Human resources departments are being challenged, not only by the pace of change in business, but by changes in the expectations of employees too, delegates at the World Employment Conference in Dublin heard.
Delegates at the event, of which Enterprise Ireland was a sponsor partner, heard that effective talent management in a digital era requires the HR function to “move and think differently, and to do it with pace and agility,” according to Joe ffrench, HR Director at Microsoft.
Doing so in an organisation with 120,000 direct employees and 80,000 indirect ones “can be hard”, ffrench admitted, but it also puts him in a good position to identify new HR trends, likely to be of interest to a range of recruitment solutions providers.
Rapidly changing skills requirements
Chief among these is a rapid change in skills requirements, said ffrench, citing the World Economic Forum, which cautioned that by 2020, 50% of what a person doing a four-year technical degree learns in first year will be obsolete by the time they graduate.
In business, it’s already happening. “Three years ago, we wouldn’t have talked about the need for skills in machine learning, augmented reality, and quantum computing. So what is incurred in theory in academia is also being experienced in our organisation, and at a much quicker pace,” said ffrench.
Some 40% of senior leadership roles in Microsoft didn’t exist two years ago. One in three of its executive leadership roles didn’t exist just a year ago.
“So how do you do succession planning for those roles? These are some of the challenges we are dealing with.”
Coping with the pace of change
To cope with the pace of change, a “premium capability” is required, composed of an ability to learn and resilience. “That’s what we look for every time we hire now. It is the growth mindset that sparks innovation.”
Employees’ needs are changing too, including in relation to flexibility.
“As a tech provider, we have talked of flexibility in terms of where and when people work, but we’re finding people are looking for a deeper flexibility in terms of the different stages of life they go through, whether having just gotten married, or having elderly parents. Flexibility means very different things depending on where people are in the life cycle.”
People also want personal growth, not just functional skills. “We invest a huge amount in helping people, once we’ve got them, to build that growth mindset. Our learning strategy is very much built on the idea of consumerisation of learning – self-directed, self-served, and personal for you in your role, supporting your career and your professional growth.”
The changing role of talent planning
The role of talent planning has changed significantly in recent months. “Succession plans – that traditional HR process – are not agile enough for the environment. We now think in terms of clusters of jobs, and clusters of people, and how we can match them together.”
Microsoft is bringing concepts from the gig economy into its internal workforce, “to help employees be agile enough to see opportunities that will benefit them from a career and a personal growth point of view.”
Hiring people for capability and building a sustained engagement with them in order to harness them at the right time is now key for Microsoft, he said. Thinking this way has opened up new pools of talent for it, including school leavers joining as apprentices.
The company is reassessing how it engages short term freelancers too. The aim is for ‘gig’ workers to see Microsoft as a destination of choice in the way permanent recruits do, he said. This means ensuring it has a culture that is willing to listen to and learn from outsiders.
From a HR perspective, the biggest shift of all this change has been in how work is organised. “Traditionally HR has been about jobs and roles and hierarchies. Now it’s about breaking it down into tasks.”
Microsoft has changed its performance management system, scrapping traditional “1 – 5” ratings, he said, citing former GE boss Jack Welch’s dictum that if the rate of change outdoors is quicker than the rate of change indoors, there’s trouble ahead.
“Are we moving fast enough as a profession?” he said. “The HR community has an incredible chance to influence how the digital era, this fourth revolution, works for all stakeholders, so that all can benefit from what’s going to happen.”
TTM Healthcare’s journey of transformation
Brian Crowley, founder and CEO of EI client TTM Healthcare, said his own organisation has been on a “journey of transformation” over the past 18 months.
“We went deep inside our organisation to try and find our ‘why?’ To try to figure out what makes us special, or doesn’t,” he told the audience.
It came up with a vision: to enhance the quality of people’s lives. “That includes our own 400 staff, the people we care for in our healthcare business and homes, and the 2000 temporary staff that work on our behalf on our customer’s sites. Then we went to find values that can stand in service of that vision,” said Crowley.
What emerged from the whole process was an understanding that what underpinned both its vision and its values, are the behaviours of its staff.
“So where a lot of organisations, particularly in our sector, look at tactical learning and development, we really look at developing behaviours, including resilience.”
TTM now recruits for these behaviours, but is also committed to building them within its workforce. It rewards and promotes on the basis of them too. Said Crowley: “A big part of our performance is about how we build and foster those behaviours within the organisation.”