HR Blog

Being skilled at upskilling

A constant challenge for most organisations is to make sure their people are up to date with the skills they need. It’s a subject that’s been debated within HR (and in particular Learning & Development teams) for some time, but with the rate of change in the world increasing every day the pressure on solving this challenge becomes greater and greater. There are a number of ways L&D teams are trying to solve this challenge, where some of the most common ways do not seem to work!

Reactive Skills Building 

One common way is to stay close to the business, keeping our ears to the ground and responding to the needs expressed by business leaders. However, this is too reactive. It means waiting for the business to tell us what they need at a specific moment. Which, in turn, means that there will be a skills gap in the time it takes to find the best learning solution and an additional gap in the time it takes to upskill the people that need to perform the task. In addition, if it takes time to fill this skills gap, there’s the risk that the skills are obsolete to some extent once acquired. 

Being this reactive is very tactical and non-strategic. It creates the risk of walking astray in a direction that might serve you in the short term (instant gratification), but will not take you towards your long term mission in the best way. It would actually make you slower than if you had taken a more proactive approach.

Proactive Skills Building

Another approach, which is what many forward-thinking L&D teams are choosing, is to try to predict future skills. It’s a hard path to tread though – it means looking at the ‘Future of Work’ trends and attempting to decipher the signals from the company and industry expertise to decide what the future needs in your particular arena may be. The many variables and unpredictability may be too hard. According to a recent study by Gartner, when using this predictive approach, employees apply only 37% of the new skills they learn, as the predictions were wrong.

A Dynamic Approach

We need an approach that’s more agile and dynamic. To stay nimble we have to involve all parts of the company and avoid old routines of conducting traditional learning needs analysis and/or surveys by asking the business what the needs are. It’s just too reactive. We also need to take into account and use the collective intelligence and power of our people, our culture, our processes, and technology.

We’re All Owners

At Spotify we nurture a strong learning culture, where we ask our band members to drive their development. This means that our people need to take ownership and think about what they need to develop and how. This is enabled by managers who will be there to support the growth of their employees. And it’s empowered by HR and L&D who are providing the tools and knowledge they need to plan for their future. We think this is really important because with the speed of change we’re experiencing, managers being responsible for their team members’ development, will create a bottleneck and slow us down. And we shouldn’t expect our people to put their future in the hands of someone else – there are constant decisions to be made (both big and small) about the direction for their growth and career. As I mentioned in a previous blog post about the 4th industrial revolution, in our new reality many people will have multiple careers, across a variety of industries in their lifetime – so why would anyone leave it up to one manager in one company to drive their lifelong learning and development?

To create more transparency, equity and fluidity of opportunities to build skills dynamically we are building a marketplace for all Spotifiers. It supports our employees who are driving their development and making skills decisions, and also helps to evolve and develop the organisation by nurturing internal movement. We’re connecting band members with opportunities to learn in projects, by mentorships, or by finding a new job internally. This type of technology is of utter importance for our ability to scale, for reach, adoption, transparency and speed. Again, we need to create the space for our people to drive their development.


When hiring, an important trait we look for in our candidates is adaptability. Having high AQ (adaptability quotient) means being adept at changing behaviours fast in response to ever changing circumstances, and our workforce stays learning-agile. 

This is not to be confused with being flexible, which is a word often used interchangeably with adaptability. Being flexible is being able to stretch oneself – you can adjust to a certain extent, like a rubber band. But if you are constantly stretched you will probably break in the end. Being adaptable means accepting and moving into a new reality of how we do things. Not stretching our behaviours temporarily, but replacing them with new ones. To be able to thrive in our constantly changing world this is an important difference to understand and have self-awareness about. 

At Spotify, we work specifically with self-awareness and building the AQ skills. AQ is not a fixed trait, but something anyone can develop. This is of course also strongly connected to a Growth Mindset, which is one of our core beliefs to build and maintain a learning culture.

Longevity of Skill Sets

Another useful approach we use is to divide skills into durable and perishable skills. There are numerous alarming reports around the dramatic shortening of the shelf life of skills. It’s true that this is happening, however, not all skills fall into this category so it’s important to separate the different categories to be able to take the right approach. 

There are the skills needed to do a specific task now, these are often job-specific and change frequently. We can define these as perishable skills. 

Then there are the meta-skills, skills in how to build skills. These are the durable skills that are transferable to any job and that build to your lifelong learning journey. They can include skills in reasoning, strategic thinking, self awareness and more. 

At Spotify, this is where we double down. We do have teams working on the high-need perishable, short life-span type of skills that are needed now, but we also have a global L&D team working on the durable skills.

Making sure your workforce can be skilled in skilling themselves is the key to learning success in this fast-changing world. Remember to always base your learning strategy on your people and your culture, and if you haven’t already done so, lay the groundwork for embracing the growth mindset and the idea of adaptability. Then go for it – use your workforce’s AQ to navigate the fast-changing world, and strengthen your adaptability muscle.

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