HR Leaders Rethink the Role of Talent

The ‘future of work’ calls for an approach that involves workers, technology or a combination of the two, says a new report. Technology can help topple the walls between external and internal employees and develop more flexible teams. But, there’s more. Here’s the latest.

April 18, 2018 – Driven by dramatic and irreversible trends in labor demographics and technology, companies are under tremendous pressure to rethink the role of talent. This is so significant that for HR leaders, developing an agile workforce is more than twice as important (53 percent to 19 percent) as “investing in artificial intelligence and automation,” according to a new report by Catalant, a Boston-based workforce technology company.

The report, “Reimagining Work 20/20,” identifies the issues facing organizations as the modern workforce evolves because of changes in labor and advances in technology.

“Emerging digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are disrupting the workplace, eliminating entire job categories, reshifting job tasks between workers and technology and creating entirely new career paths,” said the report. “The word ‘job’ is no longer relevant. Organizations reimagining work will need to embrace a productivity-oriented mindset in which tasks may be done by workers, technology or a blend of the two.”

Toppling Walls

Workers with the most sought-after skills, such as subject-matter experts in big data, AI or digital marketing strategies, are increasingly choosing to work on demand. “Organizations will have no choice but to accommodate them, assembling teams in more agile ways regardless of whether talent resides in-house or outside enterprise walls,” said the report. “Indeed, from an organizational perspective, the walls between internal and external talent will need to come down, and the technology now exists to do just that. Top talent doesn’t want to be ‘acquired’ and organizations will realize more efficiency by tapping into agile talent solutions.”

Although 63 percent of the companies surveyed have a “future of work” plan in place, the report said, several obstacles are preventing organizations from creating a more dynamic workforce. This, according to the study, is “the most urgent issue for operationalizing a company’s future of work strategy.”

Training (44 percent), planning and budgeting (38 percent) and technology (37 percent) are the top challenges preventing companies from evolving their workforce in order to take advantage of the future of work, said the study.


A Road Map to the Evolving American Workplace
Employees rated “the ability to do what they do best” at the top of their list for considering a new job, according to a recent study by Gallup. If organizations want to attract and retain top talent, they must go beyond just collecting data and actually deliver on engaging their workers.


Talent Gaps

“While companies have started to address these challenges, there’s a realization that traditional methods of finding talent aren’t working – with 47 percent of companies reporting that it takes more than 90 days to fill critical roles,” said Catalant.

“In many instances, companies endured at least two quarters of lost productivity because of these talent gaps,” said the report. “When it comes to leveraging artificial intelligence or big data, it isn’t just Google or Amazon that needs to bring in talent. Most enterprises are seeking to leverage these emerging technologies.”

The problem comes when a manufacturing firm in Ohio, for example, or a bank in Nebraska tries to hire that big data or AI expert, said the report. Can it out-compete the big tech companies for that expert’s full-time services?

“Even if the Ohio manufacturer is able to attract and hire the big data specialist, it could take them more than six months to make the hire and cost the company dearly in putting together a sufficiently attractive salary-and-benefits package,” said Catalant. “The Ohio company has ‘won,’ but at what cost in lost productivity of that open role? And what about the indirect costs on those employees around the open role who likely shouldered more work in the interim? And retaining the new hire in the long term, especially when the Googles and Amazons of the world keep trying to recruit her, will pose another ongoing challenge.”

Driving Change

One hundred senior HR professionals in the U.S. were surveyed for the study. Respondents represented organizations with revenues of $100 million in more and at least 2,000 employees. It was written by future of work experts Chuck Leddy and Paul Millerd.

Thirty-six percent of the companies surveyed plan to increase the number of technology tools to manage their “talent supply chain” in 2018, while 25 percent of companies that do not currently use online talent marketplaces plan to start using them this year.

Related: Five Ways HR Can Maximize Data and Analytics

Within organizations, CEOs (10 percent) and CHRO/chief talent officers (38 percent) are both regarded as stakeholders that are driving the conversation around the future of work, said the report. Yet 52 percent of the respondents said that the responsibility for preparing a company for the future of work lies with both parties.


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As the war for talent continues to forge onward, designing and implementing a robust talent strategy has become critical for companies to succeed and compete. Organizations are strengthening their internal talent management capabilities under the stewardship of the chief talent officer.


Bold Changes

“But operationalizing the future of work must go beyond conversations around rethinking the role of talent,” said Catalant. “To fully realize the potential of the future of work, companies will have to make bold and tough changes to their internal cultures and reimagine how talent and strategy are interlinked.”

Related: Chief Talent Officer Delivers Pivotal Advice to the C-Suite

Companies that are looking to overcome the roadblocks believe there are significant benefits in developing a change management strategy and adopting new technology, including: access to highly skilled or specialized talent (75 percent of respondents), finding the right talent to get work done faster (62 percent) and  increased speed of talent acquisition (57 percent).

Forty percent of the respondents also said they would gain by a reduced reliance on brand name consulting firms. Sixty-six percent said their companies were overspending on consulting.

“Going forward, talent strategy will mean accessing the right skills inside or outside their company, at the right time, without the constraints of job descriptions, office walls or geographic boundaries,” said Rob Biederman, co-CEO and co-founder of Catalant. “Those that embrace this future and develop an on-demand mindset in managing their workforce will be positioned to innovate faster and adapt more quickly to changing market conditions. Those that do not may fail.”

Related: Creating Clear Paths for Leaders Demands Discipline and Preparation

Catalant offered five steps to help companies succeed in forging their future of work:

1. Align the Top Team and Shift Mindsets

As in all change-management processes, leadership buy-in and full, consistent support from your enterprise leadership team is essential, said the report. Define what success looks like, create a plan, put structures behind it, share successes and scale up what’s working.

2. Assess Strategic Talent Gaps

The accelerating pace of change will widen your talent gaps. This is because the emerging skills you need inevitably lag behind the talent you have. In the face of accelerating change, you shouldn’t give up on assessing your talent gaps and developing strategies to close them. Rather, you’ll need to have a sense of what talent you have and what talent you need, blending that knowledge with the capacity to close gaps as they inevitably arise.

3. Pilot Technology Tools

Start with pilot programs or low-risk projects in which you can prioritize learning, said Catalant. Seed teams with on-demand talent, then experiment with the best tools and technologies to onboard that external talent, communicate with them and integrate them into your enterprise’s reporting and communication structures. Expect to make mistakes, integrate what you’ve learned into processes and systems, and learn along the way.

Related: Talent Acquisition Leaders See Gaps In Delivering Quality Hires

4. Launch a Future of Work Initiative

Try to launch your future of work initiatives with a start-up mentality, giving people freedom to try things, make mistakes and see what works (and what doesn’t work).

5. Continuously Improve and Refine

As the playwright Samuel Beckett advised: ‘Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ It’s not that you’re failing, it’s that you’re discovering your organization’s true needs, scaling up what’s working and scaling back what isn’t, said the study. Such an approach comes directly from lean/agile methodologies that prioritize taking action, collecting feedback and integrating lessons learned going forward.

Related: Here Are Some Talent Management Trends Transforming HR

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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