Smart employers today aren't just hiring people with impressive job skills -- they're hiring people with the capacity to continuously learn new skills and adapt to the needs of an ever-evolving workplace. These talented individuals are more than skilled workers or order-takers; they're mold breakers, thought workers, innovation shapers and trend-spotters. In short, they're your value-driving employees -- the most valuable players (MVPs) on your team.
What is the suite of skills these employees have that employers want? I think they fall into the four categories: seeing, understanding, envisioning and doing.
Let's take a look at each of these meta-skills.
Seeing. We tend to think of seeing in terms of recognizing what's right in front of us. For the value-driving employee, seeing is more than a sensory perception, it's a process of testing and recognition. You can spot these MVPs based on how they react to information presented to them. They listen carefully and resist snap judgments. They're likely to think and talk in analogies -- finding ways to describe the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. They're quick to see patterns as they emerge and opportunities as well. To them, seeing isn't something that happens at eye level; it's what's happening inside their heads.
Understanding. Our world is flat and crowded and if we're going to combat cultural claustrophobia, a little understanding will go a long way; understanding is one of the workplace's most important meta-skills. In the past, companies and workers focused on developing "hard skills" -- the expertise that helps an employee work effectively and excel in a role. Too often, this emphasis on hard skills came at the expense of "soft skills," those personal attributes like empathy and active listening that enable people to work together more effectively. In many cases, individuals were promoted, based on their proficiency with hard skills, into roles that required the use of underdeveloped soft skills. That's not something businesses can afford today. Empathy, emotional intelligence and intuition are powerful agents of collaboration and innovation.
Envisioning. Value-driving employees don't just see the present, they see the potential. Their curiosity leads them to explore what innovation expert Steven Johnson has called the "the adjacent possible" -- the unexplored areas that may lead to unchartered insights, the ability to move from the unknown to the known. For these employees, seeing an issue or a problem begins with seeing it from multiple angles and points of view. They then use this perspective to concisely state the challenge they face, and then force themselves to reframe it by asking bigger questions so that the answers might reveal opportunities or different potential outcomes.
Doing. Theory without execution is great for the classroom; it's not so great in the workplace. To create value or growth, new ideas need a chance to come to life, and that means making these ideas come to fruition. Value-driving employees aren't only thinkers, they're doers as well. They embrace testing their thoughts to see the strength and weaknesses of their concepts. As author and creativity expert Marty Neumeier writes in his book, The 46 Rules of Genius: An Innovator's Guide to Creativity, "You don't need precise information to make a confident decision about a new idea. You just need uncertainty reduction." Value-driving employees are the people in your workplace who are reducing uncertainty by creating frameworks that let your organization identify opportunities, come up with creative solutions, test and implement, and course-correct as needed.
A successful business requires more than great products or services. It requires the persistent innovation and constant creativity of employees and teams that have mastered the meta-skills of seeing, understanding, envisioning and doing. While an individual isn't likely to excel in all four areas, smart managers look to hire and develop employees with skills across the spectrum of these four attributes. Teams with high competencies in these areas are the ones that will lead their organizations to challenge the status quo, learn from the perspectives of others, and blaze new trails.