Do You Want to Remain Professionally Relevant in the Digital World?

Timely realization of the changing professional landscape due to disruptive innovation and the level of corresponding astute adaptability becomes the core determining factor in realizing the scale of career progression, career stagnation, or career obsolescence for diligent professionals in the foreseeable future.

(Note: All charts are downloadable at the end of the article)

There was a time when graduating from a reputable academic institution meant a warm welcome to a safe professional journey with steady climb up the corporate ladder and ending in a respectable retirement from a grateful organization. However, as analog initiatives increasingly have yielded to digital pursuits, business lifecycles have become increasingly susceptible to disruptive technologies, and seemingly secure careers are wavering under the “relevancy” scrutiny. Gaining a degree is no longer considered essential for success in an era when abandonment has become fashionable due to the glaring achievements of dropouts, who continue to receive rock star status in the start-up world. This is being reinforced by the huge influx of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and core emphasis on specific skills rather than broad educational credentials.

Consequently, today’s multigenerational workforce is looking at existential challenges that are more pronounced and transformative than for earlier professionals—e.g., narrowing occupational paths, re-skilling imperatives, multiple careers, early retirements, forced entrepreneurship, etc.— especially as artificial intelligence (AI) progressively conquers the strictly humanistic domains within the workplace and relentlessly pushes the threshold for relevance to the upper echelons of cerebral application, as shown below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More and more of the repetitive/physically demanding/minimally diverse jobs/roles/functions are being relegated to smart machines, while innovative thinking/astute strategizing/creative application are being heralded as the last bastion of human relevance in the workplace. Most of the respective impact is being felt by mid-career professionals who are haunted by the notion of “45 is the new 65” as they brace for the groundbreaking technologies nullifying the need for large workforces in progressive organizations that are looking to minimize their fragility exposures, as depicted below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This matrix reflects the various vulnerability levels and the corresponding incidence rate of humanistic mismanagement involved at various corporate hierarchies. One of the preferred and cost-effective ways in which human errors generally are curtailed or eliminated in the respective context is by the use of machines that are rapidly graduating from the conventionally dumb instruction-driven/job-specific devices to the inherently smart AI-driven autonomous electronic persons/companions that are revolutionizing workplace dynamics. Consequently, it can be safely assumed that the push for excellence increasingly is being driven by finding an optimum balance between the humanistic and mechanistic elements existing within a progressive organization.

Ironically, the uncertainties of gainful employment in conventional professions also is necessitating the need for delayed retirements as real wages keep spiraling downward in relation to inflationary pressures, leading to the nagging struggles for maintaining reasonable living standards with enough savings for enabling a dignified existence as a senior citizen. Consequently, timely realization of the changing professional landscape due to disruptive innovation and the level of corresponding astute adaptability becomes the core determining factor in realizing the scale of career progression, career stagnation, or career obsolescence for diligent professionals in the foreseeable future.

The key for astute professionals is to never starve a positive mindset with its ability to envision novel ways of adjusting to the dynamic demands of the digital world by failing to engage in an honest self-assessment of professional prowess while successfully addressing the narrow compulsions of working in a particular organization. In this context, the following individual skill-tracking chart is presented as a proactive tool to ensure that irrelevancy never becomes a recurring nightmare for professionals seeking congruence to the new corporate norms:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This chart provides a lucid perspective of Learning and Development (L&D) imperatives within a temporal context and provides a panoramic view of the needs and expectations aligned with the career aspirations of a sagacious professional. It tethers the past, present, and future skill sets in an easily discernible manner and can be used by the professional himself/herself, immediate supervisor, functional head, and/or the HR/Talent Management function. It has the inherent flexibility of being utilized as a historical and current record/map of a professional’s growth and suitability for a desired line of work without being tied to a particular organization. Here are some of the main exploratory questions that can be used in formulating the respective chart:

  • What are the comprehensive skills required for this person to do the assigned position/role in an efficient and effective manner?
  • What were the past skill requirements and expectations for this position/role and are they still relevant?
  • What are the current skill requirements and expectations for this position/role and will they stay relevant in the future?
  • Are there any emerging skills that have the capacity to become a requirement in the future?
  • What will the future skill requirements and expectations be for this position/role and do they differ from the past and present requirements?
  • Are there any skills that were required in the past but have moved to the desired status in the present?
  • Are there any skills that are required now but used to be desired in the past?
  • Are there any desired skills now that can become required in the future?
  • Have any skills that were considered obsolete earlier become relevant again?
  • Are any skills that are considered obsolete now liable to be relevant again in the future?
  • Are there any skills that remain consistently in demand across the temporal divide?
  • Do the skill sets facilitate the conduct of a comprehensive and effective performance appraisal?
  • Has the percentage of skills that can be reinforced/enhanced using blended learning increased across the temporal divide?
  • Has the percentage of obsolete skills increased across the temporal divide?
  • Has the percentage of required skills increased across the temporal divide?
  • Has the percentage of desired skills increased across the temporal divide?
  • Is the nature of this position/role going to change in the future?
  • Will this position/role exist in the future?
  • Will this position/role gain more significance that its current level in the future?
  • Will this position or role lose its current level of significance in the future?
  • Does this position or role overlap significantly with another position/role in terms of skill sets?
  • Can this position or role be easily merged with another position/role?
  • Can the talent pipeline for succession planning initiatives be reinforced with the skill sets reflected in the respective chart?
  • Which is the most relatable/closest position or role that can accommodate a person doing this position or role if it is eliminated due to certain inevitable situations, such as rightsizing, technological obsolescence, merger and acquisition, etc.?
  • Can the respective chart be used in a benchmarking study with closely matching/similar positions or roles of competitors or industry leaders or trendsetters?

These questions enable the skill-tracking chart user to prepare a fertile ground, sow an optimal mix of germinal skills, and reap a productive harvest for prolonging his or her usefulness as a qualified, committed, and needed professional in the discerning purview of key decision-makers. It’s time we resolutely challenge the customarily used adage of “Everyone is expendable.”

Murad Salman Mirza is an innovative thinker and an astute practitioner of areas within and associated with the fields of organizational development, talent management, and business transformation. He has lived, studied, and served in different regions of the world, including, the U.S., Australia, South Asia, and the Middle East. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/muradsalmanmirza

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