AI & The New Business Reality
The economic situation, the workplace reality, customer expectations, and technologies keep changing. Above all, Artificial Intelligence is fundamentally altering the business landscape.
Companies need to keep up with the rapidly evolving AI and automation era like never before.
Today, leveraging AI for business growth and innovation is necessary to meet customer expectations and increase profitability. But it’s not only about using cutting-edge AI tools and automation.
It’s also about the people using those tools and their professional development. As processes are becoming increasingly automated, tech upskilling is essential for many employees to assume new roles.
Furthermore, AI, automation, and machine learning are making some skills outdated, but also creating demand for new ones.
For example, in the software industry those include the ability to leverage AI, NLP, data engineering, deep learning, and cloud computing.
However, technical skills are not enough. Other important skills in the software industry are needed, including problem solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and collaboration (communication).
That’s why building a culture of continuous learning is essential. Upskilling and reskilling initiatives are more important than ever. According to IBM, the average half-life of skills is now less than 5 years and 2.5 years in some tech fields. This will get even shorter.
To overcome the developer skills shortage, software engineering leaders need to upskill and reskill their existing employees and new hires. The focus should be on developing each employee’s skills ahead of demand so that they can play a broader range of roles and continue to enhance an organization’s technical capabilities.
— Bill Swanton, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner
The Benefits of People Development & Its Impact on Revenue
To stay competitive, companies must have expertise in software applications, data analysis techniques, and cutting-edge technologies. But that’s not all.
Behind every technology and revenue growth are people and teams. Companies must invest in people to improve employee engagement and business results.
Consider these stats:
The benefits of high employee engagement include (Gallup):
14% higher productivity (production records/evaluations)
18% higher productivity (sales)
10% higher customer loyalty/engagement
23% higher profitability
Companies excelling at internal mobility (cross-functional training) tend to retain employees for 5.4 years on average. That’s nearly 2x as long as organizations struggling with it (2.9 years on average) (LinkedIn report).
The impact of IT/digital skills gap can be big. For example, two- thirds of Canadian companies have to delay project timelines. 67% report they canceled and/or delayed projects and 60% report lost revenues due to a lack of skilled employees and labor shortages (BCC).
Companies that facilitate professional growth are 2.6x more likely to exceed their financial targets (Joshbersin Company).
The bottom line: people development matters. The question is whether an organization walks the talk.
How about your business?
Do you treat people development and learning initiatives strategically? Do you have all the processes in place?
Can you measure the impact of people development on your company’s bottom line?
Can you identify strong and weak areas by measuring the right metrics?
Upskilling team members isn’t just another employee benefit offered to attract the top talent. Strategic learning initiatives and personal development can have a profound impact on the company's long- term success, growth, and competitiveness.
Companies must treat people development strategically. Otherwise, they will be left behind, especially in the tech space.
Businesses that manage to integrate people development and learning into employees’ daily work and foster an environment of creativity, imagination, and innovation will have a competitive advantage (more projects, more customers, more opportunities).
Well-trained and skilled employees, in turn, are more productive and serve customer needs more effectively.
The reason is simple: happier (skilled) employees = happier customers = more revenue.
Think about the classic quote by Richard Branson. It rings true for companies of all sizes.
Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.
— Richard Branson
People Development: Strategic Learning Initiatives(SKI) & Personal Development
What are Strategic Learning Initiatives?
Strategic Learning Initiatives are programs or sets of activities designed to enhance the skills and capabilities of employees in line with the organization's broader goals. They help team members successfully implement the business strategy and achieve revenue goals.
The goal of SLIs are to make sure the organization as a whole remains competitive and innovative, while meeting client needs effectively.
For tech companies, SLIs could be oriented towards:
Understanding emerging technologies (AI, ML, Cloud)
Refining methodologies for faster software delivery
Mastering tools that enhance project management
Acquiring certifications, such as AWS, Azure, GCP or project management certifications
Planning mandatory training on topics related to software security and data privacy
Let’s consider how Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLIs) - or lack thereof - can impact tech companies. Some examples overlap with personal development initiatives (we’ll discuss them later).
Relevant certifications, e.g. AWS (Cloud) or Prince 2 (Project Management) can help you acquire new projects and customers).
The lack of relevant certifications may result in missed projects and revenue opportunities, and higher turnover rates (replacing leaving developers is costly).
You must be legally and contractually compliant, e.g. by ensuring data privacy and software security).
Employee compliance is also mandatory (legally and contractually). Otherwise, you can lose contracts and/or suffer legal consequences.
Career paths (SLI & personal development)
Support individual team members with planning their career development and help them follow through on their career plans).
The lack of professional growth and/or transparency related to career development can result in decreased employee retention and poor job performance. Additionally jobs may not be aligned with customer needs, project requirements, and the overall business strategy.
Improving communication skills (SLI & personal development)
Being an effective communicator is necessary for explaining technical issues to non-technical clients, employees, and other stakeholders.
Software consultants need to convey complex ideas, data, and recommendations in a clear, and concise way. They need to be good listeners, capable of adapting to different audiences and contexts and audiences.
The ability to choose the most effective communication methods, including the right tools and formats, is critical. For example, using visuals, frameworks, and diagrams can help structure and simplify messages.
Asking for feedback from clients, managers, and peers is helpful to identify areas for improvement.
SLIs: setting measurable business goals
SLIs should ensure employees have the relevant technical and non- technical skills in line with industry demands, current customer expectations, and legal requirements. Goals for SLIs should directly correlate with the company's strategic objectives and support revenue goals and business growth.
Examples of SLI Goals in Tech Companies
#1 Technical proficiency
‘Achieve 80% proficiency in [specific technology, e.g., Kubernetes] across senior engineering teams by the end of Q2.
‘Ensure 60% of our developers are certified in [a specific platform, e.g., AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud] by year-end.’
#2 Project management and methodologies
‘Implement Agile methodologies across all development teams and achieve 90% usage within six months.
‘Ensure that 70% of project managers achieve PMP (Project Management Professional) certification by Q3.’
#3 Client-specific skills
‘Train 50% of our consulting teams in the financial domain to better cater to our banking and financial sector clients by the end of the year.’
‘Equip 40% of our consultants with user experience (UX) design principles to enhance our software usability consulting by Q2.’
#4 Soft skills and interdisciplinary knowledge
‘Provide effective communication workshops to all client-facing teams to reduce client communication complaints by 20% within a year.’
‘Achieve 95% completion rate for leadership training among team leads by the end of Q3.‘
#5 Adherence to regulations and standards
‘Ensure that 100% of our development teams are trained in GDPR compliance by Q2.‘
‘Ensure 70% of team members complete the mandatory cybersecurity training within 6 months.’
#6 Supporting the bench
‘Provide customer interview training for professionals on the bench to increase their chances of working on new projects.
‘Provide quick reskilling initiatives in relevant technologies that are currently required for new projects e.g. React vs Vue.’
The strategic role of people development in various companies: examples
Infosys has reskilled over 2,000 cybersecurity experts with various relevant competencies and capability levels.
At CVS, training and reskilling are an integral part of the company’s business strategies. Business leaders are responsible for designing and delivering workforce-reskilling plans to help reach the company’s business goals.
At Amazon, reskilling is a core strategic objective. Amazon’s Machine Learning University has helped thousands of employees with little experience in machine learning become experts in the field.
Vodafone decided to use its internal talent to fill 40% of its software developer needs.
Mahindra & Mahindra and Wipro have policies, IT platforms, and tools that promote available jobs and reskilling resources.
The Benefits of SLI
Improved employee development and performance by enhancing their skills
Improved project delivery speed and increased profit margins
Lower employee turnover rates (lower labor costs)
Improved customer satisfaction and retention (new projects and upselling opportunities)
Improve customer collaboration, thanks to supporting employees with soft skills
Increased customer trust (e.g. certifications help build trust with new customers)
Opportunities for landing new contracts and expanding your client network (e.g. thanks to the right certifications and access to in- demand skills)
Reducing potential legal cost
Reducing bench time and minimizing the idle time of consultants/ engineers
Positioning your company as a thought leader, a desirable employer, and a go-to solution provider in your industry
Increased competitiveness, which supports long-term growth goals
A positive impact the company’s bottom line (higher revenue)
What is personal development?
Personal development focuses on the learning needs of individual employees. It considers personal aspirations and ambitions (not only organizational needs). For example, engineers may want to learn new programming languages out of their personal interests, or improve their soft skills.
The impact of such learning initiatives on the company’s bottom line may not be obvious. However:
The benefits of personal development
Improved skills/competencies, job performance, collaboration, and efficiency
Improved employee engagement and satisfaction, e.g. thanks to career paths
Improved employee morale, and retention
Better creativity and problem-solving
Agile learning culture that motivates employees to apply knowledge to produce significant business value (a growth mindset among team members)
The advantages of having a diverse skill set in the team
Better overall business performance and results
Based on Stack Overflow’s Annual Developer Survey, opportunities for professional development belong to the most important job factors when developers compare two jobs with the same compensation, benefits, and location. Different developers have different priorities when considering jobs.
Trends among developers: Job priorities & most important job factors
As a result, tech leads/companies should understand professional development needs of individual team members to improve employee satisfaction/motivation and overall business metrics.
Personal development plans are important from the business perspective as they help to improve employee engagement, motivation, and retention.
The main reasons why employees leave their jobs include (Work Institute):
Lack of career development (20%)
Lack of support with work-life balance (12%)
Their manager’s behavior (12%)
Better employee engagement means better business results (Gallup):
Companies with high engagement are 23% more profitable.
Engaged employees are 14% more productive. Highly engaged businesses get 10% higher customer ratings and 18% more sales.
Personal development: setting measurable business goals Goals related to personal development can be more flexible compared to SLI, for example: ‘Ensure 70% of our engineers engage in at least one personal development activity per quarter.’
Personal development activities for engineers can include learning a new programming language or training in soft skills, such as communication, leadership, or project management.
Examples of personal development goals for junior python developers might be:
‘Improve active listening skills to better understand feedback in project discussions and client needs’.
‘Improve verbal communication to explain the logic behind your code clearly during team meetings’.
‘Learn new Python skills and technologies, e.g. NumPy or Flask’.
‘Learn advanced Python concepts, e.g. metaclasses, generators, and decorators’.