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Courage in the Face of a New Skills Economy

Thursday, May 3, 2018

With technology and automation now ingrained in individuals' daily routines and data changing how decisions are made, the skills needed for in-demand roles are shifting. According to Deloitte's latest human capital research, 47 percent of HR and business leaders consider developing new career trajectories and skills to be very important. The caveat? More than 54 percent say they don't yet have programs in place to build the skills of the future.

In order to thrive in today's world of work, organizations need to take a new approach to talent management. Rather than relying on tried-and-true job descriptions, HR managers must expand their search to candidates from non-traditional backgrounds with the elasticity of mind needed to grasp new skills. To assure organizations are able to continue to succeed, HR organizations must lead the changes to how we develop and deploy our workforce.

As we move toward a workforce in which adaptability is highly valued, HR leaders must work to build strong cultures of learning that empower employees to cultivate the skills they will need in the future. By re-imagining learning strategies, organizations can better engage and empower employees to take control over their learning and career development. It takes courage to re-think once dependable processes and upend traditional learning approaches, but in order to grow and thrive, change is necessary.

The Pace of Change Is Accelerating

It took 50 years for cars to surpass the horse and buggy as our primary mode of transportation, yet it has only taken Uber two years to decrease cab usage by 65 percent in San Francisco. Futurist and Chief Engineer at Google, Ray Kurzweil, explains this phenomenon with the claim that "technical change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense 'intuitive linear' view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21 st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate)."

Similarly, technology now has an exponentially increasing impact on how HR leaders approach learning and development in the workplace. In his TED talk, Changing Education Paradigms, Sir Ken Robinson observes that as we continue to send our kids to school to replace an older generation of workers, our approach to education is trapped in late 18th century thinking: we still rely on a standardized, industrialism-based model of education.

“The problem is, they're trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past," he explains. “The current system of education was designed, conceived and structured for a different age."


Today, however, there's an increasing awareness of a need for a demand-driven approach to education—developing skills that employers in the workplace will actually need, rather than dispersing a broad range of skills that may not be applicable in today's workplace. In the new digital age, skills, not hours in a classroom, are candidates' greatest assets.

Strategies to Ensure Buy-In from Employees

As the competition for top talent continues to increase— 92 percent of employers expect an increase in competition for talent this year—HR leaders are looking for new ways to attract talent externally, develop leaders for succession, identify high-performing employees and increase engagement.

Mercer's 2017 Global Talent Trends Survey identified six key areas of focus for HR to support and retain employees. Strategies such as giving leadership roles to younger employees, moving talent between developing and mature markets and creating reverse mentoring programs helps build a pipeline of leadership talent, assist workers in continually developing their employability, and ensure that work goals have a tangible impact. Additionally, creating accelerated career development programs for high-potential employees, rotating people into functional roles early in their career, and providing opportunities for functional managers to gain business exposure helps gain needed skills and boost retention.


But in order to bring these areas of focus to life, it is important for organizations to re-think their strategy around communication. As connected as we are, effective employee communication is still a challenge. Employees now commonly work from home, on the road or telecommute—in-office meetings, email blasts, and posters are no longer effective alone.

To keep a dispersed workforce connected, employers must deliver timely, relevant, and customized communication that is easy to access and digest—bite-sized learning content that's mobile-friendly or delivered in video form works well. Built-in rewards and recognition are high on the priority list as well—a mere 3 percent of organizations say their rewards programs are very effective in motivating talent. Because employees generally prefer to have flexibility, autonomy, and meaning in what they do rather than receive concrete benefits like money. Effective reward and recognitions should include continuous performance management, the opportunity to attend events and conferences, flexible work options, or other meaningful rewards.

Organizational Data Is Efficient but People Data Is Effective

For years, HR leaders have put too much emphasis on the transactions that facilitate compliance and account for costs. But a transaction data-focused model creates silos—workflows become entirely compliance-focused and efficient rather than effective. Plus, this focus causes organizations to overlook the bigger opportunity: employee relationship-building.

In our economy, where skills drive results, we must shift our approach to more personalized expectations. Rather than basing hiring or career-growth decisions solely on organization data, HR leaders must start using a different decision-making context, one that is based on candidates' and employees' skills. Relationship-centric solutions that are powered by real-time people analytics data—interview debrief data, performance review results, and employee survey information—can help HR leaders make the transition.

By focusing on people analytics, HR can start delivering the personalized experience that employees need. While traditional results and data remain crucial to organization success, people-based data is increasingly gaining significance. A people-focused model will lead to beneficial relationships between teams and leadership that will, in turn, create the employee stickiness we need in our new economy.

About the Author

Steve Dobberowsky is the senior principal of global thought leadership and advisory services at Cornerstone OnDemand. He served 11 years of federal government competitive service, with seven years in HR and HR IT leadership roles ensuring effective talent management processes at a bureau level, at the department level, and at a shared service center where he delivered solutions for multiple agencies. He is a proven, business-savvy leader with a track record of providing high quality, innovative services and solutions.

He is also adept at achieving desired outcomes from multiple initiatives simultaneously, working collaboratively and decisively to overcome obstacles and deliver results, and creating a continuously learning, improving and adaptable organization. He has a resilient proficiency and is effective at heading up change efforts, building organizations, uniting divergent groups, and leading a diverse and geographically dispersed workforce.

Utilizing his initial professional experiences as a high school teacher, he is a seasoned leader who leverages resources, information, knowledge, skills and technology to develop people, foster relationships, and build partnerships.

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