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Power skills needed to exceed culture and well-being expectations amid deeply uncertain times

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

As risks grow in the age of simultaneous poly-crises, companies need to increase their investment in power skills to enable employees to cope with and thrive in BANI chaotic times

A couple of years ago futurist Jamais Cascio created the Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear & Incomprehensible (BANI) model as a tool to help humans deal with chaotic futures. Indeed, the world since 2020 has felt tumultuous, with simultaneous poly-crises stemming from the pandemic and rapid technological shifts with the mainstreaming of generative AI (Gen AI) threatening job loss to geopolitical instability, almost daily manifestations of climate change, and high cost-of-living increases.

Looking into 2024 and beyond, the future appears to be just as turbulent. To make sense of these dynamic changes, the BANI model provides a spot-on description of these realities:

      • Brittle refers to the fabricated narratives that individuals share among themselves to foster a sense of comfort and security.
      • Anxiety is characterized by feelings of powerlessness and being overwhelmed by one’s circumstances and is a subjective feeling caused by a gap between what one expects and what one experiences. To combat anxiety, people need a sense of control.
      • Non-linearity is a concept connecting two or more variables that does not follow a linear pattern, and the chaos of the world follows a nonlinear pattern as a foundational trait of any intricate system.
      • Incomprehensible describes a situation in which individuals struggle to understand unfolding events that they find themselves unable to comprehend, interpret, or make sense of as to what is happening and why.

BANI primarily reflects our perception of the situation rather than the world itself. However, it is just that — a sense. With 24/7 information flow, unrest, economic uncertainty, and dramatic technological change, control becomes an illusion.

At the end of the day, however, we can only control how we respond to these simultaneous, destabilizing shifts. As Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel once stated: “Change has never been this fast and will never be this slow again.” That means that BANI circumstances brought about by change and increasingly fast-paced change is telling a person’s brain, Oh no. I am under threat. What do I do now? I need to find safety.

If safety is not found, panic in humans is hardwired as a natural response, and the threat response driven by fear can start to lead to stress. This acute stress, which was useful when humans needed to run away from beasts during the Paleolithic age, is triggered by the flight. flight, or freeze response, but it is not so useful when dealing with chronic stress.

Power skills development to cope with change

One of the ways employees and organizations can effectively respond in the wake of chronic uneasiness is through skills development; and power skills, formerly known as soft skills, are a critical element to creating thriving workplaces. Power skills include developing capabilities for leaders, individual contributors, teams, and functions. These leader capabilities include managing talent, strategic execution and direction, coaching, and leading through change, according to a 2024 report from McLean & Co.

Key power skills for individuals include adaptability, resilience, change ability, decision-making and problem solving, and being planful. Among teams, collaboration, communication, influencing, emotional intelligence, and networking are the primary power skills; and at the organizational level, power skills include business acumen, organizational awareness, and risk management.

The swift pace of change and the sense of destabilization are altering the landscape of workplace skills, making the development of power skills essential to human, employee, and workplace well-being during chaotic times. The time is now for employers and employees together to invest in power skills. However, it is important to remember that the more enduring and adaptable skills and competencies becomes more complex when considering the varied experiences of employees and economic conditions.

Power skills include developing capabilities for leaders, individual contributors, teams, and functions.

To maintain high employee productivity, skills development across employees most often focuses on tasks and functional skills. These naturally are easier to teach and train, and it’s often easier to determine their impact in terms of return of investment (ROI) because of the straightforward nature of their impact on efficiency.

Power skills, however, are more difficult to master because in many cases, they require experiential experimentation and intentionality. In addition, the ROI can be nebulous because of the nonlinear nature of seeing the impact. Moreover, when forced to choose between one or the other, task and functional skills will usually win. For example, only 32% of respondents reported that their office workers were highly proficient at leadership skills and competencies, according to the McLean report, which also noted that across office and non-office workers, task and functional skills are being prioritized disproportionately, while power skills are more closely associated with organizational success.

When all employees are highly proficient at power skills at the individual, team, organizational, and leadership levels, however, a flywheel effect occurs for the organization. More specifically, organizations cultivating power skills, according to the same report, are:

      • 1-times more likely to be high performing at the ability to change at scale to capitalize on new opportunities at the individual level;
      • 1-times more likely to be high performing at diversity, equity, and inclusion among teams;
      • 1-times more likely to be high performing at generating and implementing new ideas at the organization level; and
      • 8-times more likely to be high performing at shaping a strong organizational culture by leadership.

While task and functional skills are important for productivity, underinvesting in power skills in the long run does a disservice to the organization and its employees multi-dimensionally. Organizations should be preparing their workforce with resilient skills and competencies to successfully navigate the circumstances of the BANI model and the ongoing changes and disruptions occurring in 2024 and beyond.

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