Reskilling benefits workers, companies bold enough to invest in them

By Guest Columnist PATTY WATSON, senior executive vice president and chief information officer at Georgia-based TSYS

Rapidly changing technology has been the undoing of many companies – especially over the last decade. Today, many business leaders feel that they are under constant threat from disruptors in their industry.

Patty Watson

Patty Watson

One of the more challenging problems related to the shifting technology landscape is how to keep employees’ skill level even with – or, ideally, ahead of – the technical trends. If people don’t adapt or change, the technology within a company won’t, either. This is especially true in the knowledge sector of the economy, where advances typically augment employees; they don’t replace them. In other words, highly skilled people are needed to leverage the value of new technologies for the good of the enterprise.

Companies going through a major transformation will often jettison employees who don’t match the evolving skill set they need. While technically defensible based on a raw assessment of the skills that are needed, actually releasing a large group of employees is much harder – not to mention financially costly – to rationalize in real life. Institutional knowledge, employee morale and loyalty are difficult to cultivate and often impossible to repair if broken. Also, today’s competitive job market makes it much harder to replace talent.

One of the many business lessons learned from a decade serving in the Air Force is how to maximize the people you have. In the military, you don’t hand out severance packages and go looking for replacements. Instead, you work creatively to maximize the potential of your team. In my experience, the benefits of this strategy usually outweigh the downside risks – even in business.

TSYS, a top global payments company based in Georgia, embarked on a major technology transformation within the past three years. A major piece of this effort involves reskilling existing team members to help the company transition away from legacy systems. This substantial undertaking is also preparing team members to fulfill the skills and knowledge that the company needs.

TSYS staff training

TSYS offers weekly ‘pocket protector sessions’ at its various locations as part of its continuing education for employees. Team members gather to hear from industry professions, or watch technical videos on trending topics, and discuss the topic afterward. Credit: TSYS

Part of the reskilling efforts at TSYS includes a program called “Digital Bootcamp,” which gives team members an opportunity to plug into new technology, including design and engineering skills that are increasingly valuable to the company. So far, about 2,000 team members have been reskilled through this and other programs the company has instituted.

Much has been written about change management, but there isn’t a one-stop-shop guide about simultaneously leading a major technology transformation and reskilling thousands of employees. Following are three key strategies that have been important components of TSYS’s success in this area.

Communicate the inevitability of the change that’s happening

  • Many team members must come to the conclusion that change is happening with or without them before they decide to become part of the change themselves. Communication is the antidote to the inertia that keeps so many organizations from adapting.
  • A smattering of inconsistent internal communications efforts is not adequate when fundamental change is the goal. If a reskilling initiative is an enterprise-wide priority, senior leaders must talk about it and create opportunities to accomplish this initiative. Doing this even when it feels repetitive takes military-style discipline. But it works. Urgency and a sense of direction – where leadership is taking the company – have to be clear. When this happens and employees have a vision for the future, they will begin to drive organic change throughout the organization.

Empower those who are already innovating at the company

  • At most large companies, there are pockets of advanced talent that are already in the vanguard of specific technology trends. During an initial review of existing talent and skills – which is one of the first steps in a major reskilling effort – it’s important to identify early adapters, the people who already represent the future.
  • That might be a small department doing interesting and innovative things for a specific line of business, or it could be a standout leader who has untapped skills well suited to the change that needs to happen. Find these people and empower them by expanding their areas of responsibility and influence. Elevating these individuals has the added benefit of signaling to others that this is the future of the company.

Focus on results over process

tsys, harvard, continuing education

Supervisor support for career development is so important to employee morale that, without such support, more than half the workers don’t trust their employer and intend to look for work with another company within the next year, according a survey of more than 1,000 workers conducted in October 2017 by the American Psychology Association. Credit: hb.org

  • Process and procedure are important – especially in regulated industries – but they can also hamper innovation and growth. When a company’s default has been process, it is necessary to place special emphasis on innovation and product development. This needs to be taught and ingrained in employees as if it were a new technical skill.
  • “Checking the box” has to give way to more creative processes that encourage people to imagine what’s possible and the creative ways to get there.

Major reskilling initiatives are typically needed because an organization’s internal training programs have languished for a period of time. Ideally, reskilling efforts should never truly end. Change is an everyday threat to organizations, so continuous learning and upskilling should become part of a company’s culture.

When innovation becomes part of a company’s soul, it creates a wellspring of continuous improvement that can drive the business to tremendous success. This has proven true at TSYS, where every project launched from our technology transformation initiative has either been sold to clients or is in beta launch phase.

The benefits of reskilling team members also accrue to the culture and energy of the company, which has proven true at TSYS. Demonstrating a genuine commitment to your workforce generates loyalty and a deep sense of trust, reducing turnover. This kind of culture is also a magnet for new talent that will be attracted to a company that cares deeply about the professional well-being of its employees.

Note to readers: Patty Watson is responsible for setting the enterprise technology agenda to enable and deliver future global growth for TSYS, a global payments provider for issuers, merchants and consumers in more than 80 countries. The company processed 27.8 billion transactions globally and earned $4.9 billion in revenue in 2017.

 

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