Executing A Skills-Based Talent Approach A Better Fit For Today’s Realities
Accelerated digital transformation, a competitive business environment and heightened employee expectations are some of the factors to consider in a post-pandemic world. Companies will need to rethink and redefine more flexible, sustainable business models as well as best-fit talent practices that address both today’s realities and tomorrow’s challenges.
According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report, the world is facing a reskilling emergency, with almost 1 billion jobs expected to emerge by 2025. Half of the current workforce will need to be reskilled in order to adapt to the changing job landscape.
For this reason, it is vital that organisations of all sizes refresh their approach by adopting skills-based talent strategies for the journey ahead. Forward-thinking companies that were already integrating reskilling and upskilling in their business strategy before COVID-19 have been more resilient during the pandemic. Not only have they have been able to respond with speed and agility by deploying talent where it is most needed, but employees have also enjoyed a richer and more varied career experience. Such companies are transforming into the new shape of workwith ease, making it a win-win for all concerned — critical skills are retained while enhanced business agility is gained.
According to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends, 56% organisations are identifying new skills needed for their post-COVID operations, but only 9% have implemented skills-based talent strategies. Now is the time for companies to connect talent to their future strategy. How do they do that? By clearly articulating their vision for the future organisation, its impact on emerging roles, evolving roles and declining roles — and maximising internal skills to the fullest extent possible. With the “window of opportunity” still open, companies should start internal discussions on critical skills required for business growth; identify the gaps between tomorrow’s business needs and today’s employee capabilities; and take the necessary actions to bridge them.
Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) can leverage multiple data sources to determine the skills they have and those that they lack, and then have a clear plan to upskill or reskill their workforce. This approach can be more cost- and time-effective than bringing in skills from elsewhere. Speed and agility in managing talent will be more critical than ever before.
Having a better understanding of its existing skillset puts a company in a better position to adapt to rapid changes in the wider commercial world and, in terms of their closest competitors, allowing them to both move talent to where it is most needed, but also to stay relevant. For example, during the first wave of COVID-19, the US telecommunications company Verizon redirected nearly 20,000 hitherto store-based employees to leverage their skills in other roles, such as in telesales or online customer service.
Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic
Evidently, many companies have a readily adaptable internal talent marketplace — but without the right mindset, the right skillsets can go unmined. An internal talent marketplace matches employees to projects or to critical work that make the most of their skills without them having to move jobs permanently.
Leading HR firms are driving this change by establishing guidelines to underpin internal talent-sharing. For example, following the 2008 global financial crisis, the UK Treasury set up a team of “reserve list” civil service employees with relevant experience who could be deployed to vital projects at short notice. Many firms are now adopting this practice. Although you do not need an enterprise-wide skills-strategy to get started, you do need a broad understanding of the benefits of one and how it should work.
This shows that those companies seeking to reinvent and create more flexibility in their business models will be able to increase their adaptability to bounce forward, rather than just withstand shocks such as those triggered by the events of 2020.
Questions that a company should be asking when drafting a skills-based talent strategy include: how can it keep its workforce adaptable?; what can those companies who suffered during the pandemic do to catch up?; and most importantly, how can all companies prepare themselves to adapt to future shocks?
The importance of putting in place skills-based processes fit for the long haul cannot be over-emphasised. This means companies challenging themselves on the following essential issues:
- What succession plans will ensure that executives are promoted via a skills-based system and that key messages about what skills and expertise are reinforced?
- What mechanisms will ensure that leaders and managers pass on important expertise to others (a pay-it-forward model)? How does this link to your internal mentoring or knowledge systems?
- How can you inspire your employees to embrace changes in your learning, pay and/or promotional culture? How can you make the change irresistible?
- How can executives create talent-management processes that reward skill-building and learning for future relevance? How can your HR technology enable this?
The impact of technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Even when COVID-19 is eventually behind us, in this era of breathtakingly rapid global changes, critical skillsets will evolve yet again, either due to another unexpected disruptive force or because AI and automation are continually reshaping the future of work.
Given that skills are the new currency, the dominant architecture for work is shifting from jobs to skills — and the pace of that shift is accelerating. As an employer or team moves from traditional to future-focused ways of working, such as project-based and portfolio-led approaches that value flexibility, skills become increasingly important for defining work, deploying talent, managing careers and valuing employees.
Considering the factors driving change, the gaps in traditional models are becoming evident. However, most companies are seemingly paralysed within traditional structures and processes that prohibit them from fully embracing a future-focused model. Early adopters are leading the charge and already embedding future-focused practices gradually, typically piloting a skills-based approach within a subset of an organisation, such as specific teams or business units. From there, they are using iterative and agile adoption to permeate larger groups, making improvements along the way.