A Message to Leaders
As we look at leadership under a new lens, it’s important to consider the greatest capital for any organization—talent. The organization succeeds not with trite perspectives on unleashing human potential or driving greater growth, but through a deep examination of how the organization reinvents itself regularly through effective talent management. We have all heard the old adage “Never waste a good crisis.”
Here’s a friendly amendment: “Make constant reset your friend.” Upheaval brings about opportunities to rethink, reset, and restructure your organization.
If you’ve always done it that way, it’s probably wrong. —CHARLES KETTERING
The Human in Human Resources
HR is often viewed as a cost center with limited business acumen. Whether we have called for automating HR functions or putting them in areas overseen by others, HR continues to sit as an untapped human engine for the organization. Specifically, we have seen during recent reset moments that HR is the true home of innovation within the modern organization. This is largely because HR leaders now have the responsibility to offer the kind of employee experience that attracts and retains top talent.
More still, HR is now the driver of the innovative employee experience, with customized levels of employment and a broad array of potential work settings. Your CHRO has become the primary cog in maximizing operational efficiency and driving talent acquisition for new business lines. This has never been the case until today. For this reason, you as a leader should engage HR with ingenuity and innovation as the primary objective. Businesses must evolve in these challenging times, and HR—the profession and the people—is where innovation MUST happen.
People, Profession, and Policy
Workplace policy is the unspoken influence on every one of our organizations. Workplace laws affect our costs and revenues. They drive how we view shareholder or stakeholder capitalism. They impact all facets of our organizations, from location to safety to pay. Hell, they even play a role in what we do to recruit, retain, and offboard talent. Given their broad impact, we should always be cognizant of their role in our ecosystems. That said, we also have to ask ourselves one key question: Why do laws from an industrial era govern the entirety of a modern workplace more than a century later?
The spirit of such laws as the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family Medical Leave Act are unquestionable. Their application is suspect in many cases as the definitions of work, the worker, and the workplace evolve. As leaders, there are two lessons to be learned.
First, consider workplace policy your best friend in managing external influences on your enterprise. And second, treat workplace laws as a guide for establishing your organizational values. With the latter, consider how you might exceed some of the rights and protections offered by the law to make your organization more successful.
Creating a Culture That Works
Culture is a double-edged sword. If healthy, it generates all sorts of creativity and innovation while unlocking more revenue. If toxic, it almost assuredly generates waste in talent costs, to the tune of $52 billion across the global economy every year. Aside from the risk-reward nature of your organization’s culture, any leader appreciates one undeniable fact: transformation almost always begins with a culture change. Moreover, these culture changes are typically driven by a reset moment.
Leaders ask all the time, “Do you transform via technology or people?” The answer is almost always the same. Reset starts with the organization’s software, its people. As leaders, we cannot forget people’s astounding ability to sink any change. With that in mind, remember the key lesson – not the clichés you consume all the time, like culture eats strategy for breakfast. Remember this: reset relies on reduced resistance.
Finding and Keeping Great Talent
Your biggest challenge isn’t technology, innovation, or even leadership. It’s finding, hiring, and engaging the right talent to thrive now and in the future. Talent is an almost-spent natural resource. Imagine if oil reserves were fully depleted or natural gas deposits were totally exhausted. This would be tantamount to being left without an energy source, and the same basic issue arises when considering the role talent plays in your organization.
Luckily, we have not really reached the talent depletion state just yet, but we aren’t getting a lot of help from factors such as the educational career readiness system, adult learning opportunities, and the graying of our global workforce. As leaders, this makes our jobs all that much harder, and they are complicated even further by the need to make the most of our reset opportunities.
With this backdrop, we need to ask ourselves, “What do we get right when it comes to finding talent and keeping it?” This is the principle lesson for leaders. We need to ask on a regular basis what we are doing well for optimizing talent.
The Power of the People You Overlook
To win the future of work, you must look past traditional talent pools—truly inclusive organizations leverage differences for both growth and innovation. The problem is that finding a model for great inclusion is almost impossible. People ask the author all the time, “Who is getting diversity and inclusion right?”
The author believes no one is getting it right. There are those who get it relatively right. That means some are simply trying harder than others, with programs ranging from truly inclusive leadership development to social efforts for seeding relevant fields. Others engaging in relative rightness include those investing in their communities or innovation programs for diverse populations. As leaders, the lesson is clear, and not in relative terms, either.
We should do three things: invent, invest, and implement those programs best suited to our culture and communities. If the imperative is inclusion for females in STEM, then focus on those programs and do not feel negligent or guilty for honing in on one area. More importantly, define diversity as more than intersectionality. In its current form, intersectionality is the state of the art but falls woefully short of achieving prioritized identity factors.
Building Inclusive Workplaces
“Untapped” is the latest buzzword in the world of talent management. I hate jargon, but it fits here. Too much of an organization’s missed opportunities stem from a failure to recognize the potential of its current workforce or the applicant pool it uses to identify talent. There is a term for the opportunity loss generated from overlooking talent from nontraditional sources. That term is “brain waste.” The US government has commissioned numerous evaluations of brain waste among immigrant populations alone.
In your case as a leader this may seem abstract, but the mind and identifying talent function the same way. We compartmentalize and overlook. It is a way of interpreting large amounts of data without causing information loss. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work too well. So what is the lesson for you as a leader? Train yourself not to overlook talent. This starts by focusing on what is really needed in any function or role and then looking inward first. We confuse performance appraisals for a proxy of skills inventory, and that isn’t very reliable or “valid,” to borrow a term from Dr. Alonso. The hidden value of tapping nontraditional talent pools, and how they can put your business over the top, is often the path to an efficient and culture-shaping reset.
Bridging the Skills Gap
Nothing represents a reset for people more than learning and development. Today, we call these things reskilling and upskilling, but back in the day I thought of them as training. Workforce training and development remain crucial, but now it’s all about remote education and distance learning. As leaders, we need to consider how training has become an asset beyond changing the skill set of our workforce. For many, ingenuity has led to upskilling or reskilling in the face of being let go or even after being let go.
For others, it represents a value-added employee experience lever where people see their organization leading them through resets. That is not easily accomplished, but remains one of the most progressive ways to think of training.
What is the lesson for you? Training is a pain in the ass, but it plays a vital role in employee experience, and consumer experience, and can be your biggest lever in building brand loyalty. Don’t overlook it and cut it during reset moments.
Redefining the Employee Experience
Experience is king and leads to so much success if orchestrated properly. For Vineet Nayar, chairman of HCL Technologies, it meant doing one thing: putting employees first above all others, including customers. In turn, with their own experience upgraded, HCL’s engaged employees drove greater results by creating better customer experiences. You may not agree with this approach, but I will ask you one thing: Have you visited your company’s reviews on Glassdoor? If not, please don’t. Too often you’ll find a collection of gut-wrenching reviews intended to piss you off. Even worse is that crisis and reset moments lead to worse commentary. But you are not helpless in the drive to improve employee experience. Luckily, a reset moment is the perfect time to build the employee experience you need for success. Don’t waste your time reading reviews of the disgruntled, but do focus on how you can drive outcomes with a workforce committed to your vision, mission, and culture. That’s the ultimate reset tactic and one we can all get behind.