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It’s never been more difficult to decide which skills people should be investing in to advance their careers, regardless of their field of expertise. 

There are, however, certain characteristics and practices that will serve HR professionals well no matter what comes next. With the right recipe of behaviors, staying relevant to the business and aligned with leadership will come more naturally. 

A certain amount of doubt, discomfort or fear is likely to be part of anyone’s career journey when major changes occur. 

Skills and knowledge that used to be super important might suddenly feel outdated, leaving people wondering where they stand. But uncertainty is a great driver of growth and innovation for businesses, so why should career paths be any different?

How Do You Stay Ready for the Future?

The simple answer to this question is to stay curious and consistent in your learning. Curiosity will take you a long way in your career and will keep you relevant. It will help you ensure that you're not just surviving - you're thriving, no matter what curveballs come your way!

Whether you're an individual contributor, a manager, or a leader of a company, fostering curiosity and consistency begins with you. Before you can inspire change in others, you must first undergo your own transformation.

Let's kick things off by pondering a simple question.

Something New 

When was the last time you embarked on a challenge or journey that was entirely new? 

Take a moment to reflect on that...

This question encapsulates the essence of lifelong learning – the willingness to step outside of one's comfort zone and embrace new challenges. In today's job market, the ability to adapt and acquire new skills is essential for career success. 

But if we dig a little deeper, we can ask even more questions that as we answer, we can begin to refine our practices and make an impact on the business. 

  • When did you last stress-test your processes?
  • When was the last time you initiated a new approach, scrapping work in progress?
  • What aspirational milestones have you achieved in the past year?

Not sure what that looks like in action? Here are some examples that illustrate how you might already be seeing this happen.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

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Stress-testing processes

  • Financial Sector Stress Tests: Banks undergo stress tests to assess their ability to withstand economic downturns. These tests simulate extreme market conditions, helping institutions to identify vulnerabilities. The outcome often leads to strengthened financial positions and regulatory compliance, fostering trust among consumers and investors.
  • Software Load Testing: A tech company conducts load testing on their new cloud-based application, simulating thousands of users accessing the service simultaneously. This process uncovers bottlenecks and scalability issues, leading to optimizations that ensure a smooth user experience under heavy load, thereby increasing customer satisfaction.
  • Infrastructure Disaster Recovery Drills: A multinational corporation regularly performs disaster recovery drills, testing their ability to continue operations during catastrophic events (e.g., cyberattacks, natural disasters). These drills help the company refine their recovery strategies, minimizing potential downtime and ensuring business continuity in the face of real-world challenges.

Starting anew, scrapping work in progress

  • Software Development Pivot: A development team at a tech startup decided to scrap their initial project codebase after realizing it wouldn't scale for future growth. Starting anew, they adopted a more flexible framework, leading to a product that was more resilient, easier to update, and received positive feedback from users, boosting team morale and market competitiveness.
  • Marketing Campaign Overhaul: A marketing team halted their ongoing campaign to reassess their strategy after initial metrics suggested low engagement. By scrapping the work and starting with fresh, data-driven insights, they crafted a more targeted campaign that significantly increased engagement and sales, proving the value of adaptability and strategic planning in marketing success.
  • Product Design Reimagining: Facing usability issues and negative feedback during user testing, a product design team decided to go back to the drawing board with their new app interface. The decision to start over was pivotal as the redesigned app was not only more intuitive but also received accolades for innovation, leading to higher user satisfaction and a cohesive team proud of their achievement.

Aspirational milestones achieved

  • An engineering team reached their aspirational milestone of zero defects in a product release cycle. This achievement not only elevated the product's market reputation for quality but also boosted the team's morale and commitment to excellence.
  • A marketing team achieved its goal of doubling social media engagement within a quarter. This milestone significantly increased brand visibility and customer interaction, driving higher sales and fostering a culture of innovation within the team.
  • A project management team successfully implemented a new agile workflow ahead of schedule, achieving their aspirational milestone. This led to faster product iterations, improved team collaboration, and a more responsive development process, enhancing overall productivity and product quality.

Staying Relevant in a Tech-Driven World

Previously, the World Economic Forum estimated that 54% of employees require significant reskilling and upskilling to meet the demands of emerging technologies. That was before the arrival of generative AI. 

What does this mean for the whole organization? 

At every level, from junior employees to executives, fostering a culture of curiosity and continuous learning is paramount. For each level, however, it looks a bit different. 

Junior employees 

This group should focus on building a strong foundation of core skills relevant to their field, while also exploring emerging technologies and trends.

According to LinkedIn's 2021 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. This includes front-line employees, a group that is often under-invested in. 

When thinking about what skills junior employees should focus on, it's important to start with the basics. At first, they should really nail down things like communication, time management, and problem-solving - the stuff that's key for their job. Then, as they get more experience, they can dive deeper into specific areas they're interested in, like data analysis, project management, or technical skills.

But it's not just about getting really good at one thing - they should also keep an eye on what's happening in their industry and be open to learning new things. Being flexible and able to adapt to changes in technology and trends will help them keep growing in their career. 

Mid-level employees 

Middle managers and those on a path toward advancing their careers should seek opportunities to deepen their expertise in their chosen field while also solidifying their leadership and communication skills. 

According to a 2023 survey by Deloitte, 86% of executives believe that developing leadership skills in employees is an urgent or important priority. By investing in their personal and professional growth, mid-level employees can position themselves for advancement into key positions. 

Tips to help mid-level employees 

  • Find the right medium for education: Attend conferences, read, listen to podcasts - these are great ways to learn, network, and explore things you might not have been aware of and help you shift your mindset.
  • Join leadership communities: Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can be a game changer for all levels. Online communities provide an opportunity to actively participate, share your experiences, and absorb the wisdom of others. 
  • Engage with a mentor and/or a coach: Everyone at some point in their careers needs a soundboard, someone who can provide objective feedback and create a safe space where we can think out loud. Look for individuals who are the right fit for these engagements, not all mentors and coaches are made equal. Find one that aligns with your goals, values, and overall personality.

When it comes to specific skills, middle managers should focus on honing leadership skills, whether it's by learning how to motivate their team, delegate tasks effectively, or handle tough conversations. They should also work on their communication skills, making sure they can clearly convey their ideas and goals to their team.

Should they specialize? 

It's all about finding the right balance. They should definitely deepen their expertise in their chosen field, but they should also stay open to learning new things and exploring different areas. Being too narrow-minded can limit their opportunities for growth.

Taking a step back and thinking about the bigger picture can be pretty helpful too. Getting a bit philosophical about their work can help them see things from a different perspective and come up with innovative solutions to the challenges they face.

Executives and senior leaders 

This crew's got a big job. They're the ones who have to make sure their workplace is all about learning. And you know what? They have to lead the charge, showing their teams that growing and learning never stops.

It is only through leading by example that leaders can inspire their teams to do the same when it comes to growth and continuous learning.

A study by Harvard Business Review found that organizations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes.

When it comes to skills, these leaders need to be a jack-of-all-trades. They have to be good at setting the tone for learning, sure, but they also need to be top-notch at communication, problem-solving, and motivating their teams.

And they shouldn't be afraid to mix things up. They need to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things, even if it means stepping out of their comfort zone. After all, leading by example means showing that it's okay to embrace change and try new things, both at work and in taking care of ourselves physically and mentally.

Change is Scary, but Your Brain is Powerful

If you are thinking this is a lot to focus on and change in the way we operate and behave at work – you are not wrong. But it is also possible for each one of us. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of the human brain is its capacity for neuroplasticity – the ability to reorganize and adapt in response to new experiences. By engaging in activities that challenge the brain, such as learning a new language or mastering a new tech platform or even getting better at public speaking, which many of us have to do in the workplace, individuals can enhance their cognitive abilities and improve their capacity for learning.

According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, engaging in mentally stimulating activities can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older adults – so this is not only good for your career and organization, but for your longevity! 

Preparing for the future of work requires a proactive approach to learning and adaptation. By cultivating a mindset of curiosity, creativity, and continuous learning, individuals can not only remain relevant in the workplace but also thrive in an ever-changing environment. 

As the renowned futurist Alvin Toffler once said, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Want to learn how other leaders and HR practitioners are challenging themselves to learn and adapt to the constant changes of people operations work? Join the People Managing People community! A network of leaders and thinkers dedicated to sharing their experiences and insights is just the tool you need to future-proof your career.

By Elena Agaragimova

Elena Agaragimova is passionate about human potential. She crafts transformative talent development programs and talent pipelines with her unique blend of empowerment and empathy. An entrepreneur at heart, Elena co-founded Bloom Youth and launched Bessern, both tech solutions aimed at enhancing skills and well-being. Beyond her professional life, Elena dedicates time to mentor young professionals and assist military veterans in transitioning to corporate roles.