A sense of purpose, transparent feedback, and a meaningfulÂ employee experience are all key pieces to becoming an employerÂ of choice in todayâs competitive market.
By Russ Banham
Like every executive function in the corporateÂ realm, HR is under extreme duress as the businessÂ environment becomes more global, complex, andÂ technologically driven. Change is constant, as the marchÂ of transformation generated by social, mobile, dataÂ analytics, artificial intelligence, the cloud, and otherÂ technologies moves forward at a rapid pace.
Technology is rapidly altering the business model of allÂ organizations: changing how employees communicateÂ and collaborate, how workforces are structured, andÂ how human capital is managed. In the new digitalÂ ecosystems that companies are building, HR is stillÂ responsible for identifying job roles that are criticalÂ to their organizationâs success. But, as the nature ofÂ these roles evolve and workforce dynamics change, HRÂ professionals are being called upon to think outside theÂ box, particularly as the availability of talent becomesÂ increasingly scarce.
Given these needs, it is not surprising that theÂ management of human capital remains the front-burnerÂ concern for HR as 2016 takes shape. âI hate toÂ say it again, but the war for talent is still the biggestÂ issue confronting HR,â says Eileen Benwitt, chief talentÂ officer at Horizon Media, a media services agency withÂ more than 1,000 employees. âWe still donât know all theÂ reasons why people join, stay or leave an organization,Â much less the skills we think we need to win in theÂ marketplace. Weâre all working hard to acquire thisÂ knowledge and are leveraging technology to do it.â
The most pressing issues confronting HR remain theÂ acquisition, retention, and effective use of talent,Â particularly as this relates to an organizationâs culture,Â Â employment brand and employee engagement. âTheÂ biggest issue for HR leaders is to get laser focused onÂ âthe employee experienceâ and redefining their role asÂ âthe chief employee experience officer,ââ says Josh Bersin,Â principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte.
Talent is Top Priority
Several HR leaders and human capital managementÂ (HCM) consultants weighed in with much of the sameÂ commentary, concurring that strategic talent managementÂ is the top concern for HR today. âHaving the right talentÂ in the right place at the right time is considered a majorÂ competitive differentiator, and much of this burden isÂ falling on HR,â agrees Michael M. Moon, Ph.D., directorÂ of research in human capital management at AberdeenÂ Group.
Kyle Lagunas, a principal in the analytics practiceÂ Lighthouse Research and Advisory, states that HR is âtryingÂ to find new ways to attract better talent, hiring contentÂ marketers to drive social media campaigns, and investingÂ in CRM (candidate relationship management) systemsÂ to identify and nurture leads. A lot of what is going onÂ looks like marketing, which tells you how important HCMÂ (human capital management) has become.â
Attracting the best talent has certainly become top ofÂ mind for Candace Osunsade, senior vice president andÂ chief of staff at Baltimore National Aquarium. âWeâreÂ increasing our visibility as an employer, by fully buildingÂ out our presence on LinkedIn and Glassdoor, in additionÂ to increasing the emphasis on our own website thatÂ this is a great place to work,â she says. âWeâve alsoÂ taken strides to improve the application and interviewÂ experience by treating our applicants as customers andÂ emphasizing their future potential, if not as employees,Â then as volunteers, donors, guests, and general brandÂ ambassadors.â
Much of this hard work appears to be paying off, saysÂ Bersin, whose firmâs research indicates that in 2015, forÂ the first time in many years, âHR is starting to makeÂ significant progress in strategic talent issues and theÂ adoption of a new breed of technology. HR is very heavilyÂ investing in technology and reskilling itself.â
Aberdeen Groupâs research paper Human Capital TrendsÂ in the Age of Transparency reports similar findings. TheÂ survey of HR executives in nearly 250 diverse businessÂ sectors indicates that the top pressure driving HR strategyÂ in the 2016 is the critical need to have talent in place toÂ execute organizational strategies. âThis was the same topÂ concern the previous year and likely to be that for someÂ time,â Moon says.
One reason for the apprehension is the scarcity of critical talent available in the external market, a concernÂ expressed by 62 percent of respondents. Another factor isÂ the challenge of effectively and efficiently managing anÂ organizationâs current talent, a concern stated by nearlyÂ half (47.6 percent) the respondents. Finding and keepingÂ the right talent is part of this distress, as is determiningÂ how to shift from traditional workforce managementÂ tactics, such as time cards and paper requests for timeÂ off, to more automated solutions.
âMany organizations are struggling to understand whichÂ skills will drive the business forward, although manyÂ clearly perceive a lack of technological skills and expressÂ a need for data analytics skills specifically,â Moon says.Â âThere is also more interest in the so-called soft skillsÂ like a personâs ability to collaborate, communicate,Â and get along well with others. Thatâs perhaps theÂ biggest change in workforce dynamics that is currentlyÂ underwayâa potential employeeâs cultural fit with theÂ employing organization.â
Benwitt agrees, noting that a college degree that hasÂ long been considered by many companies to be of littleÂ use in the world of businessâBachelor in Liberal ArtsâÂ has suddenly gained cachet. A recent article in ForbesÂ called a BA âtechâs hottest ticket.â The magazine reports,Â âThe war for talent has moved to nontechnical jobs â¦the social alchemists who can connect with customers.â
âA liberal arts degree is much more essential today,â saysÂ Benwitt. âMore and more companies want to hire peopleÂ who are creative, interesting, willing to try new things,Â and easy to get along with. Such individuals are more aptÂ to work with others in a spirit of collaboration to achieveÂ the organizationâs mission. If they lack certain skills, youÂ can teach them.â
Benwitt calls these job candidates âpurposeâ employees.Â âThe way to attract and motivate the MillennialÂ generation is to connect them to a purpose,â she says,Â noting that she recently read a âgreat bookâ on theÂ subject, The Purpose Economy, by Aaron Hurst.
âThe book posits that todayâs young employees wantÂ to serve needs greater than their own,â Benwitt says.Â âIf employees feel a companyâs mission is aligned withÂ their sense of purpose, theyâre more likely to rally aroundÂ this mission. And that tends to keep them workingÂ for the organization and not looking elsewhere forÂ employment.â
Purpose is important to the National Aquarium. âWeÂ are a mission-driven organization,â Osunsade says. âWeÂ get the most traction with candidates when they feel aÂ connection to our mission to inspire conservation of theÂ worldâs aquatic treasures and our vision to fundamentallyÂ change the way humanity views the ocean.â
A related factor in talent retention is the need to assess theÂ level of employee engagement in their jobs. PerformanceÂ reviews have been the traditional means to this end, butÂ the availability of predictive data analytics is making thisÂ process less desirable, if not moot, in some organizations.
âIâm all for performance reviews, since itâs human natureÂ for employees to want feedback,â says Moon. âBut, thereÂ is a need to replace the way theyâre done with somethingÂ more predictive, in which feedback is gathered dynamicallyÂ and in real time.â
Sears Holdings is an example of a company that hasÂ migrated away from annual and mid-year performanceÂ reviews to more predictive measures of performance. InÂ this journey, the company has implemented a tool fromÂ SoundBoardSM supporting crowdsourced feedback.
Searsâ employeesâor associates as it calls themâuse theÂ tool to source feedback from individuals they report toÂ and who report to them. They also use the software toÂ receive feedback from the partners they work with andÂ even from customers. Using a star designation system,Â the feedback rates how the associate is living the SearsÂ culture, demonstrating leadership capabilities, andÂ delivering results.
Open and transparent feedback processes can lead toÂ improved enterprise performance. Aberdeen GroupâsÂ study indicates that best-in-class organizations are 2.5Â times more likely to use employee feedback to informÂ their human capital management decision-making.Â Such organizations also are three times more likely to useÂ customer feedback.
âCompanies and employees today want tools thatÂ give them a real time sense of how theyâre doing,Â as transparently as possible,â says Moon. âTrust inÂ oneâs leadership, team members, and colleagues isÂ the foundation for building a strong culture. BeingÂ transparent in communications builds trust, whichÂ influences people to be creative and innovative.â
Now that predictive analytics can be leveraged toÂ dynamically assess employee engagement levels, HR mustÂ act upon the insights. âThe data will inform the rightÂ paths to take,â says Moon. âThis will help organizationsÂ to be more human, turning this data into actionableÂ insights to provide better workforce experiences, drivingÂ up the level of happiness across the organization, whichÂ can lead to greater levels of productivity.â
Lagunas agrees: âEveryone now accepts the fact thatÂ technology is a necessary part of talent strategy.Â Consequently, to achieve true best practices, HR needs toÂ implement systems that support the new ways of doingÂ things.â
There are plenty of new ways to do just that. âThereÂ is an explosion of interest in HR technology right now,Â with a lot of venture capital moving into the spaceÂ because of the realization that there is money to beÂ made here,â Lagunas says. âHR is trying to get up toÂ speed and change how the workforce is managed, theyÂ canât do that without the right systems in place, andÂ these vendors are offering them the ability to get them.â
The HCM technology in use by the National AquariumâsÂ HR organization gives a sense of the number of toolsÂ in todayâs toolbox. âWe are users of several differentÂ talent management software solutionsâUltimateÂ Software HRIS, Halogenâs job description builder,Â and Profiles XTâs candidate assessments,â OsunsadeÂ says. âWeâre strong believers in the value added byÂ technology, and we are always looking to improveÂ process by partnering with the right solution.â
A Very Different Tomorrow
As these various trends take shape, they promise a veryÂ different looking workforce five years from now. âTheÂ adoption of cognitive computing and other technologies areÂ disrupting the workforce,â says Bersin. âTraditional jobs areÂ going to go away (and) people will be more like talent whoÂ move from project to project.â
At the same time, traditional approaches to performanceÂ management will become more like the âHollywood movieÂ model. The workforce itself will be younger, more located inÂ Asia, and more dynamic and demanding than ever,â BersinÂ says.
Obviously, HR a half-decade from now also will be quiteÂ different. With so many new technologies coming on streamÂ or in the works, Benwitt even questions the need for todayâsÂ HR department in future.
âWith the conversation shifting on the subject of talentÂ management, and all these new tools providing theseÂ extraordinary insights, HR as it now looks may notÂ be needed anymore,â she explains. âSo much will beÂ outsourced to technology providers. Internally, hiringÂ managers will be entrusted and held accountable for tasksÂ theyâve historically relied on HR for.
âI donât mean to talk myself out of a job,â she adds, âbutÂ weâre all using our mobile devices to communicate andÂ collaborate, a dynamic that will only grow. Companies willÂ become digitally connected ecosystems, which weâre alreadyÂ seeing occur. Iâm going out on a limb, but not long fromÂ now HR will have transformed into more of a consultativeÂ capacity, with an important seat at the strategy table. ThatâsÂ where weâve wanted to go for a long time anyway.â