What Can You Do With Your Swiss Army Knife? Add Three Skill Awareness and Development Tools to Yours

Julie Jones
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the multipurpose tool -- The Swiss Army knife. Tools have been added to the knife, including a screwdriver, a can opener, a saw blade, and scissors as examples. These tools are stowed in the handle and use a pivot mechanism when you are ready to use them. Several years ago, a friend of mine shared that he wanted to make sure that he had various tools (skills) like a Swiss Army knife to enhance his value in the organization.

Another leader shared that he felt leaders could also be pigeonholed into a singular skill set when they don’t get the opportunity to branch out or only use the knife tool in their Swiss Army knife. Consider your Swiss Army Knife --  your tools, skills, and capabilities in the scenarios below.      

1. Tools (Skills) and Awareness

What are the critical tools (or skills) you need for your current role or those required for a future role? Job descriptions, guides, or postings are excellent sources of information. When you review these documents, create a list of skills or competencies. Note some documents might already include them.

Consider the question, “How well are you performing in your current role? What skills do I perform well and what skills require additional development.” These questions can be a good springboard for a discussion with your current leader. What do they see, or what recommendations do they have for building your tools or skills? And then, develop a plan to grow them. Most leaders of leaders want to see your commitment to growth, development, and learning. It’s essential to find success in a current role before preparing for your next promotion in the organization.

If you are considering a future role or a different career path, use LinkedIn® or Indeed® job descriptions or resources for a similar review. Talk with people who might hold these roles. What do they believe are the critical skills, and how can you best learn them? Job shadow or volunteer for a project that provides insight. What is important to learn as you consider a promotion or a career shift? Mentors and peers can also provide balance and perspective. What do they see? What suggestions do they have for you?

At the end of the assessment process, take an inventory of the tools that you have available on your Swiss Army knife that you can offer to organizations.

Consider these questions:
  • Are you maximizing value with your tools and skills, or are you using a narrow set of tools most of the time?
  • What are the tools that you want to use or develop?
  • Will this happen in your current job?  
  • What might you want to consider for job and career growth?

#2. Ongoing Maintenance

How well maintained are your tools (skills)? All skills require periodic tune-ups. Perhaps you haven’t used a skill in a while. If the tools inside the Swiss Army knife, no longer pivot as needed, they require maintenance, such as scrubbing or polishing, to restore their function. The same thing happens to knowledge and skills. If you don’t invest in ongoing learning, practice the skills, or seek feedback on your performance, you might not be able to turn on these skills when needed.  

Each Spring, I refresh my knowledge of standardized recipes and its related formulas -- As Purchased Need and Edible Portion Cost for a Foodservice Management in Dietetics course I teach. I don’t use these processes everyday so I have to review the content and practice creating standardized recipes so that I can teach them and share additional resources. I’m sure you also some periodic skills that might fall into this category.

Consider these questions to review your tools/skills:
  • Are your skills still current and relevant?
  • What knowledge, practice, or feedback might you seek to improve their use?
  • What can you learn from others who demonstrate your “rusty” skill at a high level?

#3. Evolution of Tools

In The Swiss Army Knife Book - 63 Outdoor Projects, the author, Felix Immler, demonstrates a variety of uses for the tools to make projects, such as a chair, a bed, and a bowl. Too often, it is easy to limit the tool or skill to a single function. But, when you mash up or multipurpose your skills, you create complementary skills that are unique to you. For example, you might use your relationship skills to build a strong collaboration with your finance partner. She can help you navigate financials and identify key findings you can share with your leader and team. Using this mashup process, also helps you forge the finance tool on your Swiss Army knife.

At some point, many Swiss Army knives added a corkscrew tool. In 1891, when the Karl Elsener Company made their first knife, I’m not sure the founder imagined needing a tool to drink wine in the field. But the corkscrew was added to the officer’s knives. The corkscrew tool required custom fabrication so that it would fit.

Today, the corkscrew tool might not be needed since many wines have moved away from cork stoppers. Think about some specialty skills that are obsolete or have merged into other skill sets. How many people remember keypunch operators? Robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence will impact what is required for “new skills” and how they evolve over time.

Consider these questions for evolving skills:
  • What skills will be required in the future for your current or future roles?
  • What skills will be adapted?
  • What other skills can you use to complement skill performance? How can you use these while learning?

What’s In Your Swiss Army Knife?

Consider your Swiss Army knife like the Capital One commercial “What’s in your wallet? Are your tools advancing your career the way you want? What tools or skills need maintenance, might you need to develop, or evolve? Are you able to use various tools (skills) to demonstrate your value and show continued growth over time in your current job or career path? Or would you like to shift your direction and leverage your existing tools in new ways?    
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