Rethinking talent in an age of technological disruption

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When your business model is at risk of being disrupted overnight by an intelligent tech start-up, you don’t have years to reconstruct your operating model and workforce

In an environment of constant business disruption, corporate leaders are increasingly turning their attention to the people and skills agenda. Finding the right experts, and training and retaining them, is now a primary strategy to sustain competitive advantage.

Organisations are also grappling with the dual demands of undertaking digital transformation and reinventing their business processes through applying new technologies such as AI, automation and blockchain. As they do so, they come up against barriers to accessing the right talent and skills while at the same time trying to change the working culture.

IBM’s latest Institute for Business Value global research ‘The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap’ shows that the time needed to close the skills gap has multiplied by 10 in just four years. In 2014 it took three days on average to close a capability gap through training in the enterprise. In 2018 it took 36 days. This demonstrates that it’s taking longer to close skills gaps with traditional training approaches such as classroom and virtual learning and that traditional training alone is no longer the answer.

Beyond just the digital transformation, organisations also face market disruption which is forcing them to innovate at the speed of a start-up and scale this innovation. Many are shifting the way they work; relying on joint working teams and garage environments to co-create with partners, tapping into different skillsets inside and outside the organisation, and encouraging the use of agile methods. This new way of working means that teams now work shoulder to shoulder to develop new ideas, then rapidly test, discard or advance them. In environments designed to be a break from the traditional organisation, structures and roles are being deconstructed or applied more loosely. Employees are encouraged to learn by doing, experiment at speed and fail fast. ‘Rapid iteration’ becomes the default speed of every project team, and a ‘permanent state of beta’ almost becomes the end game.

While HR leaders are wrestling with this shift to create cultures of open collaboration and rapid continuous learning, they are also having to rethink the build/buy equation on skills. It seems as if all organisations are competing for the same digitally-savvy candidates and that HR is having to reimagine and reinvent how they find, recruit and reskill the talent that they now need.

Take traditional talent acquisition, which usually follows a linear process managed by a recruiter and hiring manager with decisions made at each stage in order to proceed to the next. It can be lengthy and costly; with recruiters creating and posting adverts and then waiting for potential candidates to apply for a position or requiring the support of recruitment agencies to find talent. This is time that business leaders no longer have at their disposal. When your business model is at risk of being disrupted overnight by an intelligent tech start-up you don’t have years to reconstruct your operating model and the workforce to harness it.

The new approach for the digital era, known as Agile Talent Acquisition, reinvents this way of working by using agile methods to provide a continuous and iterative process – managed by a Scrum master working in partnership with the hiring manager. This lean process is focused on delivering the highest-quality candidates to the business with more speed, rapid feedback and transparency.

If implemented smartly, Agile Talent Acquisition has been proven to deliver a 54% reduction in time for candidates to accept a position and a 75% reduction in cancelled interviews. The speed of delivery results in an enhanced experience for both candidates and hiring managers. Additionally, the new recruitment process improves transparency as the frequency of communication and collaboration provides real-time feedback on candidate match, and improved predictability on progress and outcomes.

We can predict with greater confidence now that AI will eventually change 100% of jobs, 100% of industries and 100% of professions, but it will eliminate few. The impact will be more pervasive and far-reaching than the impact of the mobile phone.

As businesses adapt to this technological shift, so HR must adapt to keep pace with those changes, reskilling their people and teaching them new ways to work with cognitive and robotics technology. Just as in other business units, the key to this change is working hand in hand with third parties to help with their approach and open up new methods and skillsets.

HR leaders can play their part in bringing AI and other technology into organisations. Indeed HR has the opportunity to become the air traffic control for the enterprise, as each business unit starts to implement intelligent processes and workflows with the new technologies at their disposal. Experience tells us that people and skills are what ultimately drives organisational transformation, not technology or process. If this is the case then could this be the opportunity for the HR function to transform itself from service function to growth engine? Could HR become the essential partner to catalyse this shift towards the cognitive enterprise? HR functions that are able to tackle the build/buy challenge effectively – and deliver the right skills and people to the business at pace – are those that will most likely be hailed as strategic HR business partners.

Andi Britt is vice president, talent and transformation at IBM

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