Principles of Change for Upskilling Your Workforce

- 6 min read

Change is an ever-present part of running an organisation. Today, rapid changes in technology, market dynamics, staffing, and consumer preferences have accelerated the need for upskilling and reskilling across industries.

A recent Deloitte Human Capital Trends report indicates that over half of today’s workforce needs new skill sets to do their jobs — and this trend has grown more acute in the wake of widespread staffing changes as people switch jobs or leave the workforce altogether. As a result, organisations are finding it more difficult to fill positions than in previous years and face additional pressure to close skill gaps with existing team members.

Upskilling means change for your organisation. To drive lasting impact from new upskilling programs and requirements, leaders must help their people embrace collective behaviour change from the inside out and position change as an opportunity for positive growth.

To help people move through change and grow their individual effectiveness as they engage with upskilling programs, leaders need to understand the common patterns of change and how people react to it. Developing this knowledge creates capable leaders who can help their teams navigate disruption to reach innovation on the other side. Let’s begin by reviewing change as a whole, and then we’ll explore how to position upskilling as an opportunity for both individual and organisational growth.

How Change Works

Change often feels difficult because as humans, we’re wired to react to it. This innate survival response can even make us feel threatened by change. But knowing that change follows a predictable pattern can help you take more of an upper hand, especially as you start paying attention to how your personal reactions to change figure into the process.

The stages of change are always the same: 

  1. Status quo: Where you are before the change
  2. Disruption: Where you move once the change starts
  3. Adoption: Where you adapt to the new rules of change
  4. Innovation: Where you find success in change

As a leader, understanding where you and people at your organisation are along this spectrum can help you turn the uncertainty of change into an exciting opportunity.

The reactions to change include five common classifications:  

  • Move: rolling with change quickly
  • Minimize: changing as little as possible
  • Wait: making no changes until others do
  • Resist: actively fighting against change and convincing others to do the same
  • Quit: deciding not to engage with change

Before you can help other people navigate change, you first need to get in touch with your own personal reactions to change. For example, if you find yourself in a minimize mindset when faced with a change, you may need to spend some time working through your initial hesitation before you can encourage your people. This internal reflection will not only help you better sell the vision of change — it can increase your empathy toward others, and empathy is necessary for people to persist through change.

As you learn more about how people understand, navigate, react to, and prepare for change, you’ll build a solid foundation that helps you and your organisation move through initial reactions to change to collective action that creates long-term impact.

Position Change as a Growth Opportunity for All

A change like upskilling isn’t just about trying to fill gaps in your current workforce’s knowledge and capabilities. It’s about communicating a vision of change — in this instance, one that helps individuals see how they and your organisation can benefit from developing new skills that align with your business’s goals.

A key response to change is creating a powerful understanding of possibility built on the shared language and values of your organisational culture. As you start down the upskilling road, encourage people to see the positive impact that can come from change. This can help them get comfortable with change because they recognize the benefits it offers them personally as well as to the company as a whole.

Opportunities for Individuals

Individuals in your organisation need to feel empowered to ask for support and direction through change, and the change of upskilling is no exception. Have regular transparent conversations with your people about where your organisation is heading, and illustrate how their career development is situated within this broader change strategy. This creates a high-trust culture that helps you position upskilling or reskilling as a change where each individual can come out on top in their current — or new — role within your organisation. You can also help them understand the ways this change will help them achieve their long-term career goals as well.

Opportunities for Organisations

While upskilling is a longer-term investment in individual team members, supporting these changes ultimately has benefits for your organisation. When people are offered upskilling opportunities for their professional growth — and encouraged to take advantage of them — organisational metrics like engagement and retention increase. In addition, clearly aligning a change like upskilling with long-term organisational objectives can motivate team members to embrace it because it supports your communicated vision of change as benefit rather than change as threat. As you connect change to your organisation’s mission and values, you build a platform for collective behaviour change that can help motivate people who may be resistant or slow-moving at first to see upskilling as a way for their entire team to succeed.

See — and Model — Change as Growth

Navigating organisational change can be a challenge, especially when it comes to upskilling and reskilling. Understanding the patterns of change and the predictable change journey reinforces a high-trust culture and allows effective leaders to reframe upskilling as an achievement opportunity for individuals and organisations. As you recognize each person’s reaction to change and support them through its stages, you’ll create a safe, encouraging process that will help them embrace upskilling and its lasting benefits.

A skilled leader can turn disruption into an opportunity for innovation and growth, helping their people prepare, persist, and gain a new perspective that leads to better processes and outcomes.