The 2020s so far have seen extreme disruption – of the global economy, of supply chains, of the way we work. But a major takeaway has been resilience – companies have bounced back, and thrived, employees reassessed, adapted and remained productive.
But now the focus must be on continuing to cultivate this resilience, and drive further productivity and company success. That was how Dan Pell, newly appointed vice-president and general manager for UK and Ireland, kicked off Workday Elevate in the city of London.
Patrick Blair, president of global Sales, then picked up this thread in his keynote. “It’s been a kind of crazy world” – and it’s time to focus on how and why people are thriving, and how they are thinking about growing their businesses.
UNLEASH had the pleasure of sitting down with Pell, Blair, as well as Angelique de Vries, Workday’s President of EMEA, and Accenture managing director and European HR platform lead Filip Gilbert to dig in and take a forward look at the world of work, and the role HR tech is going to play.
Here are three top takeaways from the Elevate event.
Skills are the new workplace currency
During his keynote, Blair shared that CHROs are telling Workday all the time that they need more skills-based learning. “Taking the collective wisdom of the people that are in my company, and matching it with jobs that we have is a near impossible task” – as is figuring out skills and talent gaps – unless you have the necessary data.
Workday prides itself on the quantity and quality of data that it holds, and how it can use that to support employers with learning and development (L&D), primarily through its Skills Cloud product.
During the later group discussion, Blair specifically linked skills with retention – this makes sense as the Great Resignation pushed L&D to the top of the agenda, as a leading cause of sky-high resignation rates is a lack of internal mobility.
“Companies are seeing if we can get people into the company, get them to understand the business, and then provide them with the skills that they need, they will stay with the company longer. They will be more productive, they will be happier”, noted Blair.
As the world of work continues to evolve at record pace, job titles may stay the same, but the actual job responsibilities do change – and some people may not be equipped for what their future role looks.
“Our customers are seeing they get a lot of values out of our product, [and particularly] having the ability to map” jobs and skills. Blair added: “It’ll be ever evolving”, and an ongoing piece of work for HR that technology can really automate.
Gilbert chimed in with the Accenture (and Workday customer) viewpoint. He noted that Workday’s Skills Cloud, and particularly the taxonomy element, is super useful, because otherwise the L&D process is “a complete mess”; everything is called different things in different places, and keeping track of skills gaps is nearly impossible.
Another plus is that Accenture’s 750,000 employees globally don’t have to input their skills (from a list of 12 million) – they are automatically ‘discovered’ by Workday, they are based on a whole host of HR data points within the Workday system, which is a single source of truth for Accenture.
Employees can then agree or disagree with what is suggested, and that helps them to build a skills profile, see possible career paths and what training they need to go on. Essentially, Accenture has managed to transform skills into a discoverable asset that can drive internal mobility.
“It creates engagement, excitement and employability” – employees see the positives of L&D, and that drives continuous learning and career revolution within the organization.
Pell agreed that skills-focused approaches are empowering – historically employees would’ve had to ask for help, but “now employers can say, here are the tools, you go and help yourself, you own your career”.
de Vries commented that this pace of change is not slowing down, and so companies need to get proactive and take a data-driven approach to skills (at scale) if they want to thrive. For her, Accenture is a great example of a company leading the way.
Take a people-first approach to AI
On the topic of skills, one area where there is always a need for upskilling and reskilling is artificial intelligence (AI). For Gilbert, “the limitation of generative AI today is full knowledge of the technology”.
It’s not the technology that is the limiting factor, it is finding the people with the skills to do something useful with that technology.
Workday has been working in the AI space for a decade. It’s not a buzzword for the HR tech giant, noted Pell.
But when Workday is thinking about AI, it leans into its values of integrity and ethics. In his keynote, Blair stated that these two values are “of paramount importance in anything we do in AI”, and machine learning.
de Vries echoed this in the discussion and talked about the cleanliness of the data that underlies those AI products – for Blair, Workday’s database is its key differentiator.
de Vries stated: “Let’s learn and leverage this technology even more – I’m excited about the future”.
When thinking about the current and the future of AI, Blair commented “we want to make sure that whatever we’re doing is for the benefit of people, and the benefit of making people more productive”, and doing this in an ethical, transparent way.
It is not about AI for AI’s sake, or replacing humans with technology, but instead putting people first and helping them do their jobs better.
Although AI skills are crucial in the future of work, de Vries cited a recent World Economic Forum report that talked about the importance of employees leaning into unique human skills, like critical thinking, analytical thinking and resilience.
It’s not just about collecting the data, it’s about what you do with the data – and that involves a range of skills, including creative and tech ones.
Accenture’s Gilbert stated: “What I am certainly convinced of is we see less and less technical skills. Things like critical thinking, learning, agility, creativity, empathy, those are the skills that will remain. I don’t see machines takin g that over.”
The changing role of the CHRO
The conversation moved to job titles, and Blair stated that the role of the chief innovation officer (CIO) has evolved very quickly over the past five years.
But UNLEASH was keen to find out Workday and Accenture’s view on how the role of the CHRO has changed in the 2020s so far.
In his keynote, Blair shared: “We don’t think there’s anything more important at a company than their people” – this means CHROs have an essential role in the current and future of work.
They’ve always had a seat at the table, but their precise job is different now.
Not only are they thinking about skills, culture and inclusion, but “employee engagement is [becoming] critical to any company.. If you’re bringing people in, and they’re not engaged and they don’t want to be part of it, they’re not going to be productive”.
“They need to leverage technology more to make it all possible”, and this means CHROs need to work closely with CFOs, CIOs, CEOs, and they all need to push to the next frontier together, concluded Blair.
Where the HR world meets. You can’t afford to miss out on UNLEASH World in Paris this October.
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