need to learn how to develop talent. In brief, you need to acknowledge the value of a leader beyond just the bare minimum of “making the numbers.”
  3. Karma… (ok, this is taking the easy way out or not?) If the organizational culture reinforces the “talent developers” and admonishes (no matter what short-term profitability exists) those who seek to exploit and manipulate talented individuals, this question would be even more pertinent.

As a sidebar to the above, we have worked in organizations where a leader took credit for other’s work or did not share their talented people across silos. When they left, either voluntarily or involuntarily, their peers/coworkers say; “It’s about time”.

Plus, the fear of betraying the recalcitrant leader likely did not foster the environment of safety, growth, and prosperity of the organization. Lastly, think of the opportunity costs of not developing talented people to populate your organization.

Russell J. Barcelona, Ph.D.

Ascend Talent Strategies, Inc.

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