Technology is advancing at the fastest rate it has in human history. Almost all of the data we use was created after 2020, and more Americans own smartphones and computers than ever before. Additionally, 66 percent of U.S. cities are investing in IoT-based smart systems to better serve their populations.
The modern world may have embraced technology, but has the modern workplace? For most organizations, the Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call that digital transformation is imminent. According to Gartner, every business must now become a tech company in order to survive.
In today’s ever-changing technology landscape, you have to develop a systematic approach to upskilling your organization’s tech talent. But starting a skills development journey can be daunting for business leaders and individual contributors alike. During my time as a leader at Pluralsight, I’ve seen people’s learning preferences change from “Just give me access to learning, and I’ll figure it out” to “There is so much out there to learn, please help me know what to focus on.”
In our information-overloaded world, I’ve found that making skills development programmatic is the most reliable way to give your teams the tools they need to succeed. So, here are the four steps leaders should take to build a tech team that keeps pace with innovations.
4 Critical Steps for Building a World-Class Tech Team
- Align skill development with business outcomes.
- Try out a pilot program.
- Identify individualized skills needs.
- Make skills development programmatic.
1. Align Skill Development With Business Outcomes
One of the key tenets of empowered teams is that they understand what they’re being asked to accomplish and why. Additionally, having your entire engineering team on the same page regarding the project helps secure executive buy-in, which creates support for learning programs to achieve the desired results. Therefore, the first step in any organization’s upskilling journey is getting clear about the business objective you’d like to accomplish in the next one-to-three years that you don’t have the talent for today.
For example, the product team may be tasked with reducing the number and severity of security bugs in its applications or increasing uptime and decreasing operational costs by advancing your cloud deployment. By building up your team’s skills, the result can be higher customer satisfaction. It can also propel your team to innovate faster, connecting the dots between the company’s sales team and what customers want. Once the business objective is identified, make sure the entire organization knows what the focus is and why it’s going to positively impact both the company and the employee.
2. Try Out a Pilot Program
Most business leaders will tell you that an organization-level initiative or program needs a proof of concept, coupled with concrete data, to garner executive buy-in and, ultimately, to win adoption. This principle is absolutely true when it comes to implementing learning and development (L and D) and upskilling programs.
An effective way to ensure the success of an upskilling program is to pilot it within your organization first. Pilot programs allow for a lower-stakes debut for otherwise overwhelming initiatives. At Pluralsight, we have refined a four-step process for running a pilot program in tech skills development.
The first step in the pilot program is to identify an executive sponsor or champion who will make sure the pilot is implemented properly. This step is crucial because, without executive sponsorship, upskilling initiatives often flounder. Whether it’s the CTO, L and D leader or the CEO, the executive sponsor should work cross-functionally to identify the technologies they want to invest their organization’s upskilling resources in and pinpoint the specific skills that their workers need to master those technologies. They should also tie everything back to the company outcomes identified in step one.
The next phase of the pilot program is to begin preparing a proof of concept. To do this, your executive sponsor and their cross-functional partners should begin setting the parameters of your pilot study. What are its goals? What does success look like for this program? Which technologists should participate? Your leadership must be aligned with why the pilot program is needed and understand how it benefits the company before you get started.
The third phase is to actually run the pilot study. Plan for your program to run for about 90 days, with key milestones and check-ins for the participating technologists. Measure proficiency in the key skills you want participants to learn before and after they have gone through the skills development program. This will show you how successful the pilot was.
Finally, take the data you’ve garnered from skills assessments and technologist feedback to decide how you will implement your skills development program across the entire organization. Beyond giving your organization a concrete playbook to follow for future learning initiatives, pilot programs prove that skills development is worthwhile to key stakeholders.
3. Identify Individualized Skills Needs
Upskilling journeys don’t end there — as the term “pilot” suggests, these initiatives are simply a catalyst to jumpstart further work in the area. After collecting data from the pilot program, hone in on the specific skills needed by technologists in their various roles. You will want to partner with leadership throughout the organization to help customize training for the specific needs of each team and role.
Though you may only focus on five or six skills within your pilot program, leaders must recognize that each role requires different skills. For example, a cloud engineer may not need the exact same skills as an IT Ops engineer. Research shows that personalized learning — for people of all ages — is more effective than one-size-fits-all approaches.
You can go about tailoring skills-development programs for various roles in a few ways. First, you can invest in upskilling solutions that have customized paths that are geared towards roles like development, IT ops and security. This customization can help take the guesswork out of designing a program and keep your technologists’ role-specific skills sharp.
A good example of an organization that has invested in customized learning opportunities for its technologists is Deutsche Bank. It recently underwent a digital transformation in order to build up their cloud-native platforms. To do this, they replaced their in-person training with custom, virtual learning paths designed to help their technologists upskill in key areas.
Recognizing that everyone has individualized needs when it comes to tech skill development is the first step creating an autonomous and sustainable learning experience.
4. Make Skills Development Programmatic
All of the upskilling efforts mentioned above must also be undergirded by a programmatic approach to skill development. What I mean by this is that your organization must embrace a culture of learning that is supported by concrete practices.
This programmatic mindset is important because it shows your technologists that you’re dedicated to their career growth. So, you must create systems that guide your workers through their upskilling journeys. For example, you can’t drop a learner into a course library like Pluralsight and expect them to learn everything they need to know about their job right off the bat.
Without guidance, the quantity of learning materials available for upskilling can be overwhelming. The important thing is being intentional in your upskilling efforts across the organization. Although getting a license to an upskilling program used to be enough to “care” about someone’s development, nowadays, the resources for upskilling that people can find on their own is endless. Organizations are better served by creating systems and structures that make upskilling an easier, enjoyable process. Managers need to support individuals with coaching, feedback and conversations about what’s working and what isn’t, as well as how to put those new skills into practice.
A programmatic approach evaluates gaps that are currently missing in your upskilling knowledge, creates a path for the goals you are driving towards, and allows participants to change course to a different path when needed.
Technologists want guided learning opportunities. What’s more, they need guided learning opportunities. According to the World Economic Forum, 54 percent of workers will require significant tech upskilling and reskilling in 2022. Investing in skills development is no longer optional for organizations — it’s a survival mechanism. Implementing an organization-wide upskilling program does not need to be daunting, though. By making skills development programmatic through pilot programs and customizable learning pathways, organizations can ensure that their technologists have the tools they need to stay ahead of the curve.