We sit down with one of UNLEASH World’s most exciting speakers, Meredith Wellard, VP of group talent acquisition, learning and growth at Deutsche Post DHL.
We spoke about how to prepare for the future of development, why a skills-centric approach is the best way to do this, and how to sell this way of viewing talent to people outside of the HR function.
Dan Cave: There is a lot of noise about the talent struggles of the here and now, but what should organizations be preparing for in the future?
Meredith Wellard: The impact of the global pandemic had made many people question how they balanced their work and personal lives. Add into this is the effect of technology and perhaps some organizations assumed this would mean more people would be looking for work [as a result of being automated out of jobs] and perhaps they wrote that into their talent forecasts.
However, what it has done is contribute to a big shift in the skills we need. What I think we actually need are skills that are different from those that we had planned for.
For me, there is a question over whether we actually don’t have enough people [to fill vacancies] or is it that we’re actually struggling to obtain the right skills.
DC: Does this mean we should be moving towards a skills-centric talent approach? And, if so, how?
MW: For me, this is the challenge. Today, I don’t know what skills are going to be required in two years’ time; it’s not possible to know because we don’t know what changes will happen in the world and we’re still in a global flux.
Therefore, I can’t tell you exactly what skills will be needed. What I can tell you is we will need people who can quickly consume learning content in order to be able to respond to evolving skills needs as what we don’t have anymore is the luxury of seeing a change coming in advance.
However, to do that we have to have a very good understanding of skills in our organization: what skills we have, what skills are adjacent to the ones we have that we can transfer, where there is scarcity, and how to improve our base skills.
DC: What is the benefit of this skills-centric approach to the overall learning and talent agenda?
MW: It has a wonderful impact on learning as it means that, finally, learning is put right at the front of the business’ requirements.
And for long-term sustainable employee engagement, learning is going to be a hygiene factor as people will come into an organization and say: “If you want me to stay relevant, you need to have available for me at my fingertips the type of learning and experiences I need.”
This learning can’t just be about technology, either. We have to understand that technology is just a content tool within learning. What we need to roll out as learning is how to interact with a customer, or colleague, or provider.
It’s these soft skills we need to be learning. They’re taking their place in the world.
All the technical skills in the world won’t replace a good communicator, a good negotiator, or a good empathetic leader.
DC: Yet moving to this skills-based framework could be considered quite radical for some companies. How can HR make the argument for it?
MW: I get asked quite a lot about how we got it on the agenda at DHL. It can be quite difficult to as there are lots of moving parts to it.
I’ve heard one argument on how to do this described as a ‘golden thread’ approach: where you link individuals’ skills profiles, to things employees want, and then how a business can access that information.
On the flipside, you also have to give employees sight into what skills they need if they want a good career.
We also have to talk about the employee engagement model. It’s expensive to lose a team member — you lose them from the perspective of losing a team member, you lose them from customer delivery, and from culture.
Therefore, if we as HR have new and fancy ideas around skills we have to talk about it as employee engagement but then we also have to deliver.
At DHL we did this with an internal LinkedIn that operates as a career marketplace. Then it’s an easy sell because every employee, even managers, wants to know what their next career or learning step is.
We can also make the nuts and bolts arguments about reducing recruitment cycles, how we can save millions, and decrease time to top performance etc.
In fact, if we simply described it as a skills issue we would have a very hard time selling it to anyone who is not in HR.
DC: How important is that seamless employee experience — especially around times when you might be changing the talent strategy?
MW: Becoming a great place to work is more than just coming up with good ideas. Its about delivering to our employees and making sure we’re the place they want to be. It’s also got to deliver for the business.
Due to the world as it is at the moment there are going to be times when we have to quickly change strategic direction but what we can rely on is this solid foundation thanks to our platform which has knowledge about our people.
DC: And then how does this become the business strategy?
MW: We have a vision which is about connecting people and improving clients. This vision is an amazing tool to use and we can wrap it around most [of our internal] storytelling.
It helps give us an understanding of what we’re here to do. We can then weave that vision into our HR roadmap and then into what’s actually happening.
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