If only we had a crystal ball: mapping out the competencies needed for the coming decade

None of us can be sure what the future holds, but the work context will to be fluid, disruptive and fast moving. If individuals can demonstrate emerging and essential competencies for their role, they will be well positioned for successful performance across a range of jobs, says Dan Hughes

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as is foresight. Both of which have come under intense scrutiny during the recent select committee hearing on the government response to Covid -19. Looking back, it is interesting to see how a newly formed government had to function quickly as a team and react to several crises concurrently – global lockdowns, international distribution and limited manufacturing capacity. A lot was at stake in an environment that changed daily, had multiple interlinked elements, and where numerous factors were uncertain.

This is a high-profile example, but just one of many during the pandemic where organisations and teams had to navigate their way through a period of uncertainty and incredible change. It is also one of many instances over the last decade where organisations needed to respond to emerging events beyond their control. From the impact of digitalisation, through Brexit, to responding effectively to the pandemic, the speed at which organisations need to adapt is accelerating. As a result, the skills and competencies required of their people is also shifting.

Changing competencies in the world of work

Competencies have always been important. They support organisations, managers and employees to understand what behaviours are important for successful performance in a role. Competencies can provide a framework that informs everything from hiring, learning & development, and performance management strategies to company culture.

Importantly, competencies aren’t static. Recent seismic change is likely to shift which behaviours are crucial at work, and different competencies may emerge as we move forward over the next decade. While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can look ahead with an informed view and make predictions based on research. From extensive analysis into the Future of Work conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and other sources, combined with the emerging themes we have seen over the past 12 months, the competencies needed for success in the next decade could look quite different.

Looking back

To identify which competencies were particularly popular over the last decade, we analysed data from more than 10,000 360-degree feedback assessments from a wide variety of organisations around the world. We identified seven competencies that were most frequently included in these assessments:

  1. Coaching and developing others
  2. Results focus
  3. Customer focus
  4. Teamwork
  5. Proactive communication
  6. Organising and prioritising
  7. Interpersonal sensitivity

(Source: PSI Services 2021)

One observation stands out from this data. Five of the seven competencies most frequently assessed in the past decade reflect people-focused aspects of performance, but only two relate to task-focused factors – results focus and organising and prioritising. Also, there is little representation of competencies which enable agility and effective adaptation to continual change. This strong emphasis on relational aspects, such as teamwork and proactive communication, most likely reflects the substantial growth in collaboration and cross-functional project teams we have seen over the past 20 years.

Research shows collaborative working can now typically make up 80% of an employee’s work activities. However, over the last few years there has been increased recognition that there can be  potential risks of over-collaboration. This has been particularly noticeable in the last year, where we’ve seen concerns about the detrimental impact of continuous, back-to-back video meetings and Zoom fatigue on personal productivity, innovation and wellbeing.

With more companies likely to adopt flexible hybrid working models, this creates new challenges in how we connect with others on a human level. The competencies required by individuals to thrive in this new hybrid environment will need to adapt and change.

Looking forward

So, what could be important over the next decade? Here are seven top contenders, which we anticipate could rise to prominence in the post-pandemic, reshaped world of work:

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Learning agility
  3. Digital dexterity
  4. Building relationships
  5. Embracing diversity
  6. Resilience
  7. Change orientation

(Source: PSI Services 2021)

Firstly, critical thinking is the skill area with the most increasing demand from organisations, according to the WEF. Managers will need to be able to appraise data and information from a range of sources, quickly understand what is essential for decision-making, and objectively question ideas and assumptions. Additionally, people will need to combine this with learning agility, to be able to adjust approaches rapidly based on evaluating outcomes and feedback.

In the new hybrid working world, managers and individuals will need to focus more on building relationships and how they connect and collaborate effectively.  They will also need to seek out and actively embrace diversity to successfully create ideas and solve business challenges. Alongside this, they need to ensure people are treated fairly regardless of background and be willing to advocate and act where this is not happening. This extends to supporting an inclusive climate and involving everyone in the issues that matter to them, whether they are present in the office or not.

At the same time, digital dexterity has become just as important as people-orientation. The pace of technology adoption has accelerated as a result of the pandemic and is expected to increase. Artificial Intelligence and robotics are likely to impact more jobs, in different ways, in the future. New technology presents opportunities, but it also brings new challenges. Employees need to grasp and leverage new technologies rapidly, either through personal learning or by empowering others to achieve innovations and efficiencies.

Finally, the dramatic events over the last 12 months have put pressure on employee well-being and people’s capacity to deal with change effectively on a personal level. People will need to demonstrate personal resilience (alongside supportive leadership) to cope with setbacks and bounce back quickly. And with the growing impact of digitalisation set to change job requirements, organisational structures and operating models, employees will need to show positive change orientation – accepting what can and can’t be controlled, as well as embracing the opportunities that changes might present.

Whether digital or human focused, all of these new competencies signify openness and flexibility. In how we think, harness digitalisation, connect with others, and manage our wellbeing. Together, they provide a robust foundation for people to adapt positively to inevitable change, ambiguity, and complexity – enabling them to go from surviving to thriving at work and driving better business performance.

Uncertain future

We don’t have a crystal ball and none of us can be sure what the future holds. However, it is clear the work context will continue to be fluid, disruptive and fast moving. If individuals can demonstrate these top seven competencies, alongside other essential competencies for their role, they will be well positioned for successful performance across a wide range of jobs.

As we move into the post-pandemic world of work, organisations should keep these competencies front of mind as they update and evolve their talent hiring and development strategies, to help build a future-ready workforce.

Dan Hughes is the Director of International R&D at PSI Services and a chartered psychologist. He has more than 23 years’ experience in the research, design, implementation and evaluation of psychology solutions and technology for business, spanning volume hiring, talent assessment, leadership, and people development.


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