Q: I want to move my company in a more customer-centric direction, but my employees are more concerned with how change affects them. They do their jobs well, but we aren’t achieving the growth we need. How can I address the gap?

A: Employees need a combination of skills, cultivated over time, to provide your company with the greatest value. Think about three levels of skill development for your team: market-generic, industry-specific and organizationally unique.

Market-generic skills are important within an organization, and many people have them, e.g., entry-level professional skills like accounting, market analysis and sales analysis. These are important to organizational success, but are in greater supply in the economy. As employees improve their market skills, they develop capabilities that provide higher value to an organization.

Industry-specific skills reflect the unique features of particular industries. Fundamental mind-sets and behaviors differ from one industry to the next. This is the notion that “the way we walk, talk and act is different here than over there.” Consider these capabilities as a minimum baseline for success in your industry. Newcomers need to learn these operating behaviors to fit the industry culture. Failure to do so will often limit the value an individual provides to an organization.

The third type of skill, organizationally unique skills, are required in organizations that have created some form of differentiation, i.e., doing something in a way that sets an organization apart from its competitors. In your company, you may focus on developing a process for serving customers that isn’t matched by the competition. Employees will need to learn that customers are the lifeblood of an organization, and strong interpersonal interaction is valued. Involve your employees in defining the process and train new hires to execute the proprietary service process.

To develop these skills, help your employees discover the company’s differentiating factor and determine the behaviors required for that factor. Employees with this training provide the highest level of value to the organization.

Understanding the progressive level of skill development is vital for company growth.


Michael Sheppeck is an associate professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.