HR professor

Multi Skilling: Juggling More Balls In The Air

All through our life we have heard the popular maxim: "A jack of all trades, but a master of none." In the old millennium, special skills were given great importance. Don't try your hand in many occupations, you were told, or you will burn your fingers.

Times changed and so did work systems and business processes. After the industrial revolution came the electronic revolution. This new era of business saw a significant boom in the service industry. Soon after came the computer revolution. Now we are witnessing the internet revolution. Things moved pretty fast. Systems replaced people. Work that used to take months is now done in minutes. Markets are growing and the world is getting increasingly connected. Ecommerce is now the preferred destination for most buyers and sellers. Distances have shrunk and homogeneity of products and services has replaced ethnicity.

In such a fast moving world, people are required to do much more than earlier. Everybody wants to equip himself with a variety of skills. We want to be adept at driving, skiing, managing people, organizing parties, raising children, and speaking Hebrew. Time is short, so make hay while the sun shines. This is the new age mantra. Multi skilling has finally arrived.

In organizations, managers are happy to recruit multi talented employees. Can you handle teams? Are you competent to organize events? Can you train and motivate your subordinates? Can you also sell? Well, then walk right in, they say. Multi skilled people seem to be the answer to many of organizational challenges.

All organizations go through a change process. Dynamic environment and changing market scenarios force organizations to be flexible. Meeting competition head on requires companies to always be on the ball. Taller hierarchical structures give way to flatter matrix organizations. Designations have evaporated with the reduction of organization levels.

Some organizations are spread out across various industries. Mergers and takeovers have made companies foray in unknown sectors. Given the multi dimensioned nature of organizations, people also have to make use of multi dimension skills. And hence the entry of the multi skilled employee.

Organizations which multi skill employees use lateral shifts as a mode of employee training and development. Cross functional skills are adopted. Employees are given cross functional training to increase the talent pool. Knowledge sharing is encouraged and formally acknowledged in these organizations.

Employees have to multi skill themselves to make more talent available to organizations. It is also a refreshing change of environment for employees who have been specializing in certain functions. Very often managers have reported an influx of new ideas, out of box thinking and creative solution generation purely by role reversals and lateral moves. This helps organizations to gear up for any future personnel requirement.

Though the concept of multi skilling seems rosy, the only real drawback is that multi skilling makes the employees stretch to the limits. Sometimes, there is an undercurrent of frustration. New jobs, new environment, and new learning can unnerve employees. They fear about not being able to live up to the expectations. Often, employees are uncomfortable with the changes and can't deal with the conflict of the role and their personality.

Without proper counseling and training, multi skilling can backfire. Employees need to be guided and supported through the entire process of multi skilling. Training with feedback is of paramount importance. Multi skilling is a developmental process; it needs to be handled with sensitivity.

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