The new normal of large, rapidly recurring skills gaps means that reskilling efforts must be transformational, not business as usual or piecemeal.
Lean into a learning culture by reskilling and upskilling
Effective reskilling and upskilling will require employees to embark on a blended-learning journey that includes traditional learning (training, digital courses, job aids) with nontraditional methods (enhanced peer coaching, learning networks, the mass personalization of change, “nudging” techniques).
For instance, Microsoft shifted from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” ethos, incorporating open learning days, informal social learning opportunities, learning data for internal career paths, and new platforms and products for its partner network.
Memo to HR: Look in the mirror
To drive and facilitate these workforce initiatives, HR must transform itself first. Talent is consistently ranked as a top three priority for CEOs, yet many lack confidence in HR’s ability to deliver.3 The HR function is often overburdened with transactional work and not well equipped to create value for the enterprise. Yet people-first organizations look at business problems from the perspective of how talent creates value, and HR is well positioned to bring data-driven insights to talent decisions. HR can arm itself with data-driven insights and people analytics to support talent-driven transformation, and HR business partners can then consistently make talent decisions based on data.
Create a value-enhancing HR ecosystem
McKinsey analysis has shown that a preponderance of executives recognize how much external partnerships help companies differentiate themselves. Increased value can be created through ecosystems where partners share data, code, and skills. Success now requires “blurry boundaries” and mutually dependent relationships to share value. The need of the hour is for HR to collaborate on and leverage the landscape of HR tech solutions across the employee life cycle—from learning, talent acquisition, and performance management to workforce productivity—to build an effective HR ecosystem. To strengthen an organization’s scalability, HR should ask the following questions:
- How can we set up platforms spanning multiple players in the ecosystem and enable new sources of value and employee experience through them?
- How can we become the best company to partner with in the ecosystem? How can we set ourselves up for fast partnering and make the ecosystem accessible?
- What are the critical skills that drive future value creation and how can we upskill our talent base accordingly?
Looking ahead: How transformation happens
As the organization of the future takes shape, HR will be the driving force for many initiatives: mapping talent to value; making the workforce more flexible; prioritizing strategic workforce planning, performance management, and reskilling; building an HR platform; and developing an HR tech ecosystem. For other initiatives, HR can help C-suite leaders push forward on establishing and radiating purpose, improving employee experience, driving leadership and culture, and simplifying the organization. Given the magnitude of the task and the broad portfolio of value-creating HR initiatives, prioritization is critical.In May of 2020, HR leaders attending a McKinsey virtual conference indicated that over the next two years, they wanted to prioritize initiatives that strengthen agility and identity. That included 27 percent who said that they would focus on responding with agility and 25 percent who prioritized driving leadership, culture, and employee experience. Next came mapping talent to value and establishing and radiating purpose, each at 13 percent
At a second conference for HR leaders, about half of the assembled CHROs said that they were focusing on reimagining the fundamentals of the organization and rethinking the operating model and ways of working in the next normal. We see organizations making this shift. Throughout the pandemic, HR has played a central role in how companies build organizational resilience and drive value. CHROs and their teams can continue on this path by connecting talent to business strategy and by implementing changes in the three core areas of identity, agility, and scalability, as well as the nine imperatives that flow from them.
A more flexible and responsive model will also help organizations meet coming demographic shifts and other workforce changes. Millennials are becoming the dominant group in the workforce (with Gen Z close behind), creating novel challenges for organizations to meet their needs. The prominence of the gig economy and alternate models of working will only grow, with 162 million workers in the European Union and the United States working independently—70 percent of them by choice. And the rapid spread of digital technology and automation is dramatically reshaping the global economy, with half the tasks people perform already automatable today. These trends are not new, but they are approaching tipping points, placing organization at the top of the CEO agenda. CHROs can help leadership by transforming their own HR organizations: developing and reinforcing clear priorities; embracing new ways of working, including rapid iteration and testing with the business and seeking explicit feedback; and revamping the HR skill set by embracing agility and digital capabilities.
While clearly a trial by fire, the pandemic also provides an opportunity for HR to accelerate its shift from a service to a strategic function, helping to shape a more dynamic organization that is ready to meet the postcrisis future.
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