A point of view on the APG’s updated Strategy Skills Survey and what we have learned from it.
Planning can be a ridiculously intimidating job
The APG recently repeated a skills survey last run 6 years ago. We wanted to find out what skills planners think they need, and which are important now and in the future.
(A big thank you to Mike Treharne of Leo Burnett who masterminded the research)
The survey featured 24 different skills. We couldn’t cut the number down any further, however hard we tried.
Are there any other jobs/roles in the broad spectrum of ‘knowledge working’ that encompass so many disparate skills? Just think for a moment about law, accountancy, even management consultancy; I doubt they could come up with such a broad spectrum of demands on their people.
The 24 that we enumerated are skills that we in the strategy and planning community readily understand and deem important. Yet it’s impossible for one person or even one department to properly represent them all.
Yet the 417 planners and strategists who took part in the survey think they are all important to a degree.
The highest rated, is ‘Understanding people’ scoring at 9.45 and the lowest rated is ‘developing and selling products’ at 6.47. But almost all the skills from selling ideas to understanding data and consumer journeys are reasonably highly rated.
And the more years’ experience you have, and more senior you become, the more you rate more skills as important across the board. That’s a big pressure we put on ourselves.
This is an extraordinary feature of the planning/strategy discipline. Both its greatest strength and a source of potential weakness.
Strength, because we are in demand in more and more different kinds of business and strategists are seen as absolutely key to new business and holding down clients.
But a weakness perhaps because we can’t do everything and maybe we are getting the prioritisation wrong; not facing up to the challenges that our prioritisation brings about.
Planners think their core skills are timeless, but data and tech skills are strangely undervalued
‘Core’ skills of understanding people, defining problems and unearthing insight are also the ones that people think they will need most in the future.
Empathy and understanding of the consumer remain the domain of the human being; an intuitive sense of the unspoken need, the culture beneath the data, the universal needs associated with the human condition. Applying these skills in an imaginative way to business problems marks planners out as unique in the strategy world.
Married with excellent technical skills around measurement and evaluation, this should be an unbeatable combination.
But the odd thing is that data driven, tech and business skills are considered much less important for the future. Is this a wilful blindness about what is coming with AI and machine learning? Or a massive vote of confidence in planners’ ability to ride out change by adapting and learning and incorporating new ways of working in their existing armoury?
The skills you need to get ahead are all about business
When we ask what skills people think are key to career progression there is a shift in favour of proving effectiveness, understanding the business context, and consulting on business transformation.
These are also the skills they think they most need training to acquire.
Planners recognise that they need to complement their core craft skills with more upstream business understanding so they can become more senior consultants to clients.
Are we failing the planners of the future by not training them in future-proofing skills?
The APG runs a highly successful, broad programme of courses. But we have noted over the years that our least subscribed courses are the data/business and tech related ones. This remains true today, as demand and uptake for this kind of training is relatively so low.
It also feels like a failure of agencies to grasp the skills planners are going to need most and invest in them.
We believe that whilst the core skills of empathy and intuition are our biggest advantage over AI, the importance of greater data expertise can't be ignored as a senior skill. It is so highly valued in the very senior boardrooms where we are expected to have growing influence, so we need as a community to double down on teaching it.
Therefore we will be enhancing our training programme to make sure our courses have greater emphasis on data/tech/business skills and create new ones to meet this need.
And if we put them on, we need you senior managers to embrace them and train your people who are crying out for it. And if you’d like to volunteer to help make this happen, just mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
After all. You never ask your consumer base for an opinion unless you are prepared to act on it.
You can see the results from the 2023 Strategy Skills Survey below, alongside our findings from a similar survey in 2017.