Learning and development (L&D) have never been so important. As organizations try to keep staff and give them career paths amid the ‘Great Resignation’, L&D has come up as a key factor for retention again and again.
To understand how large organizations view skill management systems, ranging from the challenges they bring to the benefits for staff, UNLEASH spoke to Maura Jarvis, UK workforce transformation lead for Mercer.
As an asset management firm with offices in 180 cities, it’s safe to say Mercer has a breadth of examples of skills management systems being done right in the organization.
UNLEASH’s interview with Jarvis touched on everything from time management to internal digital transformation. Find out her gems of insight’
Q: What challenges do companies face in implementing skill management systems? How can organizations overcome them?
Maura Jarvis: Our Global Talent Trends (GTT) 2022 survey shows that the C-suites’ number one priority for return on investment is reskilling and upskilling the workforce to meet the changing skills needs as they execute their business transformations.
For leaders, it is always tempting to implement new tools that promise to solve so many use cases but a skills management system is not just about technology. To successfully thrive as a skills-based organization, companies need to focus on four core areas.
- Skills Data – Build your skills taxonomy using market-derived data and create a clear plan to develop an understanding of the true skills of the workforce. Ensure this is embedded in your job architecture to quickly create value and have a plan to evolve an understanding of the true skills of the workforce.
- Technology Ecosystem – Technology can create a destination for employees to manage their own skills and see the potential of skill acquisition to achieve their career, learning, work experience, and financial aspirations. Design the right experiences first for your workforce segments and use this to make smart decisions on technology and data flows.
- Organization – Dissolve the visible and invisible silos that restrict talent flowing to work, experiences and learning. Organization design can be optimized around capabilities to enable talent to better flow to work globally. Skills-based organizations become networks of teams of capabilities and interests that operate globally. Make sure your infrastructure is built on these principles and things like inter-company finance agreements don’t get in the way of hypermobility.
- Psychology – Execute leadership and broader workforce change and transformation process while building the metrics and KPIs (spell out) that demonstrate the return on investment. This is often the biggest challenge for companies to build a growth mindset in the organization and enable perpetual reinvention of the workforce.
Q: With these challenges in mind, why is a learning culture so difficult to develop?
MJ: [Learning culture] is not achieved via a one-off project. This is an organizational-wide shift that needs to be infused into business-as-usual activity and embraced by leadership.
Our GTT data shows 91% of employees recently tried to learn a new skill but both employees and HR are finding it difficult to understand what the priority skills are, how to find time to learn in our busy jobs, and is there the content available that is digital and bite-sized?
It is important to remember that skills acquisition is only truly achieved when the skill is practiced. Learning culture needs to include the ability to learn and activate skills through work and internal gigs.
We make a promise to our employees about skilling and the experiences this can open up for them within the organization and we need to fulfill that promise and not constrain them in the fixed role they have.
Many learning cultures focus on developing skills for the “here and now” and not the future. This needs to change if the organization wants to be future fit.
Q: Making time for learning can be difficult for employees, what steps can HR staff take to establish a learning culture?
MJ: Culture is the critical word. We need to embed learning into the flow of work. Talk and act on a daily basis about skills and learning.
Make it tangible in terms of what the payoff is for the organization and the individual. It has to be clear, transparent, and learning needs to be easy to consume where the direction of the organization and aspirations of the individual are met.
We have worked with a number of companies that have been bold to commit to implementing a learning culture not just to meet their current skills gaps but to ensure their workforce remains relevant to the job market.
- Increase your transparency. Track the amount of learning every employee is doing and set a minimum expectation of hours per year. Embed this metric in your KPI’s/scorecards for employees and managers which can lead to some interesting gamification opportunities.
- Make learning accessible. Digital learning content is key to enabling agile learning and the design of this content can be flexible to meet the individual learner’s preferences.
- Show a tangible payoff. Ensure there is recognition and reward for learning and skills. Pay for skills is one of the hottest topics in reward today. Skills can be linked to reward in many ways to help drive the behavior and retain staff as they acquire the critical and attractive skills your competitors are looking for.
- Skills-powered HR practices. Evolve your HR practices and processes to be powered by skills and not just job titles. Ensure HR speaks the language of skills not just jobs as you work with the business and employees.
Q: Do you have any tips on making learning an enjoyable experience for employees that can be maintained?
MJ: Make learning digital, bite-sized, relevant, and gamified. Supported digital badges are also growing in popularity especially if deemed portable between organizations, we’ve seen lots of excitement for being able to have a badge that can be used in a LinkedIn profile rather than just an internal course.
Demonstrate how people have used the new skills to master a current workplace challenge and the value both to the organization and the individuals. This creates learning role models.
Q: Evidently, there is a lot that businesses can begin addressing, but what areas of workplace/workforce transformation excite you at Mercer?
MJ: Ones that make a real impact on the workforce and business success. When we link our work not just to people metrics but also to business metrics we can show how the client teams we support have delivered huge value to the organization and its employees.
The power of a transformation narrative – employees want to be part of something greater than themselves. They want to work with purpose.
We get excited when we can help create and implement a transformation journey that will move the organization and its people from where they are now to a better, more sustainable place. Transformation that is based on the principles of ESG [Environmental, social, and corporate governance] resonates with our purpose.
We love helping our clients not to just understand the change, but to execute the change and make sure we create the seamless connectivity of the entire skills ecosystem.
The hottest topics in the market today are SWP (shared workplace), talent marketplaces, reskilling and upskilling, future of work and work design, and HR transformation.
Q: What advice do you have for those planning to transform workforce functions and tools?
- Invest time in creating the vision and connecting it to your business strategy. Early value hypothesis can really accelerate the business case development.
- Gain interlock and alignment with your stakeholders early. These projects can touch everyone in the organization. Engage your subject matter experts including IT and Procurement early so they help co-create the solution.
- Put experience and the human element at the center of the design…that’s employees and other stakeholders.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail fast. What others are doing is not always right for your organization.
- Don’t underinvest in change. Ask yourself how much you would invest per employee to achieve the outcomes and let that guide your budget.
Q: Looking forward, what are HR transformation trends for leaders to watch out for?
MJ: Given the current economic challenges and skills shortages, the customized employee experience is going to be critical to retaining talent. This will need to extend beyond reward.
The rebalancing of hybrid, work-life balance, and sustainability needs urgent attention – the current ways of working are not sustainable and employees are demanding LX – life experience. This is going to take some figuring out.
HR Agility to adapt to the speed and pace of transformation, and business expectations as well as the experience component.
Q: Finally, in your opinion, why is it important to establish a skill management system in an organization?
MJ: It brings together the ability of an organization to drive business outcomes and productivity whilst meeting the wants and needs of the workforce.
It is a win-win that enables the sustainability of your organization and execution of your strategy and the continued employability of the workforce.
The language of attraction and retention is built on development, challenge, and career progression. Talent will assess the organization’s attractiveness based on what they can learn, how they can grow, and how they can progress.
Without a skills-based approach, the organization will be seen as a “here and now” organization that is stuck in daily reality and not forward thinking.
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