How to Build the Mindset That Will Enable Future Employee 'Reskilling'

The World Economic Forum says 1.4 million U.S. jobs will be disrupted by technology and other factors by 2026. How do you prepare your workforce?

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By Srini Pillay • May 5, 2018 Originally published May 5, 2018

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By now, you've probably heard from various sources that the job market will shift dramatically in the next decade. A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute, for one, predicted that by 2030, 375 million people, or roughly 14 percent of the global workforce, may need to switch occupational categories.

Related: The Future of Work Relies on Your Developing These 5 Team Skills

The World Economic Forum, for another, says that 1.4 million U.S. jobs will be disrupted by technology and other factors between now and 2026.

Scary, to be sure. But, questions remain about how businesses should respond to these shifts. As innovators and disruptors, entrepreneurs will be on the front lines of these changes, and one of the first shifts we'll see in this tech-disrupted features, will be startups having to teach employees the new skills that tomorrow's market will demand.

It's a process called "reskilling." Reskilling will require more than just a new set of instructions. It will require a mindset shift for entrepreneurs and their employees alike.

Three mindset shifts that will enable reskilling

Reskilling without a commensurate shift in mindset would be akin to going down a drop on a rollercoaster without bracing yourself first. Learning a new skill requires change, and change causes a kind of chaos of the brain called cognitive dissonance: The act of choosing to do something differently creates brain discomfort, which further pushes people back into their old habits and mindsets, making new skills even harder to learn.

Related: 10 Ways Slackbots Will Change the Future of Work

Change also causes stress, which turns on habit circuits in the brain. Both stress and cognitive dissonance can lead to employees either stagnating in their reskilling or reversing whatever progress they've made.

As startups face demands for new skills, and entirely new occupations arise in the job market of the future, you as an entrepreneur will have to overcome these challenges to keep yourself and your employees relevant and valuable. The following three mindset shifts will help you increase your chances of reskilling success:

1. Reframe how you talk about yourself.

Society has had a longstanding tradition of people talking about who they "are" in terms of their occupations. This tendency comes from an age when work was considered to be a lifelong commitment: What you did was synonymous with who you were.

Now, as London Business School professor Lynda Gratton points out, the future of work is changing, and careers have become "more fluid, flexible and multi-staged." As an entrepreneur, then, you will need to change the lenses through which you view new hires.

Rather than searching for consistency in past work, you should look for résumés with a "reskilling profile" that shows off the ease with which a potential employee might go through a multi-stage life and career. You should think of yourself and your employees as continuous works in progress.

That makes sense because, your brain continually changes (often for the better) as you age. Because your brain can change, you can change, too. For example, University of California-San Francisco researchers found that, when trained with a video game called "Neuroracer," people between the ages of 60 and 85 learned to multitask at a level beyond that of untrained 20-year-olds, with those gains persisting for six months. Obviously, your anatomy is not your destiny.

Aside from reconceptualizing who you are, adjust your own résumé to reflect the reskilling profile mentioned earlier. You can also develop cross-functional teams in your company by assigning employees secondary roles that are entirely different from their primary ones.

For example, rather than hiring a separate team leader, you could have each person on the team rotate into the leadership position in addition to performing his or her primary function. For example, someone whose role is programming could learn leadership skills long before he or she might be considered for the chief technology officer position within an organization.

2. Develop your brain's prediction circuits.

To prepare for reskilling, you also need some sense of what the future will hold. While this may appear to be a crapshoot, it's not impossible to anticipate future directions: People like futurist Ray Kurzweil are known for their accurate forecasts of the future. Skilled predictors just use the prediction circuits in the brain more effectively.

These circuits are called the "default mode network," and they can put together puzzle pieces of information to generate possible and probable future trajectories of work. For example, when Kurzweil says that machines will be smarter than humans by 2045, he is likely combining information that is tangible and available to everyone together with nformation hidden in his brain.

His past predictions -- both accurate and inaccurate -- form important data points, and he's trained his brain to weave together those data points with other data points to form fairly accurate predictions.

To activate your own default mode network, build "unfocus times" into your day. Your brain can take only so much focus, and by devoting a few minutes to something unrelated to work, you could, paradoxically, save youreself a lot of time. For example, nap for five to 15 minutes after lunch to get one to three hours of greater clarity, which in turn might increase your productivity and get your prediction circuits going, too.

Another idea; In your last 15 minutes of lunch, go for a walk on a curvy path. This will likely make you more creative and turn on your prediction circuits, as well.

3. Choose compassion over compliance.

A 2015 study by Case Western Reserve psychology professor Richard Boyatzis and his colleagues found that coaching with compassion was superior to coaching for compliance. That's because coaching for compliance triggers stress and cognitive dissonance. Asking people to comply with externally set goals activates the fight-or-flight system and increases the resulting stress.

Coaching with compassion, in contrast, activates the regions of employees' brains that help spur big-picture thinking and motivation. This approach can help people relax into their futures and gain perspective on what is to come. Once your employees make this mindset switch, they'll be more receptive to the reskilling process.

Whether you're working with your employees or yourself, ask three questions to enhance compassion: What do you value? Does your work feel authentic? Do you feel sufficiently in control of your work situation? These questions will activate the intrinsic motivation needed to push through change and be a positive influence in the workplace.

Related: The Future of Work: Solving Problems Through a Flexible Workforce

Overall, mindset shifts are vital for reskilling, and reskilling itself will be critical to help companies adjust to the workforce of the future. As an entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to lead the way in this shift. By helping employees build new mindsets, you will be in a far better position to accelerate the reskilling process.

Srini Pillay

Founder and CEO, Neurobusiness Group

Srini Pillay, M.D., is the CEO of NeuroBusiness Group, the award-winning author of numerous books and the creator of a series of videos on "Managing Depression in the Workplace" for LinkedIn Learning.

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