Honing the capability to deal with an increasingly complex world

If there is one key lesson that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is this: new uncertainties are always lurking around the corner. And when disruptions come, they come hard and fast – as seen in the last three years.

From remote working to supply chain woes, many organisations were caught unprepared as they struggled to adapt to the new normal. With their people ill-equipped to deal with the newfound complexities, most were not agile enough to react. They either fell behind or even ceased to exist.

More difficulties lie ahead. We may be at the tail-end of the pandemic, but the uncertainties are only beginning. Look at how countries are slowly pivoting from globalisation to localisation; the growing divide between the two superpowers – the United States and China – will likely affect us all; and the digital disruption is set to threaten more livelihoods and even entire industries. It is truly a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world today.

This means that it is no longer business as usual. For organisations to flourish, their employees must be able to handle such volatility and ambiguity.

But I have noticed there often seems to be a disconnect between the job role and what companies need in reality. The Government, too, has recognised this disparity, and that is why there is a new buzzword making rounds in the workforce following Budget 2023: Job-Skills Integrators.

They will serve as the middlemen, helping to identify and bridge the gap between the skills that job seekers have and what employers actually need. They will work with training providers to update or develop training programmes to equip people with the right skills.

This targeted approach is a step in the right direction, with the current training landscape currently too fragmented. The online space is saturated with thousands of training courses, leaving learners scratching their heads at which ones to pick. In classrooms, there seems to be a lack of cohesion among training providers – leading to a scattergun approach in reskilling people.

A recent Straits Times opinion article in February suggested how these new Job-Skills Integrators will play a key role in ensuring that Singapore’s workforce remains relevant. But currently, I still feel it seems very much targeted at reskilling the individual – rather than addressing what each organisation needs.

What if there is a more efficient and effective way that ensures organisations have all the right people in place across the chain of command? This is where we are proposing a somewhat radical idea at SIM – to reverse engineer the entire education process, so that learning begins with the employer.

We are suggesting building the capabilities from within, so that every person – from the associate level all the way up to the executives – can adeptly deal with the complexities that lie ahead. Employers spearheading learning for their employees – we believe that this approach will set the organisation up well for success.

The C-Cube

This is where companies can harness SIM’s signature learning methodology called the SIM C-Cube. It is a dynamic, integrated learning framework that focuses on creating well-rounded employees by homing in on the 3Cs: Context, Cognitive Agility, and Capability for Complexity. Let me break it down.

First, context – or job function – refers to the core, technical skillsets required for any job. For instance, a junior nurse should be well-versed in the likes of drawing blood and patient care.

Second, cognitive agility nurtures innovative thinking in every employee – a necessary trait given the sheer amount of disruptions today. Anchored by SIM’s D.A.S.H.+ Framework, our focus on cognitive agility ranges from developing Design Thinking to honing Human Capital Development for High Performance.

The final dimension – capability for complexity – looks at helping employees handle more difficult tasks as they progress. It taps into the theory of requisite organisation developed by social analyst Elliot Jaques.

Let me dive deeper into this. A key principle of requisite organisation is to have a hierarchy of work complexity. This means that as employees climb the corporate ladder, their capability to do complex thinking should increase as they are given heavier responsibilities.

One tangible way to measure this complexity is through time spans. For example, while a junior nurse only needs to provide patient care for a single shift lasting 12 hours, the director of nursing has to plan and schedule shifts for the entire year. The latter role is inherently more complex, as it involves dealing with factors such as manpower shortage, staff management, and long-term thinking.

Such administrative roles require a very different set of skills – traits that may never be honed as a nurse. But when employees get promoted, many are often unable to match their capabilities to the higher demands of their new roles. This is where many companies get stuck, as the capabilities of their employees begin to fall behind the complexity demands of the higher job role.

The C-Cube comes in here by enhancing an employee’s ability to deal with the complex. For instance, at the highest level, it helps C-Suite roles develop the capability for strategic intent – setting the organisation’s long-term vision and mission.

A system where everyone flourishes

When it comes to practical application, the cube can help business leaders understand where the blind spots are in their organisation. It can help prioritise where the biggest pain points are, and like a Rubik’s cube, be delivered in bite-sized pieces. It addresses complexities at all levels – from quality response and service optimisation at an associate level, all the way to strategic development and intent at the executive level.

Ultimately, this cube is all about producing an integrated, cohesive system that produces the best competitive advantage for the organisation. A good football team is built on a solid system of play and players who can handle their individual battles on the pitch. The same applies to organisations.

For organisational success to happen, it is imperative to have people with the right capabilities at each job function to handle different levels of complexity. But this does not mean just going out and recruiting talent. Geoff Colvin, who authored the book Talent is Overrated, wrote that “Great performance is in our hands far more than most of us ever suspected”. Therefore, those that continue to learn and improve themselves can add more value to an organisation than those that just have talent but do not work at it.

I too believe that we are more than our natural abilities. That is why our tagline at SIM is: Learn for Life, Thrive for Life. Anyone can shine, as long as they put in the effort and hone their skills. It will put us in good stead for the uncertain future that lies ahead.