Recently, I was in New York City for work and had my first in-person meetings in over 18 months and had an experience that was an interesting metaphor for employee development and training.

While there, I took the opportunity for a night out and attended a performance at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Performed by experimental sound artist ASUNA, the show featured a large circle of over 100 keyboards in the center of the room. ASUNA began by playing a single note on a keyboard. He then moved to the next keyboard and played another note or notes, and then to another keyboard, and another, until eventually all 100 keyboards were playing in unison. The effect was a gradual crescendo culminating in an explosive, meditative immersion in sound. As I observed ASUNA carefully move from keyboard to keyboard, playing note after note, it dawned on me this experience was similar in many ways to best practices necessary to conduct and harmonize employee development and upskilling with business objectives.

How? You might say that each employee in a company is responsible for playing a series of notes on their own keyboard. When combined with the efforts of all other fellow employees, the company harmonizes and achieves much greater results together than any single player could.

Specifically, I think there are three main areas in which upskilling and musical performances are similar:

  • A focus on the customer experience.
  • A focus on the employee experience.
  • Leadership and execution.

Throughout the development of the 100 Keyboards show, I’m confident that ASUNA carefully imagined the experience he wanted attendees to have. Companies also have similar planning exercises to define their ideal customer experience, including what will attract new customers and retain existing ones. Clearly defining the customer lifecycle using tools like design thinking, customer journey mapping and voice of the customer can help align different company departments, including marketing, sales, product development, engineering and more, on a clearly defined execution strategy.

However, I believe companies often miss a key a component during this strategic planning: They often don’t consider what the underlying employee experience should be as well. Although this blog is too short to properly discuss the connections, you can read this blog on employee career maps, and this one on user experience in training for more information on the subject.

In a nutshell, if employees are ultimately responsible for driving the customer experience and thus company success, they need their own roadmap and a clear understanding of what notes to play, in what combination, and when.

Upskilling is one of the most effective tools business leaders can deploy to better align their organization with future goals and objectives. By identifying what skills employees bring now, and what they need in the future, leaders can plan for the future of work.

Digital transformation, remote work, new technologies, new generations in the workforce, and many other factors are driving unprecedent change and straining talent marketplaces. Identifying existing skills and preparing for future ones allows companies to better manage the talent pipeline by filling open positions from within, which includes the added benefits of retaining employees longer, reducing hiring costs and increasing employee engagement — all of which enables employees to better deliver on the company’s promise to customers.

So, how do you get started on identifying your ideal upskilling program?

Start by collaborating closely with other business leaders to clearly — and visually, if possible — define how your company’s customer experience strategy aligns to your desired employee experience. Next, identify a current and future state comparison of what skills employees need to execute on that strategy. Once the skills are identified, determine how best to establish and cultivate a culture of continuous learning for all employees — from frontline workers to managers to senior executives, everyone must have access to upskilling opportunities. It’s also important to ensure that your leadership development curriculum emphasizes coaching and employee growth. Then, evaluate if your current learning technology and content strategy enables upskilling quickly and inclusively, and what additional investments you need to make in your learning ecosystem.

Lastly, you might consider what change management and internal employee marketing campaigns are needed to promote and sustain adoption of your upskilling program. This is especially important if you are implementing an internal talent marketplace in addition to an upskilling program.

In Conclusion 

The demands on human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) to fill the talent gap in today’s rapidly changing and increasingly digital economy have never been higher. Aligning the employee experience with key strategies for maximizing the customer experience provides an opportunity to identify key skills employees need now and in the future. With careful planning and execution, just like ASUNA and his keyboards, leaders can synchronize each employee’s contributions into a unified whole that allows individuals to achieve greatness together.