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The traditional focus on technical and line management skills needs rebalancing to take into account commercial skills and knowledge.

This is what we call the People Challenge

Over the last 15 years we’ve noticed people’s roles in the workplace have been changing. Roles that were previously technical or administrative are now on the front line of commerce.

We’ve watched engineers become sales-people responsible for the commercial exploitation of their organisations’ IPR rather than simply the resolution of engineering problems. Programme managers, likewise, are increasingly responsible for managing a network of suppliers and partners to deliver sophisticated programmes and projects at a profit rather than simply to a schedule. Even nurses in hospitals now manage outsourced providers of cleaning and catering.

In the era of outsourcing, managers whose task was previously to line manage large teams of direct reports, now find they have fewer, if any, direct reports. Instead, they are more likely to be managing suppliers to carry out work previously done in house.

People who are successful in this changing environment are not necessarily those with the highest degree of technical skill or knowledge. They are individuals who combine technical or specialist skills with a comfort in the more ambiguous world of commerce, trading and negotiation.

For some employees the changes are exciting, but for many the changes are, at the very least, uncomfortable, at worst stressful and frightening. It is little wonder that many cling to how they have always done things, rather than change.

The traditional focus on developing and refreshing technical and line management skills needs rebalancing to take into account commercial skills and knowledge.