HR Corner

Building A T-Shaped Workforce For Sustainability

15 years ago, all you needed was a solid technical understanding. Now, soft skills are just as valuable as technical skills,” says Cisco’s Head of Virtual Sales, Paul Wittich; Businessman and academic, Bill George urges leaders to not rest in what they already know, while entrepreneurs like Ariana Huffington says,Charging into new skills will be a win-win.” In such a complex work environment, how do HR executives and recruiting managers select candidates with the right skills?

To delve deeper into skills, let’s try to understand two kinds of employees, based on their skills:

1.    Those that have high levels of expertise in one specific discipline and learn further and deeper in the same discipline.

2.    Those that have high levels of expertise in one discipline and learn other complementing skills and are able to link up the different skills to put into practice.

The first kind of employees fit the category of ‘I’ shaped, while the second kind would be the ‘T’ shaped.

The T-Shaped Employee

One company that is most known for its approach of ‘T-shape’ to managing talent, is IDEO. As described by its CEO, Tim Brown, “T-shaped people have two kinds of characteristics, hence the use of the letter “T” to describe them. The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines.

So what difference can having T-shaped employees make to an organization? Let’s try to understand the power of the T-shape through a successful example.

At IBM, the Designer Practices and Community team used the T-shape model as a framework to reflect on individual skills and assessment. They used it as a starting point to explore how the T-shape could take on various forms depending on the unique skill sets of individual designers. 

The designers were asked to build their own Ts. At the end of the exercise, the designers mapped the skills that they had with the ones that they wanted to grow or develop. Following this, the T took off; a number of other teams in the organization followed the same exercise. How did it help the organization?

·     Helped foster conversation within teams and managers.

·     Promoted transparency.

·     Employees communicated who they are and what should be a priority for improvement.

·     Helped in aligning the organization’s goals with individual ones.

Benefits of the T-shape

The importance of building a workforce with T-shaped employees in the current landscape.

  •  Rather than stressing about AI and robots taking over the world, smart organizations could make use of T-shaped employees. With rapid digital transformation, organizations need adaptable employees who can mould their approach as the organization evolves.
  • The abilities of T-shaped employees – collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork – are attributes that organizations look for in leaders. 
  • The lack of competent leadership is a concern for many industries. According to experts, successful future leaders would be those who can own their development paths. That means, they should have the ability to understand their skills gaps and expand their Top of T skillset to adapt to their organizations requirements. 

Let’s explore, broadly, the T-shaped skill sets by delving into different categories of skills. Although not comprehensive, these skills could be a generic checklist for recruiting managers to follow.

General skills

·     A broad knowledge about a specific discipline (Eg, software, economics, law).

·     A broader context for ones’ specialized skill set.

·     An understanding of the industry, trends and dynamics.

Soft skills

·     Teamwork

·     Communication

·     Networking

·     Time management

·     Tolerance

·     Cultural intelligence

Skills that provide additional value

·     Leadership

·     Negotiation skills

·     Public speaking

·     Creativity and innovation

T-shaped workforce and sustainability

Closing the talent and skills gap is a challenge for a number of organizations. It is a challenge even for those organizations that have proper structure and workforce management programs in place. How can an organization and its HR professionals build a T-shaped workforce for sustainability?

  • Bridge the talent gap by starting a special program that recruits, develops and promotes t-shaped employees.
  • Develop a well thought out T-shaped employee program that is impactful across the organization.
  • Begin by implementing such programs in specific departments where its impact is recognizable and slowly expand its scope to other departments.

Are you ready for a T-shaped revolution?