Here’s Why Upskilling Needs to Be Your New Year’s Priority

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A wise man (Einstein, actually) once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So true when it comes to the talent issues we’re facing today.

Jason Reiser

Jason Reiser

Over the past few years, we’ve been challenged to respond and adapt like never before. We’ve got our hands full with never-ending technological leaps and a rapidly evolving, omnichannel marketplace that has increased both retail opportunities and cross-functional business complexity. We’re drowning in a proliferation of granular customer data that could do so much if only we could only wrap our arms around it. And we’re losing sleep over heightened profit pressures in an uncertain economic climate.

This volatile marketplace has exposed significant gaps in the ability of every company to pivot and deliver at the snap of a finger. And plugging holes with top talent no longer works — not with demand far greater than supply for the foreseeable future. We’re all concerned about how labor and skills shortages will influence our business strategy moving forward. Organizational digital capabilities, in particular, are a moving target as we navigate a retail environment where even the very definition of omnichannel continues to evolve.

It’s time to take a new approach to business talent needs — and make upskilling our employees an urgent priority. If you’re thinking, “Oh, just the latest HR buzzword of the day,” think again. If done right and tied to business objectives, upskilling is the answer when the shelf life for skills is now less than two years! Companies that have already rolled out upskilling programs are seeing higher productivity, as well as improved talent acquisition and retention.

Modern upskilling is so much more than your standard, virtual training course — which is why its potential to deliver is so much greater. Quick example: A leading food manufacturer recently engaged us to drive change through an upskilling strategy. The goal? To ensure that across relevant functions and all levels, teams would be able to effectively execute and sustain implementation of new commercial terms and trade funding. Over time, their people were immersed in a program that combined e-learning, gamified learning, live virtual training, in-person, and small-team training. The result: They’re now zeroing in on some high-potential rewards thanks to the right team members having the right skills to execute flawlessly.

As a starting point:

  • Focus on upskilling strategies that will drive sales, profits and share. We advise our clients to ensure they have best-in-class expertise in financial acumen and rgm, omnichannel strategy and execution, data and analytics, negotiation and influence.
  • Do a deep-dive assessment to identify the biggest gaps that can meaningfully impact performance if filled. Match against your short- and long-term business road map to determine the type of skill-building needed for each function, at each level, over time.
  • Remember, one-size training does not fit all! The employee executing e-commerce plans, for example, may need different training than the product supply manager who needs to factor into his omnichannel inventory planning, and the senior manager who needs to understand how to evaluate e-commerce program success against metrics.
  • Emphasize that upskilling at the highest levels is valued. Many of us developed our expertise in a brick-and-mortar world that has now expanded, both in how we shop and how we are influenced. No one wants to admit that they need to get up to speed, so it’s critical to make it safe for your leaders to embrace upskilling. Only then can they grow their skill set and continue to deliver high performance.

I believe that there is no better time to act than right now.  It is imperative that this industry create more agile organizations that can turn on a dime and keep delivering in this dynamic, omnichannel retail environment. Upskilling can make this a reality while better engaging the entire workforce. Companies that lag behind, underestimating the importance of leveling up in critical areas over the next two to three years, risk never being able to catch up. They are choosing to put their sales, profits and employees at risk.  Make it your New Year’s resolution and stick to it!

Jason Reiser is president of Market Performance Group, marketperformancegroup.com.


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