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The most important skill

What's the most important skill?What’s the most important skill in business? Not just marketing skill, mind you, but business overall? What separates companies that “get it” from those that fall by the wayside?

Hang with me for a second and I’ll let you know.

But first a story.

I recently gave a talk and was asked whether I’d studied e-commerce and Internet marketing in college. My answer? “There was no e-commerce or Internet marketing when I went to college.”

And let’s be clear. I’m not that old. I’ve been working in e-commerce and Internet marketing for a little over 16 years and hadn’t been out of college for that long when I started.

Here’s one more clue.

How many of you work in the same job you did ten years ago? How many of you for the same company? How many of you work in the same industry?

While hard numbers are hard to come by, it’s likely many of you would answer “no” to those questions. If we assume that the average person changes jobs about once every 4 years, odds are you’ve changed jobs twice in the last decade. And it’s entirely possible that job change meant you switched employers, too.

The number one skill that enables that change is the ability to learn. There’s simply no greater skill you can possess — or your company can promote — to remain competitive in a rapidly changing economy.

In fact, one of the things that bugs me so much about CEO’s barring access to Facebook and other social networks for employees is its inherent distrust of new methods for communication. Yes, some employees likely take advantage of open access to goof off. But a greater number are learning how to use social tools to improve their lives and their company’s business results.

The likelihood that you’ll be doing the same thing 10 years from now is pretty slim. But the companies that encourage their employees to anticipate and adapt to the changes in the marketplace are the ones best positioned to succeed. Not just today, but for the long run.

What about the risk that you’re training your employees to go work for someone else? Well, sure, that’s a possibility. But’s look at it from this perspective: As we’ve already seen, there’s very little likelihood that your employees are going to stay with you forever.

For instance, one of the best project managers I’ve ever worked with recently moved into an entirely unrelated field, one that offered her outstanding growth opportunities and greater personal satisfaction. Nothing that her employer could have offered in terms of training, benefits or salary was likely to dissuade her from moving on. But, in the interim, her company benefited from providing her access to project management certification and tuition reimbursement by having a highly motivated, incredibly effective project manager on their staff for almost a decade.

So, sure there’s a risk. But you know what’s a bigger risk to your business: That they learn nothing and stay.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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