Reskilling: It takes a village

30 April


In many cultures, there's a saying that holds a deep understanding of communal responsibility: "It takes a village to raise a child." This wisdom speaks to the collective effort required to nurture and guide the young, ensuring they grow into well-rounded individuals. Today, amidst a digital transformation that, according to McKinsey, has accelerated by several years due to the pandemic, this timeless proverb finds a new relevance in the corporate world, particularly in reskilling and upskilling the workforce for the digital age.

Just as a village provides diverse role models, teachers, and mentors for a child, a company must create a supportive ecosystem for reskilling and development. Each member of this corporate "village" — from executives to entry-level employees — plays a critical role in fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.

But what happens when we blend this ancient wisdom with modern-day challenges and a sprinkle of humour? Let's explore.


The Catalyst for Change

Drawing from my own leadership experience with a Global pharma company at a pivotal moment of strategic redirection, I witnessed first-hand the profound impact of a collective approach to innovation and learning.

Faced with the industry's rapid shift towards generics and the imperative to seize new opportunities, they recognized the necessity of a dynamic approach to leadership and skill development. The company embarked on a journey towards facilitative leadership, marking a significant departure from traditional, top-down management styles. This approach wasn't merely about adopting new strategies; it was about cultivating a culture where innovation and collaboration flourished at every level.


Leadership: The Guiding Force

Shifting to a more inclusive leadership model involves replacing command-and-control with empowerment and coaching. This transformation fosters psychological safety: in the workplace it’s like forming a neighbourhood watch; making everyone feel secure enough to explore new streets of possibility without fear.

Leadership transitioned from overseeing to actively shaping a culture of innovation and learning. Central to this was:

  • Leadership Coaching: enabling leaders to guide rather than dictate, coaching helped replace old habits with collaborative approaches and encouraged vulnerability—a cornerstone of a learning-oriented environment.
  • Empowerment and Workshops: By involving themselves in workshops and encouraging open forums, leaders modelled the learning behaviour they sought, demonstrating their personal commitment to growth.
  • Communication and Safety: Transparent communication about the value of reskilling and the creation of a psychologically safe space were key. Employees felt empowered to step outside comfort zones and align their growth with the company's goals.

This shift in leadership wasn't a magical transformation that happened with a snap of the fingers. It was costly—not just in financial terms, but in sweat equity and the currency of comfort zones. Leaders had to become students again, learning to trade in their directives for dialogues and their mandates for mentorship.


Employee Engagement: The Core of the Village

The success of this Global Pharma’s initiative also rested on aligning the entire organization around a compelling vision—a vision that not only addressed the industry’s urgent pivot but also resonated with employees’ personal and professional aspirations. Employees were not just participants but were integral to the vision’s realization, understanding clearly 'what’s in it for them'. They did this by conducting:

  • Vision Sharing Sessions: Company-wide sessions were held to clearly communicate the new vision, ensuring everyone understood the direction and their role in it.
  • Skill Mapping: Employees conducted self-assessments to map their current skills against future needs, identifying areas for growth.
  • Personal Development Plans: Each employee developed a personal development plan with clear milestones and available company resources.

This clarity fuelled their engagement and ensured buy-in at every level, creating a burning platform that catalysed action. Their deep involvement with the reskilling process, armed with an understanding of the tangible benefits to their career trajectories, supercharged the sense of community and shared purpose. This created a potent blend of personal investment and communal effort, forging a sense of community and shared purpose that was vital for adeptly navigating the waters of rapid market changes.


Cross-Functional Collaboration: The Village in Action

The collaborative initiatives exemplified the "village" in action, which took a page from the agile playbook without making it the storyline. This wasn't about being 'agile' for agility's sake—it was about embracing a mindset and a method that allowed them to navigate the complexities of change with grace and precision.

Cross-functional teams, comprising individuals from various departments and disciplines, joined forces in a spirit of co-creation. Together, they identified and crafted strategic solutions. This cooperative effort dissolved traditional silos, blending diverse skills and knowledge to pursue shared objectives. They engaged in:

  • Cross-Functional initiatives: Launched pilot projects that required cross-departmental collaboration, creating tangible outcomes from combined expertise with regular feedback loops which allowed them to bin bad ideas or pivot where needed.
  • Innovation Challenges: Implement company-wide innovation challenges that encourage teams to propose and develop solutions to real business problems (their first experiment on this was the design of their new office space from start to finish, and wow, was it a real success)
  • Rotational Assignments: Create opportunities for employees to work in different functions or departments, broadening their understanding of the business.

An environment of mutual respect and joint accountability was pivotal, showcasing how unified endeavours can catalyse significant business successes. These sessions were pragmatic, focusing on understanding the current state of affairs and then mapping a way forward. With an experimental, iterative, and incremental mindset, the teams embarked on a journey of discovery.

They fostered fast feedback loops and maintained open communication channels, pivotal for the agile atmosphere but not its altar. This approach—reflective of the village ethos—capitalized on the collective intelligence, creativity, and diversity of the teams. It was less about adhering to a strict agile doctrine and more about embodying the spirit of agile: adaptability, responsiveness, and collective problem-solving.


Characteristics and Behaviours for Success

This journey not only underscored the principle that 'it takes a village to reskill,' but also illuminated the profound 'why' behind the collective learning endeavour. It highlighted that the investment in each person's growth is not merely for the acquisition of new skills but for igniting a passion for lifelong learning and innovation that benefits the entire organization.

A facilitative leadership culture harnesses the diverse strengths within this village by connecting every department, team, and individual to a compelling mission. The excitement and enthusiasm generated from understanding the 'why' transformed the oft-met sigh of 'another change' into a collective eager anticipation for what’s next. The did this with:

  • Adaptability: Embracing change as an opportunity to lead and innovate, not just react, pivoting strategies in response to new insights and marketplace dynamics.
  • Empathy and Support: Building a community where team members feel seen and supported, acknowledging their unique contributions as essential to our collective success.
  • Continuous Learning: Cultivating an environment where curiosity becomes the currency, and professional growth is pursued not just for skill acquisition but for the joy of learning and expanding one’s horizons.
  • Open Communication: Championing a dialogue-driven culture where feedback is not just exchanged but is a springboard for shared learning and mutual progress.

By aligning with the compelling 'why'—the shared vision of being part of something larger than ourselves—they fostered a culture where change is not just another requirement but a welcomed adventure. It’s here that the collective growth of our 'village' and the personal development of each member become one and the same, propelling them forward with a unified sense of purpose and anticipation for the opportunities that await


Realizing Success and Outcomes

The outcomes of this Pharma’s facilitative leadership and cross-functional collaboration weren't just noteworthy; they were quantifiably transformative. By pooling the collective intelligence and creativity of its "village," the company not only accelerated its product introductions but also positioned itself strongly in new markets. This success story serves as a powerful testament to the value of adopting a communal approach to learning and development.


Conclusion: The Power of a ‘Village’ Effort

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire organization to successfully navigate the challenges of reskilling and upskilling. It’s more than a call to collective action; it's a challenge to the traditional corporate ranks. As we stare down the barrel of the AI revolution and ongoing digital metamorphosis, it’s clear: adaptability isn't just an advantage; it’s a survival trait. Organizations clinging to the old ways may find themselves rendered obsolete. In the end, it may not just take a village but an entire ecosystem of learners, leaders, and innovators to thrive in tomorrow's market—a reality some may find unsettling, but the wise will see as the ultimate opportunity."


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Authored by Nicola Stephens, an experienced Agile and Behavioural Coach, and a SoftEd trainer, specialising in transformative and solution-focused coaching.

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