The Changing Landscape of Work: A CMO’s Perspective

June 17, 2020 | Activate Learning | 6 min read

Until a few months ago, digital transformation was a long-term goal for most organizations. However, the global pandemic forced us all to jump ahead. We had to accommodate remote work, update network infrastructure, shore up cybersecurity, and more — seemingly overnight.

Along with all this change, it’s no surprise that there is an immense need for continual skilling, learning, and even unlearning.

Last week, I was invited to speak on behalf of Skillsoft at the NASSCOM VirtualFest in a webinar focused on Building a Future-Ready Framework: The Changing Landscape of Work. Joined by Sandeep Dadlani, Amnah Ajmal, and Paddy Upton, we had a great discussion moderated by Vikash Jain about how digital transformation and technology are playing a pivotal role in the evolution of the workforce and culture.

The following sentiment from Sandeep really resonated with me. “Pre-pandemic, companies like Mars were always on a digital transformation," he explained. "In a crisis within an organization, you stop debating and focus on what is possible and how do we get it done. For a business, understanding what your customers and consumers want has become even more important, so we have started listening more carefully.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, customer-centricity is at the heart of Skillsoft and SumTotal. Right now, the reality for all organizations is change and disruption. Our mission throughout the last few months has been to help our customers navigate the complexities of shifting entire workforces to virtual work and to deliver the support employees need to make a smooth transition. How have we been doing this? By listening.

Agile Mindsets and Teams Lead to Success

The rate of change is so rapid that we're experiencing seismic shifts shaped by technology. To keep pace, our marketing organization has transformed to Agile. For us, Agile is valuable because it is iterative. Our teams are purposefully designed to listen to various market needs and navigate change. Agile is typically associated with co-located, office-based teams and stand ups in hallways, but, we’ve been able to transform our methods of communication and collaboration amidst the pandemic by using tools like Asana, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams.

This shift wasn’t always easy. Taking our in-person event that generally catered to hundreds and transforming it into a global 24-hour digital experience attended by tens of thousands required us to accelerate our adoption of Agile. We had to be adaptable. When we started planning Perspectives 2020, we had five teams or Squads — the different subgroups operating within a project — but by the time Perspectives actually kicked off May 13th, we ended up with seven.

This was a growing experience for the team, and for myself. However, in all honesty, there were more than a few moments where I was thinking, "This may have been too ambitious.” The fact that we were able to pull off operating in Agile — for the first time — to plan and execute an unprecedented virtual experience was a massive achievement. Perspectives 2020 was also so successful because it delivered exactly what individual learners were missing and craving—a shared learning experience that fostered connection and networking among virtual attendees at a time when all in-person events were sidelined.

Keeping Pace with Evolving Skills

We’ve all experienced nearly instantaneous digital transformation. It has forced industries around the world to change the way we work and to recognize what must endure and what must change. It all comes down to changing work flows and how people work and also upgrading peoples’ skills at scale.

Let me give you an example. I’m not sure that even five years ago, we knew what an "AI Conversational Analyst" was. But now, a quick Google search reveals a large number of job opportunities for that very role. This illustrates the challenge we in the learning and talent profession face. We can't develop training for the jobs of tomorrow, because we don't know what those jobs will be. According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist.

In a recent Digital IQ research, PWC discovered the key ingredients that help companies generate payback and get significant value out of their digital investments: product innovation, the customer experience, and people. In fact, PWC goes on to suggest that companies need to make people their superpower, spending more to upskill, recruit differently, attract, and keep the best talent. The most successful companies have upended their training processes and continuously improved them.

Adapt Research, a firm out of Australia, did a survey in February to ascertain the top priorities for CIOs this year. Very few of those priorities focused on technology itself. Instead, the number one priority was staff upskilling and training. Why? Because skills, like AI and Blockchain, are rare to find but in high demand.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t acknowledge the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has highlighted the need for skills and competencies that weren’t on our radar at the beginning of the year. We've added courses on working remotely, leading virtual teams, time management, and personal productivity, and we’re seeing an increase in interest in the areas of emotional intelligence, leadership, and communications.

For me, this signals opportunity for us all to help create a future-fit, resilient workforce focused on developing competencies, not just job-specific skills. I know that job-specific skills are important, but I worry that the pendulum is going to swing too strongly to hard skills and miss the soft ones. We must build a culture of continuous learning that recognizes and nurtures us as whole people. There will always be competencies we develop over time through learning and experience. With continuous learning, we can transcend current events and be better prepared for the future, whatever it may be.

Maintaining Empathy in a Post-pandemic World

While continuous learning is of the utmost priority, the importance of team and company culture cannot be overlooked. In discussing the evolution of company culture, another one of Sandeep’s thoughts struck close to home. He noted that since the rise of the pandemic and employees shifting to remote work, there is a level of empathy we've never seen before. People are genuinely concerned about how their coworkers are doing from a physical and mental health perspective. Sandeep urged us to maintain this level of empathy and listening to one another as we transition back to post-pandemic life.

I wholeheartedly agree. We must continue to be there for each other, and human and emotional intelligence — perhaps the most important soft skills of all — will be our best guide.

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek is the Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft.

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