Two of the recurring organizational behaviour terms and conversations that have emerged during the 2020 pandemic have surrounded the need to “upskill” employees and maximize “human capital.” These are by no means new terms, but they have gained a lot of traction because of two major trends: layoffs and digitization. The economic downturn has prompted businesses to make major changes to their labor forces, both in the form of downsizing (or indefinite layoffs), and with how they train and deploy personnel throughout the organization.
Upskilling your employees and maximizing your human capital doesn’t require huge time or financial investments. There are resources, and even free courses online that you can use to equip your people with the skills they need to excel at their jobs, excel in a digital workplace, and better understand how their role fits into the overall organizational structure and operations. Superior communication, cybersecurity, cross-skilling, important digital core competencies and stress management are easy to learn and implement.
Your people are both your biggest cost and your biggest asset as a business owner and team leader, which is why equipping them with the skills and competencies they need to maximize the value they add to the organization is crucial. Below are some easy ways you can upskill and better nurture and exploit your human capital right now.
1. Work on Daily Communication Upskilling
Good communication is the core of all successful interactions. Poor communication can send the wrong message, cause people to infer the wrong meaning, ruin relationships, make a person or an organization look bad and, in general, lead to all kinds of inefficiencies.
Not everyone is born with the same language skills, written or spoken, and with a globalized labour market and an increasingly globalized workforce in many industries, not everyone has English as their first language. You can make vocabulary building and written communication development fun by incorporating daily language activities like scrabble games into your routine (e.g., morning emails).
Another good way to easily upskill and build your team’s communication potential is to share interesting industry-related media and literature with them on a regular basis. If you have team Slack channels or other mediums of communication you use, sending news media and press releases from cutting edge online periodicals, papers and journals get your people reading, and exposes them to important industry terminology and jargon.
2. Improve Their Cybersecurity Understanding
Data breaches and theft constitute one of, if not the biggest threat to modern businesses, especially as digitization picks up the pace. What’s more, it is more often than not an organization’s people who constitute the biggest threat to cybersecurity. Whether through ignorance or carelessness, human error in the realm of cybersecurity can cost a company dearly.
Because of this, many businesses are beginning to take their employees’ cybersecurity education more seriously. There is a wealth of free information and even courses online, in addition to paid professional development and education, that can make your people much more capable defenders of the company’s data and sensitive information.
Malware, ransomware and phishing techniques are constantly evolving, and the cat and mouse game played by cybercriminals and the authorities leads to ingenious new scams being created all the time. Let your employees know about the threats, the consequences and how they can mitigate them at work, outside of work and from wherever they happen to be working.
3. Schedule Cross-Skilling Days
One of the most meaningful things any organization can do to maximize their human capital is to equip their employees with the skills needed to do and understand one another’s jobs. Agile management is another 21st-century organizational behaviour term that has made an impact on the business world, and it refers to a company or industry’s ability to remain flexible and responsive to change.
Cross-skilling days are those when employees are encouraged or even asked to sit with a coworker, or perhaps even several throughout the day, and exchange knowledge. The point of these information exchanges is for employees, and especially people who work in different functions, but who communicate and interact with one another on a regular basis, to gain a more holistic understanding of the organization, how it functions, and how the various components work together.
It is also to ingrain an understanding of the various “mission critical” tasks and functions of various roles. Knowing what coworkers need to do their job well, whether they are on the same team or in a completely different department, helps employees better comprehend the cause and effect reactions and relationships that exist between different operational units.
4. Schedule Digital Skills PD Days
There are core digital skills that any employee in any industry needs to be able to effectively and efficiently navigate an increasingly digital workplace. At the end of the day, these are skills which have a direct link to and impact on productivity. They include: platform flexibility, search and research, digital etiquette, and an ability to work with documents.
Platform flexibility refers to an ability to navigate between and use a growing number of different operating systems, softwares, and devices that are increasingly relied upon in the modern digital workplace. Knowing the correct and most efficient paths to take through these programs (such as workflow and communication software, Microsoft Office and Teams, Google Documents and others) are skills that can be improved upon and mastered.
Search and research refers to those needed to locate and make good use of information either online, in company databases, or both simultaneously. Search and research skills are important because they are proxies for how fast an employee is able to find and make use of information. Research skills include not only knowing where to look for information, but how to quickly parse it and accurately synthesize it into something useful.
Digital etiquette refers to employees’ understanding of things like digital copyright laws and compliance regulations that protect an organization from potential lawsuits. This kind of employee upskilling can be done easily, via email, and by requesting that all employees read and, if necessary, sign documents that commit them to best digital etiquette practices.
An ability to work with documents includes, for example, knowing how to use the core features of all of the Microsoft Office suite programs. There are great free Excel courses, for instance, that dramatically improve your ability to use the program, and therefore your data organizing, parsing and presentation capabilities.
5. Stress Management Education
Another important, but often neglected aspect of workplace success and productivity is an individual’s ability to manage stress. With any job, there are usually periods of high-stress, if not every day, at least every week, and certainly at various peak times throughout the year.
In order to thrive under pressure while also maintaining good mental health, employees need to be equipped with stress management techniques that can help them control their thoughts and stay focused. Mindfulness training is something most people could stand to incorporate into their lives, especially people who frequently find themselves succumbing to stress, or who would like to be better managers of stress. Employees and team members who can handle pressure are always assets.
At the end of the day, an organization is only as strong as its people. Employees come in with varying skill sets and abilities, but every person, no matter how impressive, can always improve. Even small changes in understanding and capability can have massive personal and organizational impacts. The above methods are simple, universally applicable across industries and, if implemented earnestly and with good intentions, will help upskill employees and truly maximize their human capital.
1. How should organizations approach upskilling with respect to commensurate pay increases?
2. Are more intensive and formal kinds of upskilling (such as higher education and specialized credentials) more important than the aforementioned ones?