Covid was just the catalyst
I have worked in the HR/Talent industry for 25+ years and have never experienced such tumultuous change and challenging talent markets as those we face into today.
I was working in recruitment as the dot.com bubble burst in the late 1990’s, which came and went without significantly challenging the status quo. Then, just as I set up my consulting and services business, TQSolutions, in 2008 the GFC meltdown hit with a vengeance, but still the fundamental paradigms of business held firm.
Looking back, both crises seem somewhat trivial compared to the impact of Covid on our lives and the world of work – it’s almost as though we are seeing a new paradigm being formed before our eyes.
What’s interesting, are the factors that have combined to trigger this quantum change. Covid was the catalyst but it’s other factors that have come together to generate the perfect storm we are currently navigating.
We are all tech & digital businesses now
Even if they are not leading a technology company, most executives are starting to see themselves running technology businesses. Through TQSolutions I have consulted to a wide range of companies across industries including FMCG, Retail, Education, Government, Resources and Financial & Professional Services and most are well advanced in their conversion to becoming fully fledged ‘digital’ organisations.
At one stage earlier this year, we had five clients in Australia, who combined, were trying to recruit more than 1,000 technology and data roles, and not one of these businesses operates in the ‘technology’ industry. It’s no wonder consulting firms have never been busier re-shaping strategies, operating models and value propositions as businesses have realised they now compete with Google, Amazon and Atlassian as much as they do their natural industry competitors.
HR, the designers of ‘work experience products’
Workforce expectations have fundamentally shifted – people simply expect their employers to behave like the consumer giants we deal with day to day. The workplace needs to be engaging, simple to navigate, and personalised to the individual. Workers don’t want crappy technology or out-dated tools, they want the same experience they get from Apple, Samsung and Google.
The value proposition or employment ‘deal’ has moved on from an aggregation of rem + bens, policy frameworks and workplace environments to one that now includes personal growth, work flexibility and purposefully designed work experiences.
To paraphrase a friend and industry peer, Dart Lindsley (People Operations, Google, US) who believes companies operate in a two-sided marketplace. The first is one they are very familiar with, namely designing and selling products and services to customers. The other side of the market they serve is less familiar – designing and offering ‘work and career’ products and experiences to another set of customers – people we refer to as talent or workers.
Dart suggests the future of HR is one whose purpose is to design and curate ‘work experience products’ that talent chooses to subscribe to. Just think about this for a minute, the world of work as a subscription model, just like the tech products we all subscribe to, and occasionally unsubscribe from (think ‘The Great Resignation’ that is coming/upon us). Can you imagine how cool jobs in HR would be in this future world?
As increasing numbers of Gen Z enter the workforce, there will be even more appetite in viewing work and careers in the form of ‘experience products’. Some of these experiences will be delivered through an ability to take on internal gigs/projects and other opportunities for skill development, mentoring and career enrichment. The current expectation is for them to have 5 careers and 17 jobs in their lifetimes – surely this will be an approach to make that a reality?
This then brings us to a new ‘need’ – the need to structure work as a series of ‘opportunities’ not just traditional jobs, as well as the ability to match the right people to the right opportunities at the right time within our organisations.
Virtuous cycle of build rather than buy
We have seen, and continue to see, an increasing deployment of AI, automation and digitisation of work and business processes, which rather than displacing humans in droves are re-defining what work humans are being asked to do and what skills they are expected to develop. This has initiated what can only be described as the biggest ‘reskilling’ and ‘upskilling’ intervention in generations.
However, to reskill or upskill, you first need to know what skills you organisation actually has. It’s incredible to think businesses simply do not understand their own people. Sure, they may know their work history, or what job they are currently in, but do they really ‘know’ their people?
The answer is no. Driven largely by an historic under-investment in HR/Talent functions because of an archaic view that People and their associated costs are a P+L expense item rather than an asset adding value to the balance sheet and company valuation. The sooner the bean counters realise this error and start recognising ‘Talent’ as a critical asset linked to value and share price, the better.
Surfacing skills, knowledge, experience, capabilities and personal data such as aspirations and interests has been hard, bar some of the talent programs that exist for the top x% of an organisation.
Today there are numerous well-funded HR Tech platforms that can X-ray your company across a number of dimensions overnight. What you do with this workforce intelligence is where things get interesting, especially if you start sharing this data with talent acquisition, resource management, commercial bid teams, learning functions and strategic workforce planning teams.
I saw an apt quote this morning – “Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakes.” (Carl Jung)
By truly knowing your people you can make significantly better decisions about talent, about development, about hiring, and about business strategy in general. Why obsess about people outside of your organisation?
Even before Covid reared its ugly head, many progressive companies were embarking on ‘Mobility’ and / or ‘Skills’ journeys, seeking to develop their people through enhanced internal career opportunities, and allowing employees to take gig/project opportunities or move internally to develop new skills.
This ‘build’ rather than ‘buy’ strategy has proven to have a dual benefit – retaining the talent you already have and allowing you to attract more talent through an enhanced value proposition – the perfect virtuous cycle especially in today’s tight labour markets and closed borders.
Technology leaves gaps
Reading the brochure-ware of some of the HR tech platforms that play in this space, you would think they are the ‘silver-bullet’ to the World’s problems, there’s seemingly nothing they can’t do.
Yes, they absolutely solve for a lot of the challenges and needs outlined above – opportunity marketplaces, workforce analytics and intelligence, reskilling and upskilling and the ability for empowered employees to dynamically play with their personal career and learning pathways.
However, as TQSolutions has found during its consulting and project work, technology leaves gaps and some of these gaps undermine the success and power of the solutions themselves. A very basic example is that however good the AI engine is that matches people to opportunity, if the person profile is incomplete, out of date or not actually valid (verified) then the matching is futile at best, or in some cases, non-existent. We have seen large corporates with between 15-35% employee uptake on legacy platforms – this is disastrous to the mobility initiative or program which soon loses traction and support.
Tim Way, my business partner from The Career Conversation, uses an analogy when explaining what our company does. Stating that a dating app can match and connect you with someone and put you in a bar or a park together – so far do good. But the technology can’t tell you what sort of relationship you want and what to say, what to ask, how you’ll feel and react the day after, the week after. And that is where the magic happens.
This is a major gap in the power of technology and introduces us to the importance of ‘Human skills’. Experience from my work at TQSolutions and The Career Conversation points to the fact that this gap exists across HR technology solutions and to really maximise value and impact you must factor human transformation in the mix as well as technology.
“While there are lots of emerging platforms let me leave you with an important insight. This is not a problem that can be “solved” by buying a platform. Creating a culture of internal mobility is a top to bottom effort. It changes the way careers work; it changes the way you reward and pay people; and it changes the nature of management, leadership, and learning”. Josh Bersin
In this brave new world of work, developing the organisational muscles of adaptive leadership, workforce empowerment and agency, as well as human skills development at scale will be the lubricant in the HR technology machinery. We don’t advise you focus your attentions just on technology, it is only half the story.
Work and career playbook
There are countless global HR practitioners and consultants grappling with these issues currently, including my teams at TQSolutions and The Career Conversation. No one has the blueprint or playbook yet, but the fog is starting to clear and we’re realising what it will take to embark on this journey and seize the opportunities ahead.
This is not about technology implementation and transformation, it’s about fundamental shifts in society, major changes in the way companies view and treat people and talent, and how we as individuals choose to view and define work itself and our relationship with jobs and careers.
The perfect storm, ignited by Covid, has changed the world of work forever. The course companies choose to take, during the storm, will lock in their pathway to future success or failure. As a business leader, I have made it our mission to support and guide our customers on this journey, to help them navigate through the fog, and to ultimately out-run the storm. Exciting times ahead!!
The Career Conversation: www.thecareerconversation.com