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5 Key Questions: Winning the Skills Game

Management Futures
December 5, 2023

What will it take to succeed in the world of work – now and in the years to come?

We put 5 key questions to Louise Taylor Walls (our Head of Coaching), Matt Driver (our Head of Coach Skills Development) and Simon Eastwood (our Head of Leadership Skills) to understand what they are seeing happening with individuals, teams and organisations.

1. According to the World Economic Forum, experts are predicting that people in the future will not have just one career, but many, and that it is their core skills that will count most. What evidence of this do you see in your coaching and skills development work?

One of the most common topics that people bring to coaching is career transition. People are becoming more aware of the impact their career is having on their wellbeing and wanting to better align their work to their personality and what drives them. There’s been a notable shift to taking a more holistic approach, beyond previous focuses of status and financial factors, to finding a true sense of purpose. When you understand your own values, motivators and ‘super strengths’ – the things you’re both great at and give you energy – and align your work to these, that’s when you perform at your best in a sustainable way.

Skills around how we communicate and the impact we have on others, are of course instantly transferable. They are often the differentiator when people of equal technical ability apply for the same job. People who regularly attend leadership and communication skills training seem to stand out.

It’s not a prediction, this has been a reality for many years. Many, even most, of the people who attend our coach skills programmes see this skillset as part of a move into a new career or establishing a portfolio career. Coaching skills are a fantastic asset as you move on or expand. I don’t see it as having just core skills but being able to expand skills and learn new ones. Old fashioned ideas like ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ have been shown not to apply to human beings!

2. Success across multiple careers will demand that we will need to be Lifelong Learners. What does that mean for you individually and how can your coaching or training support Lifelong Learning?

If I’m not challenging myself with learning new skills and growing my knowledge, I feel like I’m going backwards, as we forget things we’ve learnt but no longer use. Coaching is a very targeted method of self-development. It provides time and space for self-reflection and gaining self-awareness, meets you where you are in that moment and is forward-focused on effecting the change that you need. It allows you to get really clear on what it is you want to achieve and what you need to do to get there.

I am a lifelong learner, even after 30 plus years working as a trainer and coach. It’s the new insights and practical skills exercises that I am able to learn myself and then impart that keeps what I do fresh and ever evolving.

Many traditional careers have focused on knowledge or technical skills. But the secret to long-term learning is to develop life skills. In fact, becoming a coach helps you build these. For example, the skills of listening. Many people say or think they are good listeners but they’re not because they know some of the theory but can’t do it in practice. Good coaching skills learning helps you to actually use the skills, not just talk about them.

3. Thriving businesses adopt new technologies at pace (eg cloud technology, big data, AI) and continue to adapt to flexible working requirements. How have you seen this impact your clients, and what is the secret to being able to thrive through change?

It does feels like there’s a tsunami of technological innovation and change coming our way right now, and keeping up with it is daunting. Of course there are many benefits to these developments, and the pace of it can sometimes be overwhelming. Some people thrive on change and for others it can be a derailer. It’s common for people to fear the unknown and the loss of control that comes with change and this can be a significant stressor.  

It can really help to firstly understand how you personally respond to change, what triggers any negative responses and what you can do to practise self-care. As mentioned, lack of understanding and a feeling of loss of control are often the cause of stress - so how can you improve your knowledge about new technologies or other changes happening?

Clearly the advent of e-learning and online training, largely driven by the pandemic, means we can deliver training and coaching at pace in innovative and flexible ways. Now people from all corners of the world can attend our interactive skills-based training in ways they would not have been able to. It also significantly reduces travel and time away from work costs. For me, AI working as a co-facilitator, for example on presentation skills training, is an area I am exploring - its ability to measure and give live data driven feedback on, pace, intonation and so forth would offer a new dimension.

Technological innovation can be a powerful aid to business success but new technology can become burdensome and alienate people. New tech is not only adopted by thriving businesses but often by poor businesses which hope it will solve all their problems. For example, tracking staff absence and turnover doesn’t solve the problem. The business still needs high level people skills. It’s how people are treated, not the tech which affects people’s intention to stay or go.  

Again in one NHS survey, developing coaching skills and offering coaching to staff was shown to reduce turnover.

4. The Future of Jobs Report 2023 concludes that analytical thinking and creative thinking remain the most important skills for workers in 2023. How do you demonstrate these skills in your own work, and what encouragement can you give to those wanting to grow in these areas?

Analytical thinking and creative thinking are two very different skills, which use different parts of the brain. People that are good at one are often not great at the other. Personally, I’m highly analytical and this comes naturally for me in just about everything I do, however being creative takes more effort. I need to be purposeful about creating the right head space, and practice also helps a lot. Coaching requires both skills – deeply listening to your client and breaking down their spoken and unspoken communication into logical components can be quite analytical. We also need to be highly creative with asking powerful questions that help a client think differently about a topic and bring new insights.    

The first step in advancing these skills is getting clear on what you want to work on and why. Developing yourself takes work, so understanding how this will benefit you is important as you can remind yourself of this when the going gets tough! Then get proactive about creating opportunities to practise and develop these skills.  

Working with clients to make the training and coaching bespoke to their needs requires a lot of creative and analytical thinking - starting with what is the desired outcome and working back from there. How are we going to measure success? How are we going to ensure people remain accountable for delivering on their goals? How do we refine our input and skills training to the specific needs of the people in the room? Often when delivering training and coaching, there is a need to think on one’s feet and adapt, in the moment, to what the group or individual feels is most pressing to address. It’s often when you come off script that you are at your most creative.

These (very different) skills are important but the further you move up within an organisation, the more your interpersonal skills make a difference. From experience in many sectors, learning to coach well is perhaps the most powerful way to develop as a leader.

5. What is the number one skill that you think people will need to thrive in the future world of work?

Like Simon, I think people skills will be key and are the core competence that is transferable to any role. Trust is the foundation that allows you to build relationships, and great relationships smooth the path to getting things done.

Interpersonally, I think the number one skill is relationship management. How do people feel as a result of being in my company and how do I help others to be the best they can be?

The skills of building trust and relationship management include the ability to build rapport with people.That means making them feel comfortable, allowing them to feel safe with you, listening in depth and being able to play back to them what they have said without immediately adding your own spin. It's about being able to formulate really good questions which enable somebody to think and express themselves well rather than just answer your questions and feel put on the spot. For me, these are all fundamentals of coaching and they’re all core skills that we help people learn in our coach skills programmes.

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