BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Welcome to the first CAHRS webcast of 2020. I hope your year is off to a good start. My name is Beth Flynn-Ferry I'm the Executive Director of CAHRS. And today, we're excited to be tackling the topic of talent strategy. With me is Brad Bell, who's the Academic Director of CAHRS, as well as a Professor of HR studies here in the ILR school. How are you doing, Brad?
BRAD BELL: I'm good, thanks.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Excellent. Well, last year, Brad did a couple of working groups on this topic of HR strategy. One was hosted by Microsoft here in the States. And Estee Lauder hosted one for us in London. And so I think we've got a good global perspective on this topic within 16 different companies that attended those two working groups.
And so what we're going to do over the next 30 minutes or so is Brad's going to share some of those insights from the working group. We're going to start it off by me asking Brad a few questions. But I'd like you all to be thinking about what are your questions as well and be submitting those online as we move through the move through the session here.
So we'll take the first 15 or 20 minutes where Brad and I will do some questions and then and then intersperse yours along the way if I can get the iPad from Don. And then take your-- leave time at the end for questions as well. So with that, Brad, let me ask you a first question. So a good place to start might be to hear a little bit about why you decided to focus on this topic over the last year.
BRAD BELL: Sure, so we've done a number of learning and development broadly focused working groups I'd say over the last four or five years. We did a few focused on leadership development. We did a few a couple of years ago focused around early career development, because that was a growing focus in organizations, thinking not just about their senior leadership talent, but also thinking about how do we really build end to end development solutions for our talent.
And what we're hearing across these different working groups was although these kind of specific programs and practices were changing, there's kind of this broader effort within companies to really kind of step back and think about their talent strategy more broadly. And that was really being driven by the growing disruption that we're seeing through a variety of factors having to do with technology, as well as various socioeconomic and demographic forces.
And many of these we know about, things like on the technology side, AI and automation, big data, processing power, really kind of transforming organizations, transforming jobs, creating a lot of different talent implications, as well as different demographic forces. Whether it's the aging workforce in more developed countries, whether it's the younger demographics of the workforce in many emerging markets, really kind of thinking about some of these generational issues that are leading to different expectations and different talent needs.
And so, obviously, a lot of these issues have important talent implications that, again, are really kind of forcing companies to step back and think about what should our talent strategy look like going forward. And given that it seemed like we were at this inflection point, it seemed like a good opportunity for CAHRS to dig in a bit and really kind of probe our partner companies to think about what is changing in our talent strategy or where do they see this heading in the future.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Yeah, there is a ton of change going on in that realm for sure. And so in the face of some of those issues that you just mentioned, what are some of the changes companies are making to their talent strategies?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, sure, so I think those changes are being driven by a few key factors. I mean, broadly, the ones that we mentioned just a second ago. But a few that really kind of came up quite a bit in our discussions in the working groups, one certainly being around this idea of new competition really kind of leading companies to adopt new business models.
For example, we heard from a number of companies, if you're in the, let's say, skincare, makeup industry, it used to be had your kind of key competitors, your major competitors. But now what they're finding is that competition is coming from everywhere. Someone can start up their own company out of their garage, manufacture, and kind of distribute, and sell all on their own.
And certainly this idea of businesses out of the garage are not new. I mean, we can go back to HP, Apple, Google, right? But the fact is that they're becoming more prevalent. They're hitting industries that maybe never had to deal with that type of competition before. And so it's really kind of forcing companies to think about, OK, given this new model, how do we compete with these types of competitors?
And how do we become more agile? How do we become kind of more localized, so we really understand local markets and consumer needs? And that obviously has important implications for the type of talent that we need to adopt those new models.
I would say another big one that's come up is this idea of expectations of the new workforce. What we're hearing from a lot of the companies is that the new generations that are entering the workforce are placing greater value on things like mobility, diversity of experiences in their careers, this idea of boundaryless careers, where they're moving across different organizations.
And so companies are really kind of thinking about how do we respond to these shifting preferences among our workforce, while still obviously retaining programs and practices that appeal to other demographics of our workforce as well. So it's kind of driving a need for companies to have, I would say, much more kind of flexible practices that can adapt to different employee preferences.
And I'd say last one is certainly this idea of pace of change. I mean, we know that the pace of change is accelerating rapidly. And so this has implications in terms of things like the half-life of employee skills and is driving efforts around new skilling, upskilling, different companies call it different things, but really this need to make sure that we're not just preparing employees for today, but that we're constantly preparing them for what's coming in the future.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Yeah, OK, so new competition, new expectations from the workforce, this rapid pace of change, upskilling, et cetera. So those are big trends and issues. So what specifically are some of the companies doing in regards to that with their talent strategies?
BRAD BELL: So one key thing I would say is that we heard, particularly in the working group that we conducted at Microsoft in last March was really this focus on the employee experience. I mean I know we've heard that in a lot of other realms as well. It's kind of a general focus of HR today.
But I think in the talent area, companies are recognizing, again, that so much is changing. There's these diverse preferences. So how do we really hone in and get a laser focus on that employee experience? And that really requires, number one, understanding our employee expectations in the talent space.
What do they want from their careers? What type of development are they looking for? How do we give them the mobility that they want? And so we're seeing companies trying to do things like pulse their employees more regularly to really understand those expectations, those preferences, and on the back end, to be able to respond to those things much more quickly and much more-- with much more agility.
I would say the second piece of that is also leader accountability. So really kind of holding leaders accountable by having things like talent dashboards, quarterly reviews, where we're looking at different talent metrics and really kind of putting the responsibility on our leaders to make sure that they're delivering on those.
Another area that we saw was, I'd say, two themes that seem to be underlying a lot of this kind of shift in talent strategy I would say are democratization and transparency, really shifting a lot of this, putting control in the hands of employees. I would say in the past, when we thought about talent strategy, that was really dictated by the company.
The company would say, here's where we see your career going. Here is the type of experiences that we think you should have. Here's where we think you should move as you go from role to role. And what they're realizing again is that employees want to have more say in that today.
And so companies are looking at how do we put, through technology and other tools, how do we put more of that control in employees hands, so that they can, for example, explore different career paths. So they can engage in more personalized learning, really to kind of control and provide more variability in where people can go with their careers.
Along with that is the idea of transparency. To help employees make those choices, they need information. So for example, putting information in their hands around, here's where we see your skills, their importance in the future. What's going to be the demand for those. What are maybe emerging hot areas that employees should be thinking about. So that employees can make informed choices about their careers and their learning.
I'd say third area is around structure. Thinking about how should we even be structuring the talent function in the future. And part of this is formal, or what some companies call hard structure, really thinking about the reporting lines, but also soft structure more informally. And I'd say on the hard structure, what we're seeing is, at least in some companies, really trying to shift a lot of the talent responsibilities out to the business, to make it much more nimble, and make it much more flexible, again, much more locally customized.
That's not without its challenges. That can lead to inconsistencies. It can lead to challenges with talent mobility as we try to move employees across different businesses. And I'll be really curious to see where that goes in the future. Because it seems like this-- the centralization, decentralization is always this yoyo right the companies go back and forth on.
But right now, it seems like the pendulum has shifted really to the business, I think, to drive some of that agility. I would say also companies are really rethinking or questioning the traditional center of excellence model. Does that model still make sense today? What should that model look like?
Some companies, for example, in the meetings talked about they're thinking should we have centers of excellence around specific groups, maybe top talent or others? Or should we be focusing groups on specific outcomes, like the employee experience. So really kind of thinking about what are those-- if we have those centers of excellence, what are they really focused on?
And lastly, I would say the big change, which I think has been highlighted a lot of what I've already talked about, but is this idea of flexibility. Really, the idea of a one size fits all model does not work anymore. We know that. So the idea across all of these changes is how do we build in enough flexibility so that we can adapt our practices to different employee expectations, different employee preferences, and make sure that they have that flexibility as they go through their careers.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: OK great. Just a reminder to send in some questions, because in a few minutes, we will turn to your questions as well. But, Brad, as you talk about these changes, as companies are making them, are there particular tools or technologies that they're leveraging that these companies mentioned?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, I think we heard a number of companies talk specifically about technology really kind of supporting and aiding a lot of these changes. I would say to date, as we know, a lot of that has really been focused on the kind of talent acquisition space, where we're using artificial intelligence, algorithms to screen, identify and screen candidates.
We heard some companies talk about how they're using things like virtual reality simulations to really try to give candidates realistic previews of the organization and the roles that they would be coming into. As well as I think to really try to position some of their companies as being on the cutting edge of the technology space, as well, as an attraction tool.
I think what we're going to see over the next several years is really the expansion of these technologies into other parts of the talent space. We're already seeing that already with things like using artificial intelligence for skills inference. So collecting passive data that we can use to better understand the skills of our employee base.
But I think we're likely to see it increasingly used in areas such as coaching, rewards and recognition, feedback. There's a lot of different products coming on the market. The challenge, I think, in a lot of companies is figuring out which of these add value, which of them should we really be kind of bringing into the fold, as well as thinking about how do we integrate these different platforms so that we can share data across them and have integrated solutions. Right now, it seems like it's kind of a mix and match, kind of a hodgepodge, tag-ons in a lot of different areas.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Yeah, OK. OK, good. Here's a question. First of all, Christine thanks us for the overview and sees all of these trends coming to life in her organization today. But recognizing the pace of change in the industry is increasingly rapid and we need to adapt quickly, what practical recommendations do you have for large corporations where internal change and operational-- you get the word--
BRAD BELL: Operational?
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: These strategies is often slow, so big companies trying to make change like this where it's slow, did you see any practical recommendations in the working groups?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, I mean, I think, again, part of that-- it seems like companies are trying to tackle with the structure piece, really trying to decentralize a lot of this. I mean, maybe centralizing pieces of it which are enterprise wide, things like leadership development, for example. But where you really need programs to be developed and deployed much more quickly, how do we push more of that out into the field?
Really being driven by business partners and what they need in collaboration with the COEs or other support functions to be able to develop those. But to provide that ability to move more quickly to identified needs within the business. I think what we've seen-- didn't come up so much. I would say in these talent strategy working groups, but we've certainly seen in other working groups and other things that we've done in CAHRS is the idea of these things like fast action project teams.
These kind of internal consulting groups that are able to be deployed very quickly to address emerging needs, respond to them quickly, bring in resources from these other areas of HR as needed. But using those to really enhance the speed at which we can respond to some of these different changes that are taking place. So again, I think we're seeing-- a lot of it's more structural in terms of how do we create these more flexible ways to organize or tackle the work that allow us to move faster than we might have been able to move in the past.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Yeah, those fast action teams, I think, are becoming much more common. Another idea from one of the CAHRS companies that we've mentioned before is this idea of using time-- leave time, so filling jobs that people are taking medical leave, or maternity leave, or extended leave with other folks from internal to the organization.
Lots of times, you want to go external for that kind of stuff. But why not take somebody internally, where you're looking to build their skills, or upskill, or reskill. And they already know the internal organization, et cetera. So they're able to launch into those opportunities pretty quickly. I thought that was a neat strategy we had heard, too. Another question here is have you seen any trends in how companies are leveraging talent analytics?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, absolutely, I think that the upside is certainly that given the technologies that companies are deploying, they have much more data than ever before at their fingertips. I think the challenges are not new ones. And they revolve around things like data quality.
I mean do we have high quality data? Do we have the right data to be making decisions? Another challenge is certainly moving beyond just reporting the news to really thinking about how do we draw out insights. And think about how we use this data to actually drive insights and decision making. And how do we move from retrospective to predictive?
How do we move from just, again, reporting what we've been doing to really thinking about what we should be doing moving forward. Some things that I've seen companies do to try to tackle some of those challenges, one, I think is really to focus, to recognize, we're going to have a core set of talent analytics that we can be confident and ensure are accurate, are the right analytics that we should be using for decision making, and really kind of focus our attention on a limited set instead of trying to measure everything.
So really figuring out what should we be measuring, and making sure we're doing that really well. But keeping it relatively focused. I think secondly, is really developing analytical capability among the talent function. It's not to mean that everyone needs to be able to be using the most advanced statistical software or be conducting network analysis.
But to really have enough skill and knowledge to be able to think about how do I interpret this data, how do I recognize when maybe the data isn't quite right and have an appropriate level of skepticism about what it's telling me. So I think across a lot of the companies we've worked with we're seeing that as a key area of HR capability building.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: And just to know what are the right questions to ask.
BRAD BELL: Right questions to ask on the front end.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Yeah, good, OK, Jose sent in a question here. How are talent management COEs evolving? You mentioned that earlier. What areas inside-- what areas are inside COEs, for example, assessment, analytics, talent acquisition. Are they gaining or losing emphasis? Did you find out anything there?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, I would say-- assessments was an interesting one, because that came up in one of our working groups. And I would say it was kind of split in the room. Some companies were really kind of focusing more attention on really using assessments to understand their talent. They were bringing in more assessments. They were delivering them through different means, survey based, simulation based.
Whereas, other companies were really moving away from assessments. They felt like we should be really trying to collect information about our talent through much more leader/talent intimacy, these more informal communication channels. So I think we're seeing kind of a mix across companies in terms of how they're prioritizing assessments.
I would say the other areas, not so much kind of are they increasing or decreasing importance. I think what we did see across companies is differences in terms of what goes into the formal talent COE and what's maybe outside. For example, diversity and inclusion seem to be, in many cases, an area that was outside of the talent COE, and often would report directly into the CHRO, or sometimes even the CEO, I think, to really signal its importance within the organization, and to make sure that it kind of had an independent view, maybe, beyond some of these other areas.
Rewards was an area that it seemed like was mixed again. Sometimes it was inside. Sometimes it was outside.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Talent acquisition.
BRAD BELL: Talent acquisition was always inside. Development was always usually inside. Performance management was always inside. Rewards and diversity and inclusion seemed to be the ones that were sometimes kind of outside of the formal talent COE.
I would say the other interesting thing that came up, not so much structurally, but in some organizations, they use the kind of talent COE or talent leader label really for just those individuals that were kind of overseeing the broader talent strategy. So you had people that were in talent acquisition. You had people that were in learning and development, let's say.
Those people that had the talent label were really-- their role was to integrate and to drive strategy across these different areas. So kind of really giving that talent COE a somewhat different role than just kind of being a bundle of these different practices.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: And you talked about the shift to maybe COEs being more focused on, say, high potentials, or top talent, or things like that. I mean are they building a COE where they're kind of assessing and identifying, as well as providing learning and development types of programs, hiring that talent. Is that what we're talking about there?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, and I think I didn't hear a lot of examples that companies had yet adopted that model. I think they were questioning should they be. I mean, does the kind of broader focus, if we have learning and development, we're kind of focused on the entire employee population, I think there were questioning does that still work.
Do we need to be more focused and a bit more segmented in terms of having different units that are focused on different employee populations, or different issues around building leadership capability, or driving the employee experience, and so forth. And I think back to the first question, some of that was really driven by a desire to be able to move more quickly. And if you have groups that are focused on specific issues, presumably, they can be more nimble in responding to those.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: OK, great. One more question here. What are the implications of these changes for the capabilities that talent management professionals will need moving forward?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, so I mean, one we've talked about, I think, is certainly analytics. That will be a key area going forward. Again, not necessarily building deep expertise in the different methodologies or statistics themselves. But more as you said, on the front end, how do we ask the right questions? On the back end, how do we interpret the data and make decisions?
Some of the other ones that we heard about, certainly consulting skills. The ability to, again, work closely with our business partners to really diagnose issues and devise solutions. A lot of what we heard also is just this ability to deal with the change in disruption, how do we have people that can manage complexity? How do we have people that can be agile, that can tolerate some risk, and some ambiguity as they approach these different practices, again, I think to speed up how we're responding to some of these.
So what we're seeing, for example, is a lot of organizations thinking about how do we give our talent professionals diverse experiences, not just within HR, but even outside the business to build that agility, to build that business mindset. So they have the ability to consult, to develop some of these capabilities.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: OK, great. Another question here from Sean. With baby boomers retiring and that retirement population continuing to grow, what do you see companies doing to work with upcoming retirees to perhaps keep them longer or bring in New talent to help with knowledge transfer?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, I think it's a great question, certainly something that came up a lot in our discussions. I think, kind of gave the answer, I think, somewhat in the question. But I think one thing, certainly looking at things like phased retirement. How do we continue to utilize and tap into this talent, maybe on a reduced work schedule, maybe on a emeritus type position if they're more scientific or technical talent. So that we can have more time for that knowledge transfer process.
I think the other key piece is really that knowledge transfer. And how do we make sure that we're kind of capturing their insights and facilitating that both through formal mechanisms, both technology and kind of capturing and codifying that knowledge, but also more informally, so really kind of sharing it through mentorships and other similar programs.
I think one thing that we're seeing a lot of companies adopt as they engage in these new skilling and upskilling efforts is programs like apprenticeships, Where they're bringing employees into these types of roles. And these are not just being used at the lower levels, but even increasingly at middle levels of the organization, bringing someone in, putting them into more of an apprenticeship type role, where they're working with one of these senior experts to really transfer that knowledge, providing the benefit in terms of the knowledge transfer, but also provide the benefit in upskilling someone to take on a new role that they might not have held previously.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Yeah, I think there'll be a lot of new things coming our way that way, not only because of the boomers, but because of the flexibility, et cetera, that all generations seem to want these days. So one last question here in our last minute. Any best practices that companies are using to identify top talent?
BRAD BELL: Yeah, so I think, again, assessments seem to be a prevalent tool in that space. It's been interesting. This is an area that I've kind of tracked. I would say if you looked at it maybe a decade ago, it was a much more kind of informal process. It was largely being driven by managerial nominations, subjective evaluations.
And I think for a variety of reasons, one being the recognition of unconscious bias and how it can seep into those processes, companies are looking more at how do we use, in some cases, more formal assessment tools, personality tests, assessment centers, cognitive ability testing become much more prevalent in that space.
I'd say the other one goes back to our analytics discussion, which is, increasingly, companies are really using analytics to identify talent that might be a good fit for roles within the organization that might not have been previously identified. I've seen companies like IBM, and GE, and others that actually use now technology to put new people into the candidate pools to, one, diversify those pools and to, two, again, identify talent that might have been overlooked in the past. And so I think it's part of that attempt to really democratize a lot of these different processes.
BETH FLYNN-FERRY: Well, thanks, Brad, for sharing those insights. I'm sure our viewers got a lot out of that. I want to thank everybody for participating in the webcast today. We will post a copy of this online. And so you can access it at any time, share it with others who might be interested in your organization.
And I've got on the slide here just a few of our upcoming events for 2020. We've got several things scheduled. And then we will be continuing to post more as time goes on. So please head out to our website, cahrs.ilr.cornell.edu. And again, thanks for joining us today. And we look forward to seeing you at a future CAHRS session.
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Technological, demographic, and socioeconomic forces are disrupting business models and driving changes in the nature of work and organizations. These changes have potentially important and widespread implications for talent, which is causing many organizations to take a step back and reexamine their talent management strategies and practices. In this webcast, Brad Bell, Professor of HR Studies and Faculty Director of CAHRS, will share insights from several recent working groups focused on this topic. The discussion will include the impact of disruption on talent strategy, emerging talent models and technologies, and trends surrounding talent analytics.
As with all of our webcasts, Brad and Beth will take time to address questions and comments submitted by participants.