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Formal learning alone won’t future-proof your workforce, says an employee training expert

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An interview with a Salesforce HR vet reveals the critical connection between individual employee engagement and company-wide reskilling initiatives.
By Salesforce UK and Ireland
Published Last updated
Terri Moloney, Director of Employee Success, at Salesforce

According to new research from the global market intelligence firm IDC, a whopping nine out of 10 UK jobs will require new digital skills by 2030. To better understand why reskilling is the key to a truly future-proof workforce, we recently spoke with Salesforce Director of Employee Success Terri Moloney, a veteran HR executive whose focus on training and engagement has helped Salesforce land on multiple “best places to work” lists.

She weighs in on effective approaches to continuous learning, ways of adapting to meet employee needs, and, maybe surprisingly, why annual reviews should go the way of the abacus.

Q: What does the abstract notion of continuous learning look like in practice?

A: There’s a danger in branding everything ‘learning.’ The risk is that it becomes an academic challenge, whereas if you create an environment that’s about communication and collaboration, learning happens naturally. Yes, continuous learning can be formal, but also casual and social, such as teams interacting, asking questions, talking about problems, solving problems together. It’s not just learning a skill or a theory. It’s learning how to learn.

It’s not just learning a skill or a theory. It’s learning how to learn.

Q: Many businesses tap external resources for digital skills training. How can these resources be developed and implemented?

A: It’s a challenge, because we’ve had our traditional education systems for so long, but this constant chasing of exams and certifications is not inclusive. People learn in different ways and demonstrate competence in different ways.

It also has to be a priority for both companies and governments. Governments need to think about digital literacy in partnership with schools and universities. Companies need to provide a variety of training solutions and methods to make sure learning is accessible and flexible.

It can address specific skills, but should also encourage innovation that helps people adapt to the ever-changing world.

Q: Should feedback evolve, too?

A: Annual performance reviews are a futile exercise of managers trying to remember what happened and workers trying to prove what they accomplished. At Salesforce, we use individual development plans to track and measure success in a constant feedback loop: You complete your project, update your plan, and learn what your results and outcomes were, as opposed to thinking, ‘Okay, what did I do last January?’

One positive outcome from the past year was that it moved us rapidly toward online learning platforms like Salesforce’s Trailhead, and these tools have ongoing assessment and feedback built in.

Q: How can leaders and managers help people who might be struggling with reskilling?

A: Individual coaching, formal training programs, job shadowing—it’s making sure there are opportunities for everyone to find their way of learning and to work with different people inside and outside the organisation. The better question for companies is, ‘What can keep our people engaged and stimulated?’

The better question for companies is, ‘What can keep our people engaged and stimulated?’

Q: Without knowing which specific skills will be most valuable in the future, how can competencies be prioritised?

A: The future is ambiguous, but leaders can give people freedom to adapt. We can make the on-the-job opportunities as broad and interesting as possible. We can encourage questioning, risk-taking, lateral thinking, and mental flexibility. As a leader, my job is to keep that curiosity going and to encourage experimentation, so when something new comes up, people are ready for change.

Q: Some leaders might be hesitant about taking such a flexible approach to reskilling. What’s your advice?

A: Start easy. Some industries are much more regulated, and there’s a need in those circumstances to be structured, to make sure people are legally qualified to do their jobs.

But from an employee engagement and morale perspective, it’s a low-risk strategy to allow time for creative learning outside the standard mandatory stuff. Hackathons are common in tech, but even in more traditional industries, they’re doing it without realising it—using methods like Lean and Six Sigma, getting people together to collaborate. That is continuous learning. So, take it slowly and see what happens. Give people a problem to solve.

Even though I know the fundamentals of this, I’m still amazed at the outcomes people deliver when you give them a little bit of space, time, and free rein to solve something.

Q: Looking ahead, what’s the next frontier of transformative skill building?

A: The next imperative is closing the digital skills gap. Companies can help bridge the divide between the haves and the have-nots: those who don’t have digital skills because of their circumstances, demographics, or socioeconomic situation. It’s an opportunity for companies to do better.

Understand the urgency and impact of reskilling by downloading the full IDC whitepaper: Society Impact-A Study of the Salesforce Economy in the UK and Ireland, sponsored by Salesforce UK and Ireland.

This article was produced on behalf of Salesforce by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff. Sources are provided for informational and reference purposes only. They are not an endorsement of Salesforce or Salesforce products.

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