Leading for Tomorrow

PwC’s Jim Walsh shares his vision of the workforce of the future.

By Mark Finn

Jim Walsh is the global human capital transformation leader for the 158-firm network of firms that make up PwC. Having assumed this role in late 2012, his near term focus is on positioning and aligning PwC around a new “workforce of the future” model, one that will more effectively harness the power of their current 190,000 employee base and implement new models that promote increased agility and speed in acquiring, developing, and deploying talent. Walsh recently shared his perspective and insights with Talent Box Founder and CEO Mark Finn.

You have been at PwC in the HR field since 1985 in a range of different roles. What do you see as the biggest changes that have occurred on the people front?

For me, the biggest change I have seen is increased
choice and transparency, driven in large measure by technology advances and social and economic changes from globalization. The impact has been profound, as evidenced by the morphing of the traditional rigid organizational hierarchy and related culture and behaviors to a much more fluid, agile, and dynamic operating environment. Just look at the impact of social media on how organizations attract, develop, and retain their talent as another indicator. And it’s these dynamic and accelerating forces that require a new model of leadership, one that harnesses and inspires speed, agility, and an adaptive, resilient culture.

Given the changing nature of the workforce, what do you think are the biggest challenges confronting HR and talent acquisition leaders today?

Two I would mention. First is differentiation. With the expansion of choice and transparency comes the need to have a unique differentiator, an employee value proposition that draws the attention of the talent your organization requires and one the organization works relentlessly to deliver daily.

Second is an agile workforce. Building a workforce model that moves with speed and delivers the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time, at the right cost. When the two work as an integrated strategy, you’re unstoppable.

How is PwC positioning itself in light of those challenges, and what is the firm doing to ensure that it is well positioned for the future?

One quick item I’ll mention is our drive to better understand the Millennial generation. We recently published a two-
year study (PwC’s NextGen study) that was conducted in conjunction with the University of Southern California and the London School of Business. This study included responses from 44,000 of our people globally, over half of whom were Millennials. It produced fascinating results, including a number of “myth busters” as well as insights into unique cultural differences across our 18 largest territories. Those detailed findings and insights are now being used as we craft our business and long-term workforce alignment strategies.

How do you see technology affecting the workforce, both now and in the future? Do you think it will accelerate a new contingent workforce?

Most definitely, in fact it started years ago. Technology and, more specifically, collaboration tools, process standardization, and consistency in data sets have significantly increased the ability to value an individual’s or team’s output, versus measuring time spent in the office, as one example.

Technological improvements on a number of fronts
are converging to accelerate new ways of working and engaging with people seamlessly within and outside of the organization, particularly in knowledge-driven businesses such as ours. Organizations that can effectively crack the code of optimizing workflow—coupled with workforce capacity and allocation—will clearly have a competitive advantage, especially if they are able to use their knowledge gained to sustain the value and meaning of their brand and relevancy across their stakeholders and people.

How should companies be thinking about managing demographic shifts and rebalancing of the workforce toward emerging markets?

I can’t stress enough the need to be integrated with your business leaders to ensure you fully understand the current and future business strategy, opportunities, and risks. Leveraging that knowledge to identify the gaps in skills and capabilities, potential sources of talent, and organizational construct options will allow you to build a targeted strategy and investment plan around talent acquisition and development.

Decisions like “move in resources,” versus “build”—or some combination of both—are highly complex and strategic, especially when entering new markets and looking to install a consistent experience for your customers or people. Having an agreed plan with the business will be critical. Additionally, working with local universities on talent needs or considering third-party labor already in the market represent options. Again, it comes back to having a well developed and aligned strategy, and understanding the trade-offs, both domestically as well as internationally.

In a large organization such as PwC, which has almost 190,000 employees globally, how do you manage the tension between the need for structure and process with the increasing desire from Gen Y for non-bureaucratic work environments?

I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive, and our NextGen study touched on this. We all want a more simplified life, especially when it comes to organizational processes and policies. This is not only true of the Millennial generation but of all generations. Leading organizations understand this and, with advances in technology, are routinely challenging and doing away with outdated models and constructs. Transparency is a game changer. Sounds funny saying it, but it fuels organizational agility and individual empowerment.

Trust in who I work with, understanding and realizing a sense of purpose, and experiencing how my actions make a difference are critically important to all of us and more so today. And let’s not forget fun! The leaders of tomorrow need to embrace and understand how to lead in this changing dynamic and as I mentioned above, realize that the models of the past will not cultivate and sustain success today, and certainly not in the future.

Given the pace of change, innovation and yes ‘disruption’, what do you think are the core skills and capabilities that young and older workers should focus on to succeed?

The half life on knowledge these days seems to be about a year or two at best, so an organization’s ability to capture, distribute, execute, and consistently innovate against that knowledge becomes a necessary organizational competency and differentiator if done really well. To be successful in that type of environment collaboration, change and learning agility, working in ambiguity, global acumen, ability to work on multifaceted and constantly changing teams,
and a healthy belief that you are only as good as your last contribution are table stakes. Hopefully this sounds exciting, challenging, satisfying, and fun, because it is!

How important is diversity in today’s workplace? What is PwC’s approach?

Mark, when we talk about diversity at PwC, we’re describing a wide range of differences and similarities. In its full breadth, diversity encompasses 24 dimensions—including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, generation, and physical ability. Some are visible, some are not. “Inclusion” leverages the power of our differences to achieve our goals. Diverse teams are innovative. Each member has a different background and point of view, so they bring a broad range of ideas to the table. When we value everyone’s unique perspective, we see high performance and better results.

If you couple this with what we have discussed up to this point, it becomes even more imperative to attract, retain, and develop diverse professionals to spur innovation, drive growth, and sustain competitive advantage in the marketplace. If we are not successful here, we won’t be as an organization.

Sheryl Sandberg was recently quoted saying “It turns out men still run the world, and I’m not so sure that’s going so well.” What is your view on that? (Sandberg is COO of Facebook and author of new hot seller “Lean In,” released March 2013.)

Sheryl has clearly encouraged women to “sit at the table,” to seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto. And we are working hard to create that environment and expected culture at our firm and where this occurs for all our diverse talent. I mentioned earlier a new model for leadership, and I think what Sheryl writes about is an important part of that story. Talent comes from all walks of life, backgrounds, and experiences, and organizations that learn how to leverage, integrate, and promote that talent in a consistent and inclusive fashion will outperform their competitors.

Finally, what skills will HR executives, talent managers, and recruiters need in the future to support a new contingent workforce?

These dynamic forces present significant opportunities
to continue to define and refine our impact and value
to the organization. Linking our actions and outcomes
to the strategy of the business and delivering against those agreed targets in new and innovative ways will continue to be keys to both organizational success and our own success as HR, talent, and recruiting managers and leaders.

While there are some similarities in terms of key attributes and skills that are required to be successful, I believe
these six are critical ingredients that I have observed from leaders I admire and respect and I think are becoming even more relevant with the changing workforce and models we’ve been discussing: (1) demonstrating genuine passion for and a deep belief that what you are doing is right; (2) an attitude and mindset of inclusion, collaboration, and persistence coupled with an openness and willingness to be influenced; (3) having fun at what you do and sharing that with others; (4) celebrating and giving credit to others for your success; (5) that the best can always get better; and (6) in everything you do and in every interaction you have, be present, gracious, humble, and compassionate.

Mark Finn is the founder and CEO of TalentBox, a video-enabled digital interview platform that has operations in the United States and Australia.

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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