How not to be obsolete in 2020

Eight hundred million people will be out of a job by 2030 as the rise of the machines replaces humans as a source of cheap labour.

The alarming figures – released my global consultancy McKinsey in November 2017 – found certain jobs were more vulnerable to automation including mortgage brokers, accountants and other back-office functions.

Meanwhile jobs with the human touch – such as lawyers, teachers and doctors – were less likely to be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence. Yet irrespective of one’s profession, the impending threat of obsolescence reminds one of the need to re-evaluate one’s skills.

Clearly retraining and learning new skills such as coding, will improve one’s relevance in today’s tech-heavy world, but the same can be said of personal skills, too.

Over the next series of articles, we will explore the 30 skills any successful businessperson or entrepreneur needs to make their enterprise a success both in terms of profits and culture.

Human touch

Even in the most automated industries we still need people. A factory dominated by robots has engineers and IT specialists who rely on managers to oversee the operation and to motivate and drive them.

In customer service, too, the human touch is critical. Job automation makes sense in terms of managing costs, but it is not always welcome from the end user’s point of view. Anyone has used an automated call centre can share an experience of the frustration when the system is unable to respond effectively to their needs. If a complaint is escalated, a robot will likely make the issue worse, meaning humans are very far from obsolete here.

Even as artificial intelligence improves, we need humans working alongside technology to sense check, to guide and to control.

And those humans need particular skills. Even in the most technologically focused companies – the latest entrepreneurial start-ups for example – leaders recognise that their staff not only need first rate coding skills, but they must also exhibit the right personality traits to match the firm’s culture.

It is at the very top, however, where skillsets need to be most refined. The best CEOs and business leaders have high emotional intelligence and good interpersonal and communication skills. However, these are not necessarily innate. Just like learning another skill, one must work at it to be the best [see this earlier article for a detailed look at skills.

Improving profits and people

We can liken this to the world class footballer. First, they must learn the rule, then they can move on to establish the basic skills, before working on building their talent through coaching, training and hard work.

Every World Cup player this year – irrespective of natural ability – will have refined their skill over time, revisiting and improving day on day, week on week.

This is process is exactly the same in business.

When I work with CEOs who are looking to overcome a challenge – for example hiring and retaining the best staff – we agree a set of goals. A skill is essentially useless without a goal; why learn to do anything well if you never put it into practise? We need to skilfully manage our emotions to meet the goal of not losing one’s temper. We need to be skilful parents to achieve a goal of happy children. We need to be able to hold useful appraisals if we want productive staff.

The next stage is to build the right skills against which progress is measured. Gradually business leaders can achieve a high level of skill that delivers both success in terms of improving profits but also in driving a better culture throughout the organisation.

The more skills an individual practises and refines, the more rounded and successful they become as a businessperson. Clearly, the leader who can listen and then give productive feedback will hold a more effective appraisal than one who can merely listen.

Our series of articles will cover the ten requisite skills every businessperson must master to be successful across the three areas:

  1. How to interact with others;
  2. How to interact with oneself;
  3. How to interact with systems and processes, for example banking and insurance.

The pace of change in business is fast and technology is altering the way we work forever. However, it is not technology – at least not yet – that determines the ultimate success of an organisation. Rather it is the skillsets held by the individuals within that organisation that really make the difference.

Humans are far from dispensable, but they are far from perfect either.

The most effective organisations will be led by those who prepare for change, embrace it and continually hone their skills to be ready not just for what today but also the future.

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