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The Changing Role Of Managers In A Skills-First World

60% of HR leaders say manager effectiveness is their top goal for 2023, according to Gartner, with 24% saying their leadership development approach doesn’t prepare leaders for the future of work.

But what does it mean to be an effective people manager in today’s world? What will the future workforce need from our managers?

The future of work

At Beamery, we believe the future of work involves taking a skills-first approach: one where people are matched to opportunities (roles, projects, training) based on the things they can do, or things they could do, and ‘jobs’ are broken down into the skills needed to get the tasks done.

Focused on capability and potential rather than experience or educational attainment – or personal contacts – this prioritization of skills provides a common, objective way to assess talent. It also leads to more agile ways of working. And it requires that the whole organization (not just HR) adopts a new perspective.

It emphasizes the importance of an environment that prioritizes skills acquisition, utilization, and retention. In such an organization, people managers play a crucial role in creating and sustaining the skills-first culture.

Spotting (and closing) skills gaps

People managers are responsible for identifying the skills that the organization needs to succeed. They play a crucial role in conducting skills audits, analyzing the existing skills gaps and needs, and working with employees to create a roadmap for skills development.

By identifying the skills gaps in the workforce, people managers can help design a targeted skills development plan that is tailored to the specific needs of the organization. And, by creating an environment that prioritizes skills development, people managers can motivate employees to take an active role in their own skills acquisition.

Indeed, taking a step back from “managing” and thinking about facilitating – about how you can give your team what it needs to gain skills and unlock potential – is a crucial aspect of being a manager in a skills-first environment.

Ask how you can help employees do their own jobs better — and listen to the suggestions. Create low-risk spaces for employees to think of new ideas. Avoid being an ‘umbrella manager’ and you’ll find your team can start solving problems without you – which is crucial if you want to move faster.

Shifting to a coach mindset

“Servant leadership emphasizes that the responsibility of a leader is to increase the ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of followers — to encourage them to think for themselves and try out their own ideas.” Dan Cable

In a future-focused, skills-first organization, talent is more easily deployed and redeployed to where it is needed most. Skills are matched with tasks; jobs become more about their discrete elements, and employees are more able to move around.

Within such an organization, the roles of managers and leaders change. They go from managing employees to ensuring the relevant skills are applied to relevant projects, tasks, gigs, or problems to be solved. Influencing, and the empowerment of others, takes on more importance than straightforward “power” or organizational hierarchy. To ensure a business can be truly agile, managers need to enable employees to make their own decisions, within a clear framework, quickly.

On top of all this, managers need to get comfortable with sharing talent across teams for the greater good of the business, rather than hoarding it.

Looking at the bigger picture

“In the future, what will be happening is that line managers will be network accelerators and real kind of drivers of relationships that go absolutely across the enterprise.” Stephen Lochhead, Expedia Group

It’s often been the case that managers with great people on their teams will do whatever it takes to keep them – regardless of whether the individual is looking to try something new. This type of ‘talent hoarding’ is particularly unhelpful in companies looking to become more agile via a skills-first approach, redeploying skills to where they are most needed.

As Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis say, “Managers who optimize for individual performance are likely to become more territorial about their talent. By keeping the “best” people on their team, they achieve the best outcomes. However, this is often to the detriment of individuals’ career development and the organization’s ability to access its own talent. The unfortunate outcome is that the people managers most want to retain feel constrained and become more likely to leave, risking the performance metrics they were so keen to protect in the first place.”

Being adaptable, and building teams who are resilient and agile, creates a flywheel: “Such adaptable environments are more likely to attract top talent who will have a greater chance of success and, in turn, be more likely to perpetuate a cycle of resilience,” according to McKinsey.

Communicating & collaborating

When people managers identify employees with promise, they will be involved in coaching, mentoring, and providing regular feedback on their progress towards fulfilling their potential. By investing in the development of these employees, people managers can create a talent pipeline that ensures the organization has a pool of skilled and capable leaders to draw from in the future.

As good people managers “unlock” the skills and potential of employees – by creating opportunities for them to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues – they help to build a culture of continuous learning, but also foster a sense of community and collaboration within the organization.

A solid relationship with HR will also be important for people managers, in a world where employees move around, try different types of learning programs, and look for opportunities that match their skills, interests, desires and potential.

In a skills-first environment, managers need certain skills to succeed – and these will change from company to company. But it will always be important to empower employees to upskill, reskill, move around and develop, and make connections across the organization. That’s when everyone wins.