April 17, 2023

Which skills matter? Employees and L&D leaders don’t always agree [research]

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Which skills matter in the modern workplace – to get promoted, to get ahead, to impact the business? It turns out that employees and learning leaders don’t always agree.

We recently surveyed 10,000 students and 250 learning leaders on the skills that are their biggest priority in 2023.

Here’s what we found.

Want to share with your coworkers? Download the full report >

1. Strategy was the biggest priority for employees, but it lagged behind for L&D.

We’ve all heard a fellow employee praised in these terms: “They’re super strategic.” But what exactly does that mean, and how do you do it consistently?

When we surveyed our students, strategic planning and execution was the most requested skill for 2023. Students wanted to understand what drives their business, how to evaluate and implement different business models, and how to “be more strategic” in every activity – no matter how small.

By the numbers:

  • 68% of students said they want to improve their strategic ability
  • 31% said they want to grow into a strategy role at their organization
  • Our business strategy course was the #1 course in 2022 in terms of enrollment

In comparison, 18% of L&D leaders said that strategic planning was their highest priority skill for 2023.

2. L&D leaders wanted their people to learn management skills. Employees were more focused on the business results.

L&D and talent leaders are often tasked with growing the next generation of leaders for their organization, so it’s no surprise that “management” and “leadership” skills were their top priority.

In our survey of L&D leaders, the same management skills came up repeatedly:

  • Coaching
  • Crucial conversations
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Change management
  • Empathy
  • Listening skills

As you can see from this list, there’s a trend here: L&D leaders know that empathetic management is a huge driver of morale, so they’re focused on teaching listening skills, feedback skills, and other interpersonal strengths.

In comparison, employees weren’t as focused on these skills.

While 60% said they wanted to improve their leadership or people skills, their top requested courses were results-focused leadership and motivating high performers, suggesting that they’re more anxious about driving results for the business via their team.

3. Both groups were anxious about the future – but valued different skills to manage it.

It’s not the easiest time to be in business. A potential recession is looming, the effects of COVID are still very real, and digital disruptors like ChatGPT are causing anxiety across industries.

No surprise, then, that L&D leaders named personal resilience as a priority for their teams in 2023.

In comparison, employees were more focused on adapting to digital trends.

By the numbers:

  • 22% wanted to learn to drive growth in a digital environment
  • 19% wanted to learn to create new products to stay competitive
  • 13% wanted to innovate to stay relevant against new technology

4. Employees and L&D leaders agreed: Communication skills are a must.

The area of greatest alignment in our research was communication skills. Both employees and L&D leaders agreed that communication is a high priority for training this year.

Storytelling was the second most-registered course among employees in 2022, and Writing for Impact and Compelling Conversations were two of the highest-demand new courses for 2023.

In our survey of L&D leaders, 60% named communication skills – including difficult conversations, presentation, executive presence, and storytelling – as top priority for their organization in 2023.

The top skills: Employees vs. L&D

According to our research, these are the top skills valued by employees and L&D leaders for 2023.


  1. Strategic planning and implementation
  2. Presentation and conversation
  3. Adapting to digital trends
  4. Building systems and habits
  5. Problem-solving models
  6. Results-focused leadership
  7. Managing high performers
  8. Writing for impact
  9. Growth marketing strategy
  10. Marketing analytics

L&D leaders

  1. Coaching
  2. Crucial conversations
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Resilience
  5. Project management
  6. Problem-solving models
  7. Productivity and habits
  8. Storytelling
  9. Giving feedback
  10. Change management

Want to read more about the skills high performers want in 2023? 

Download the full report >

Greg Shove
Section Staff