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Employee Skills for the Global Economy

Submitted by  on December 4th, 2010

In its AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey report, the American Management Association (AMA) and P21 highlight the concerns of managers about equipping their employees with the skills they need to compete in today’s global economy. The survey was rolled out to 2,115 AMA member managers and executives and to their customer organizations.

The key message from the survey is that if businesses are to compete effectively now and into the future, employees will need to move beyond competency in the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic). Respondents to the survey pointed to their increasing focus in their employee development programs on the four Cs. These are:

  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • creativity and innovation

Executives and managers were asked for their reasons for thinking that these skills were essential to taking their organization forward. In order of importance, here are their key reasons:

  • pace of change in business today (91%)
  • global competitiveness (86.5%)
  • nature of how work is accomplished today (77.5%)
  • way organizations are structured (66.3%)

All of these reasons should reverberate with you. We continue to witness the extreme volatility of local economies and the global economy. In response, governments everywhere are rewriting the legislative environment that businesses must work in. With the continuing growth of the internet and mind boggling advances in technology, nothing stands still; even the stuff you try to bolt down. Outsourcing and insourcing continue their cycle, demanding non-stop negotiation and collaboration. Not to mention the demand for flatter organizational structures and the increasing employee empowerment that requires.

Within all of this mix, the nature of the manager-employee relationship is changing rapidly. The days of command-and-control style leadership are numbered as we are asking employees to take on more responsibility and innovation. Managers are finding they need to change their skill set along with frontline workers.

In this respect, I am very pleased to see that executives and managers regard these new skills, the four Cs, as critical competencies for all employees at all levels of the organization. A sign of this importance is perhaps the number of organizations that assess the skill levels of their employees in these areas. According to the survey, the percentage of organizations evaluating each competency during the employee performance appraisal process is as follows:

  • communication skills (80.4%)
  • critical thinking (72.4%)
  • collaboration (71.2%)
  • creativity (57.3%)

One question to ponder is how much of these assessments are based on the somewhat subjective evaluations of managers (e.g., a score on a Likert scale) and how many are based on data gathering and objective testing. The looseness of the data is to some extent illustrated by how respondents rated the actual skill levels of their employees.

  • For communication skills, 38.1% of respondents regarded their employees as above average, whilst 51.4% rated them as average.
  • For creativity and innovation skills, 37.4% of respondents rated their employees as above average, whilst 46.9% rated them as average.
  • For critical thinking skills, 51.9% of respondents regarded their employees as above average, whilst 41.9% rated them as average.
  • For collaboration and team building skills, 46.7% of respondents rated their employees as above average, whilst 42% rated them as average.

Besides being difficult to determine what “average” means, the lack of differentiation in the results makes it difficult to draw sound conclusions about the competency levels for these critical skills. I suspect that the vagueness of the survey question is a telling reflection of the lack of rigor in the way skill levels are measured in our organizations.

And what methods are organizations using today to bring these skills up to the next level? Respondents to the survey identified these methods as the most effective in improving competency levels. In order of effectiveness, they are:

  • one-on-one coaching and mentoring
  • professional development and training
  • in-house job training
  • job rotation

I am surprised that coaching and mentoring get the top rank as employing a coach or mentor can be quite expensive. Rolling out a coaching program and equipping managers across the organization with coaching skills can also be a big drain on the budget.

All up, three in four (75.7%) of respondents to the survey agreed that the four Cs will become even more critical to their organization’s success in the next three to five years. What is your organization doing to improve competency levels in these four skill areas? Are you measuring your employees’ skill levels? How are you assessing your progress in competency development?


management and business coaching

If you need help in equipping your managers with the skills they need to compete in the global marketplace, then check out our Management Coaching Program. The program is designed to assist you get from where you are now to where you would like to be. Areas in which this program can help you include management and leadership, career planning, workplace generational issues and small business coaching. Find out more about our Management Coaching Program and download an information brochure.

Posted in Change, Communication, Performance, Research, Training | Comments (0)

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