Staying Relevant: Either We Continually Adapt, or We End Up Obsolete

The headline in USA Today blared Columbia flunks relevancy test.

Columbia University’s Journalism School just appointed a new dean. The uproar was astounding, to say the least.

The new dean’s “alleged crime” is that he comes from a background of print [think newspapers and magazines] and he is taking over the training ground for the next generation of journalists whose skill set has changed.

This new dean (his name is Steve Coll, an author and former Washington Post managing editor), and while having impeccable credentials, he is not versed in social media and reportedly does not have a Twitter account.

And while a Twitter or Facebook account should not be a requirement for a job, having them should be taken into consideration if you are going to be training students in an industry that has been decimated by social media. You should be well versed in the annals of digital media

Industry changed but skills set did not

In my prior life, I was Vice President of Human Resources for Martha Stewart Living. Our primary revenue generator was our magazine, which at one time as thick as a copy of the Yellow Pages. Now, the publication resembles the entire phone book of the small town I grew up in.

The publishing industry has been terribly disrupted, perhaps more than any other industry. Every newspaper on this planet is having a tough time. Every day there are more layoffs as editors try an monetize their properties. And magazines also have gone on a tremendous diet, with some now as slim as a comic book.

What all this means is that print media as we once knew it is over. Social media, combined with the Internet, has cleaned the clock of the publishing industry. This begs the question: How DO you train the next generation of leaders when the future is not clear?

Current State vs. Future State

I had an executive tell me a story last week about hiring a facilities executive with the same duties and responsibilities that they had for the last one who left abruptly. They pulled out the last job description took a quick look and agreed that “yes, this looks good, let’s run with it.

They found the right candidate, or at least that what they thought until they announced the building campaign which would take up the next 10 years. Suddenly, that brand new facilities person was under water. She said they knew then that they had the wrong person in the role. The skill set that they hired was no longer relevant for the future needs of the position.

Skill sets of jobs today are changing at warp speed. How do you hire for the future? Today’s workers need to be able to work in almost any medium, be comfortable using different technologies, and stay abreast of current and future trends.

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Roles and responsibilities change fast

As part of year-end evaluations, job descriptions should be thoroughly scrutinized to make sure that are in sync with not only the current state of the job, but the future state as well. Every time someone leaves, a thorough analysis of the job should take place to make sure that the skills needed for the role are current and up-to-date

Today, keeping a job is a job in itself.

This is especially the case with succession planning because I have always figured that every role within an organization should be looked at through the lens of succession.

If this dean’s role at Columbia had gone through this process, perhaps they would have realized that the dean who had been in place for years and had the skill set for print media would not be the ideal candidate for the future. It appears that they hired from the same job description that the prior occupant had. As a matter of fact, both the new and old deans worked at the same companies

If you think of your current role and think five years out, how much do you think it will change? Social media has changed the vast majority of our jobs and that change will continue uninterrupted like a runaway train while we hold on for dear life.

Either we adapt and improve our skill set, or, we end up obsolete in an industry that has moved on without us.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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