This white paper covers the big concerns of HR professionals when it comes to the new challenges they are facing due to seismic workplace changes.
When the landscape of work gets more challenging than usual, as it has around the numerous difficulties faced by workforces because of COVID-19, what are the top concerns of HR professionals in terms of managing and maintaining their talent? Ezra compares the popular opinions to our findings from participants in our Free Month Of Coaching program for HR leaders.
The industry press said:
Only 38% of companies had work from home policies in place at the start of the pandemic.
14.83% of HR professionals were issuing communications around remote work.
11.29% were developing standards for remote work.
88% of organizations have transitioned to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, we expected participants in our coaching program to want to focus on helping others to work effectively in a remote setting.
What we found was actually that HR professionals prioritized support around how to lead change effectively, along with how to demonstrate confidence and build it in others.
62% requested coaching around projecting and instilling confidence.
55% of participants requested coaching around leading change.
33% selected achieving results virtually as a target.
Just 17% selected virtual collaboration.
As HR were the ones needing to provide the info about change to employees, they were more focused on how to communicate this effectively and confidently rather than the mere logistics of leading Zoom calls etc, which shows how good professionals will focus on the bigger picture of leading rather than just execution.
When it comes to feedback from performance reviews and improving employee responses, could coaching be the key factor that too many businesses are missing out on?
Could coaching be the missing link in the feedback conundrum?
Let’s face it, well before the pandemic hit, most of your employees were craving feedback. They wanted to know how they were doing, how they could do better and how they fit into the organization’s future plans. The pandemic has not extinguished that craving; in fact, it may have made it more acute because feedback is harder to come by these days.
Everyone is struggling to manage workforces that have been forced to work remotely. Leaders and the people they are leading are still searching for new ways of keeping in touch and measuring progress. The line between ‘work’ and ‘home’ continues to blur, which is straining relationships.
However, even in the midst of all this disruption, there has been no reduction in the desire of employees to know how they are faring. A major challenge before the pandemic struck, winning strategies for regular, effective feedback seem to be even more elusive than ever.
The pre-pandemic deficit in feedback
A Gallup survey released earlier this year found that Millennial employees – who are the fastest growing cohort in the global labour force – were increasingly desperate to get “meaningful, individualized feedback.” Gallup defined this as feedback that helps the individual learn, grow and succeed at their jobs. And they’re desperate because – for the most part – they are not getting that feedback in a regular or meaningful way.
Gallup found that only 19 per cent of Millennial workers worldwide strongly agree that they receive routine feedback at work; only 17 per cent reported receiving meaningful feedback.
Gallup attributed part of the problem here to a general breakdown in the effectiveness of performance reviews. It’s not just millennials; Gallup found that fewer than one in five American workers believe that existing performance reviews inspire them to be better and achieve more at work.
The chronic feedback gap
The inability to ask for, or provide, meaningful feedback is something researchers call “the feedback gap.” Although a lot of the gap can be fairly laid at the feet of managers who are simply bad at talking with their employees, there is an argument that employees ultimately share in the blame.
Or, put another way, when they don’t get the kind of feedback they want, or sense that managers are reluctant to engage in a frank performance discussion, they stop asking. Gallup, for example, found that only 15 per cent of the millennial workers it surveyed – a group infamous for its appetite for guidance and advice – actually asked managers for feedback.
If employees are bad at asking for feedback, largely because managers are bad at providing it, then what’s the solution? This is where coaching comes in.
Coaching to make people better at asking for, and providing, meaningful feedback
Feedback is one of those commodities that requires both a willing employee and a committed leader. That requires both parties to possess sufficient quantities of emotional intelligence, particularly self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy. And one of the best ways of developing these qualities is through one-on-one coaching.
Coaching guru Daniel Goleman has consistently linked effective coaching with emotional intelligence and the capacity to provide meaningful, productive feedback.
“As a coach, you know that the feedback from people who know you well lets you recognize gaps between your self-awareness and others’ perceptions of you,” Goleman said in an essay for the International Coach Federation. “This lets you spotlight your limitations, as well as strengths, and gives you potential targets for strengthening your emotional intelligence.”
It doesn’t take long to realize that coaching is the missing ingredient in a truly constructive feedback culture.
Leaders who have worked with a coach not only know themselves better, but are also willing and able to provide meaningful feedback to the people they lead. And those employees are better able to process and apply feedback when they have worked on their own emotional intelligence with a coach.
Quality, meaningful feedback can boost engagement, performance and employee retention. And that raises an important question.
Given the close association between feedback and those major drivers of business success, it makes you wonder why more organizations don’t take the time to coach managers and employees to give and receive feedback more constructively?
Balance Labor Market Surpluses and Shortages and a Growing Skills Gap.
The global economic fallout from COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented volatility, impacting every part of the labor market. While some sectors have been decimated resulting in millions of workers being displaced, some sectors are experiencing accelerated growth and job gains. At the same time many impacted workers aren’t prepared for change and don’t have the skills they need for future roles.
Caroline Pfeiffer-Marinho, Executive Vice President of EMEA at LHH and Arne Hellmuth, Managing Director of Transformation Solutions at LHH Deutschland have a conversation about an innovative way to build a frictionless pathway between companies that need to shed workers with those companies that urgently need to hire.
In this conversation, Caroline and Arne discuss:
• Factors shaping labor market trends • Matching supply and demand in labor markets • Steps to creating a frictionless pathway • Creating a sustainable future that puts people first
As organizational coaching grows in popularity, more and more organizations recognize coaching for leaders as a way to achieve business results by focusing more on people, not only as a way to be better at business, but also to be more in alignment with core values and emphasize the human side of the modern workplace.
In January 2017, Shawna, a college registrar, accepted my invitation to experience coaching for leaders It was her first experience of formal Coaching, and she was open to learning more about how it could help her lead her team of 25 individuals representing 14 different nationalities on a college campus in Qatar.
From the first day, we established clear goals for how Shawna wanted to lead her team to engage in personal groundwork, foster greater accountability and pay more attention to business results. Through this process (which also involved departmental reorganization and the creation of an internal leadership team), she shifted from “micromanager” to coach, observed the positive impact on her team, and came to describe her coaching experience as “transformative.”
Perhaps most importantly, Coaching for Leaders program created a ripple effect that extended beyond Shawna to impact her team and her organization.
Shawna reported a shift in her experience of coming to work each day. Instead of feeling frustrated and focusing on constraints, Shawna changed her perspective, noting, “I think this realignment has helped me feel much better about coming in to work in the morning because I know the work I’m doing is helping others rather than clearing one more data set.”
We discussed how Shawna had been feeling out of alignment professionally prior to the start of our work together. We started by identifying her core values, and she explained, “I have noticed a big shift from the day that we started, and we did the core values and balance wheel. Previously, I had been focused on quality, data control and effectiveness. These tools helped me identify that my values were teamwork, leadership and integrity and that I was off balance with where I wanted to be…this awareness has really made a big impact in supporting how I enjoy my job, and it’s supported my team as well.”
We also talked about authenticity, and the importance of being in alignment with our core values. Shawna explained, “It’s my regular nature to be real and true and authentic. But I feel in some ways over the last few years, I’ve had to reorganize myself into a framework which is not as real as I would like it to be. So, I think these conversations have helped me recognize the importance of and realign myself with authenticity.”
One new focus for Shawna was developing trust and allowing for vulnerability with her team. “I believe that being more authentic and vulnerable has helped them feel more of a connection to the goals of the department and to each other. It’s helped develop deeper leadership conversations and relationships,” she said.
We also utilized various measurements to track progress with the team. One measurement Shawna used was adapted from Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. We observed improvements in each of those measures (trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results) as a result of the coaching engagement. Shawna was also able to measure quantifiable improvements through an increase in the number of completed projects, which she attributes to the increased accountability and sense of empowerment her direct reports feel because of her shift in leadership approach.
We also introduced a process for asking for and providing feedback to one another. Shawna described this process as an impactful way of improving the team’s communication and trust: “As a result of [the feedback exercises], I can see that there’s an increased sense of trust amongst the team, and that now there’s a group of people not only relying on me for feedback, but working on it together. I can see that my being coached and coaching them is helping them coach each other and their direct reports.”
In addition to an increased number of completed projects and improved business results, Shawna’s team shared powerful stories of how they brought their personal and team learnings home with them. One individual shared a team-building tool with her husband, who in turn brought it to work with his own team.
Shawna and I have been encouraged and energized by the observed “ripple effect” from our work together as a way to grow a strong coaching culture from the ground up in a culturally diverse organization in Qatar. Over time, we look forward to seeing continued growth throughout the organization, and collecting more stories of the contributions of coaching from individuals impacted by this work.
How HR leaders can support their teams as their teams support the business with redundancies
It has become a cliché to say that companies in every industry are facing unprecedented change. But cliché aside, it’s true. We are living, and indeed working, in rapidly changing environments. This was true even before the Covid-19 pandemic. A pre-pandemic survey of ours involving 1,000 business decision makers in the UK highlighted that the majority of organisations (65%) are currently dealing with more disruption to the workforce than ever before, with a startling 94% of organisations saying they have recently or are about to undergo significant people-related changes.
With the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting every aspects of our lives, this level of uncertainty and change has been further amplified and looks set to remain the case for the foreseeable future.
HR leaders have never been more in the spotlight, coming under scrutiny from anxious employees and managers alike whilst partnering with leadership teams to help inform and make long-lasting people decisions when only short-term accurate intelligence is available.
Redundancies in particular have always been personnel decisions that feel very personal, but this is even more the case as we enter a new post pandemic world of increased unemployment and business instability. How should HR leaders support their teams as their teams support the business with redundancies? How do HR professionals ensure that they’re emotionally equipped to manage difficult conversations day-after-day?
Laura Welsh, Head of HR for LHH offers some advice to HR professionals grappling with these questions.
Preparation and the devil in the detail
The more the HR team are prepared for a redundancy situation, the better they can support the business and the teams and individuals concerned whilst minimising stress for all involved, including themselves.
As soon as HR leaders know the situation, they should involve their team and provide as much information as possible so that they:
Understand what the plan is
Know who is doing what elements of the plan
Are clear on the timescales
Know who is affected and more importantly why they’re affected
Understand the rationale for all the decisions made
As well as enabling them to prepare effectively, these are the areas that HR will face questions about directly from the people involved who will expect them to have answers. If the answers are not forthcoming or clear enough, then there is a risk that myths, stories and rumours quickly start circulating. Laura says “The biggest mistake I see when redundancies are made is plans not being detailed enough when it comes to how the process will run and will work. The people impacted and involved want the nitty gritty detail and you can quickly come unstuck if you don’t have the information to share. HR leaders need to be involved in the business decisions right from the start and HR teams need to be brought into the fold as soon as plans are being made.”
Acknowledge the human in HR
Whenever the issue of redundancies is raised, there are likely to be a huge array of emotions playing out across the business. Fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, resentment and shock are common feelings that surface but there are also those who view redundancy as a positive event depending on their personal circumstances. It’s perfectly normal and natural for HR to experience the same emotions at various points throughout the process. Laura says “As HR are also involved in consultation meetings and having what can be difficult conversations often multiple times a day, all of which require emotional intelligence, empathy and for HR to share a bit of themselves, it’s normal for HR to experience emotions. The best HR professionals are not robots. It’s how, where, when and to whom they share these feelings that is key, not that they have them in the first place.” Being prepared for these feelings to surface and acknowledging that they exist and that it’s OK for them to do so can help HR teams to support themselves and others. Laura adds “It’s a good thing that HR experience these emotions. It means it’s not something that’s being done lightly.”
Put your own oxygen mask on first
HR teams feel a strong sense of responsibility to make sure the best plans for redundancies are made and implemented in the right way to get the best possible result for people and the business. Laura says “HR need to feel this same sense of responsibility for looking after themselves too so that we’re in the best position to make sure others are OK. It’s the classic case of applying your own oxygen mask first”. She advises HR leaders to:
Stay close to your teams to quickly spot any warning signs that need addressing before they escalate.
Provide opportunities for the team to formally and informally connect with each other.
Encourage your teams to take regular breaks even when time is shortHave frequent 1:1s.
Allow them to express their feelings and be vulnerable with you in a safe environment.
Consider providing them with access to resources and training to help them with key skills at this time such as increasing their resiliency, having difficult conversations, demonstrating emotional intelligence etc.
Don’t stamp out black humour amongst the team. It can be a great mood lifter at the right time!
Encourage your teams to go home at the end of the day knowing that they can look in the mirror and know that they’ve been treating people the way that they would want to be treated.
Push for the business to offer the necessary support for all
Redundancies can be challenging for everyone in the business. Providing timely, relevant support for all of those impacted is both the socially responsible thing to do and the right business thing to do. Knowing that your people are being supported in the best possible way can also remove a lot of the burden from HR during what is an already difficult time.
1) To those facing redundancy
Providing outplacement support to those facing redundancy not only supports the individual during what can be a difficult time, but also the mission and values of the organisation. It speaks volumes to your employer brand as you demonstrate a strong duty of care even up until the end of someone’s employment. For the individual, it helps them put their best foot forward and provides them with a new purpose. Whether it be specialist support for your most senior executives or a designated programme for a large group of your employees, there are experts available to help make this whole process a lot smoother for everyone involved. As Laura mentions “Best practice is to offer outplacement support. I have seen the difference between those who get offered this support and those who don’t, and I can tell you this helps not only the initial conversations, but also the individuals feel so much more supported with their next steps. It allows them to focus on the positive aspects of what’s next and helps them to have a much more constructive end of working relationship with the employer.”
2) Support for managers delivering the news and managing the process
One aspect of redundancies that often gets neglected is the impact the process has on line managers. With the focus on the employee being impacted, the wellbeing of the managers having to work through one or many consultations, deliver the news and manage the after effects can take its toll. If left unmanaged there’s a risk of falling motivation and engagement, reduced productivity and diminished ability to lead their teams. Laura says “Providing support, guidance and training to these managers before, during and after the redundancy process to ensure they feel fully supported and have the capability and skills needed to effectively lead themselves and their teams through the change brings huge benefit to all in the business.”
3) Support for “survivors”
Understandably, the focus is on those exiting the business, yet it is the employees that remain, the “survivors”, that will be pivotal to the future success of the organisation. “Survivor syndrome” is the term often used to describe the impact of redundancies on the remaining staff who kept their jobs. In the same way that people that have lost their jobs experience a range of emotions, so too do those that remain. For most, the initial feeling is one of relief, but this can quickly give way to anger at the loss of their colleagues and friends, guilt if they’ve had to apply and “compete” for a limited number of roles, worry about future redundancies, resentment at picking up the workload and responsibility left by those that have gone, and occasionally envy at a missed opportunity a redundancy payment can offer. If not properly managed and quickly addressed, these feelings can quickly lead to a spiralling dip in motivation, engagement and productivity. Discover LHH’S Change Management for support that can provided to these survivors.
4) Work with your employee representatives
Now is the time that having a good relationship with your unions, works councils and employee representatives will really pay off. In times like these HR and employee representatives should ideally be working together to both minimise the impact on people where possible and of course to ensure the business is doing all it can (within the resources available) to support the staff and managers who are going through a difficult time. The art of the possible will vary depending on your company and circumstances but working with and not against your employee reps is only going to help – they may have some interesting and creative ideas on how to better support people and they will be hearing things from your staff that you might not otherwise be aware of.
Find a mentor if it’s your first time
As a final piece of advice for those HR professionals managing redundancies for the very first time Laura says “Find a mentor to guide you through it. Managing redundancies well isn’t something you can learn from a textbook-it’s something you learn from watching it being done and doing it. Sit in on meetings as a note taker. Spend time observing and watching what people do well and do badly. Look at what lands well in the difficult conversations and what lands badly. A good mentor will be able to help you avoid the pitfalls and show you how the redundancy process can be managed with dignity and empathy whilst delivering the best results for the business and the people impacted.”
Laura Welsh is the Head of HR for Lee Hecht Harrison for UK & Ireland. Laura has a BA in French and Russian and an MA in Human Resource Management. Laura is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and has more than 15 years’ experience; leading HR in a range of businesses both in the public and private sectors in the UK and Ireland. Laura joined Lee Hecht Harrison in early 2017
To help identify emerging trends in 2021, it’s important to first reflect on what happened in 200 to see how these insights inform the opportunities that lie ahead. At LHH, we are critically concerned about workforce transformation as a strategy to not only improve current performance but also future-proof companies for the inevitable change that is to come. Our tenth edition of Transformation Insights is now available. This quarter we feature future-focused perspectives and insights that will help business leaders keep up with today’s rapid change.
In this issue Arne Hellmuth, Alex Vincent, Cara Danielson, and Sharon Patterson share fresh ideas to help employers build fit-for-future workforces. Caroline Pfeiffer Marinho talks with Shanthi Flynn about the unique career advancement challenges women face. Jim Mitchell and Rob Hosking share new practices in recruiting and hiring that will help organizations compete effectively for talent. And we hear from Frank Congiu who shares his personal story about the invaluable role mentors have played in his career.
Employee expectations are changing: Here’s where employers need to focus
5 core practices to build an effective virtual onboarding program
Living your best life: 4 Key lessons that will advance your career
The employment bridge: Workforce planning designed for an age of unprecedented challenges
The future of recruiting & hiring: 5 trends to watch
How to find a mentor and tap into something bigger
Supporting cultural transformation – through the delivery of Executive Coaching to leaders within a global oil & gas organization.
The Oil and Gas industry faced major challenges in recent years. Demand is flat in a highly regulated industry with significant environmental pressures
Our client realized business as usual will not suffice – they needed significant transformation to sustain their past success, while seeking to deliver against a new 50-year strategy. With a clear vision focused on customers, competition and innovation, cultural change was necessary. ‘Creating a coaching culture’ would be key in driving new behaviors throughout the organization.
Our client completely restructured and merged several divisions across their downstream and upstream businesses. To drive these new expectations throughout the business, the company leveraged several cultural change initiatives to support and sustain the transformation needed.
LHH provided six-month Executive Coaching to 300+ senior leaders globally and Team Coaching to several critical teams in Houston, Brussels and Singapore:
Engagements started simultaneously around the globe in EMEA, APAC, and the Americas
All coaching engagements were delivered with local coach resources
We designed and delivered a Coach the Coach program to 100+ HR BPs:
Encompassed an online coach digital toolkit, 2-day classroom training program with significant real-life coaching practice, 1:1 coach mentoring, and coaching skill assessments to embed and sustain learning
New leadership would be in various CEO/President roles across the new divisions, plus 60% of their leaders would be in new or expanded positions. This restructure created a significant opportunity, yet additional challenge, to change the culture during the reorganization.
The results and impact
Our client appreciated our flexibility and responsiveness, by listening to their needs as we created a unique solution for their business.
Significantly improved HR BPs’ coaching skills through the Coach the Coach program, as the HR BPs enabled sustained behavioral change with leaders and teams they support. The client offered this program 5x through 2018-2019 to develop more internal coaches as the program was so impactful.
In one year, the organization significantly evolved from a hierarchical, top down, ‘tell me what to do’ environment to one where decision making occurs at lower levels, greater initiative taking place, and more people involved in decisions.
Studies have shown that a coaching culture in organizations significantly reduces staff turnover and increases productivity and employee happiness and satisfaction. A coaching culture can only be possible when there is trust and sense of safety in the system.
Ten years ago, the Harvard Business Review conducted a survey with 140 leading coaches which found that the top three reasons why organizations hired coaches were to develop high-potential talent, act as a sounding board and address behaviors. Coaching was a tool that organizations leveraged to address performance, development and career trajectory.
Fast-forward to 2018 where coaching has been “democratized.” It’s no longer a tool exclusively reserved for the C-suite or high-potentials. Coaching is now described as a culture that organizations are developing to encourage passion, openness and curiosity.
Interestingly, a coaching culture in organizations has various interpretations. The Behavioral Coaching Institute defines “a coaching culture as an organizational development model that defines how organization’s members can best interact with their work environment.” A 2011 article by Bill Pullen and Erin Crane in The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations describes the outcome of a coaching culture as an “environment where employees feel supported, while at the same time being challenged to grow, learn and deliver.”
I know what a coaching culture in an organization feels like firsthand, having worked in a multinational conglomerate for the past 17 years. What I observe is that when managers embrace coaching as a creative exploration process with their employees, all parties feel open, safe and trusted.
So, how do we foster a coaching environment where employees and managers feel safe and trusting?
I believe there are two factors that create trust and safety: coaches who show curiosity through powerful questions and are genuinely dedicated, and sufficient understanding of coaching structure and expected outcomes among individuals receiving coaching.
Curiosity and Being Genuine
In a May 2016 article, “Ahead of the Curve: The future of Performance Management,” McKinsey & Company shared that helping employees “find meaning—seeing purpose and value in work—is the most important factor that motivates and fires up the best employees.” Organizations can consider leveraging coaching to support employees’ self-exploration, and to move them forward toward their goals.
For employees to open up to coaches and talk about their goals, a safe and trusting environment is a must. A coach needs to be authentic and curious about the employee. And, to do so, asking powerful questions and being fully attentive are important attributes to demonstrate the coach’s genuineness and willingness to partner in organizations.
ICF defines Powerful Questioning as the “ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.” Asking powerful questions requires a coach’s full attention in order to actively listen to the employee, reflect what is said and not said with honesty and sincerity, and help them move forward toward a goal.
Another important way to demonstrate attentiveness: Eliminate all digital distractions during a coaching session. Silence notifications and put your devices away, close your laptop or turn off your PC monitor.
Coaching and Session Expectations
In order for an employee to maximize each coaching opportunity, clear expectations of coaching can help them prioritize forward-looking goals, while also providing a sense of trust.
I often find that employees in organizations are not aware of how coaching sessions are structured and what outcomes are expected. I recommend that managers be clear and share that a typical coaching session consists of these elements: setting and prioritizing goals, exploring meanings of these goals, creating an action plan together, and committing to being accountable.
Trust and Safety
“The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.” —Abraham Lincoln
Studies have shown that a coaching culture in organizations significantly reduces staff turnover and increases productivity and employee happiness and satisfaction. A coaching culture can only be possible when there is trust and sense of safety in the system.
Is your team doing too much at once? Are you struggling with staff turnover, inefficiency, or low morale?– Coaching can help to address these issues, and many more. By providing support, guidance and advice in a non-judgemental space, executive coaches can help your team to iron out any issues that they’re facing, and help to boost happiness levels and confidence to allow your team to get the job done.
Offering coaching to your team is a great way to demonstrate how much you value them, as well as offering a path to career development that will keep them motivated and engaged.
Why coaching matters
Our theory is that organisations can go further when everyone’s coached to get more from their career. So we think coaching’s right for the first-line manager, the working parent, the team leader with a packed-out schedule or a grad with buckets of potential.
When do we need coaching?
Develop your people
Coaches can help people define their career path and stick to it
Create happier teams
Coaching helps with employee engagement, retention and overall happiness.
Personal and professional change can be tough. Give people a space to talk it through.
Create better managers
The day-to-day challenges of leadership will always call for a second opinion.
Give people a helping hand during their first 90-days.
Recruit the best
Good hires will always recognize coaching as a great benefit.
Who’s it for?
We believe coaching should be for everyone. But we’ve seen it work particularly well for these people.
Give them a space to talk through their new-found role and the skills of the job – like delegation and feedback.
High potential People
They need meaning and focus. A coach can make them find both.
Newbies need a hand navigating a new culture, whether they’re joining your board grab scheme.
People going through change sometimes just need to talk through how their new role or location will work.
When you’re not in the office every day, you can easily start to feel distant. Help these people feel closer and keep them on track with their goals.
Last year, we noticed a problem with professional coaching…
Not coaching itself, but the way it works – a professional coach can change your life, and not even just your work life. They can help you become more self-aware, set goals, and work through problems that might be holding you back.
But in most organizations, only top teams and executive leaders have access to this superpower. We hated to see all this untapped potential; we started to imagine what organizations would look like if everyone was coached to get more from their career – and we designed and built Performance Coaching.
The global skills shortage is not about a lack of skilled workers. It’s really about our collective inability to connect learning with emerging job opportunities.
It was one of those stories that spoke volumes about the state of today’s global labor market.
The New York Times recently profiled a New Jersey woman who had been diligently looking for full-time work ever since she was laid off in March 2016 from her job as a production manager at an advertising agency.
In those three years, she applied for more than 500 different jobs.
While she searched for that elusive full-time job, she used her time constructively by taking a project management course at a college. But nothing seemed to do the trick; over the past three years, she has only been able to find short-term contracts.
It seemed extraordinary to me that someone with solid job experience who had also made legitimate attempts to upgrade her skillset could not find a full-time job, even in an era when we are told there is a global shortage of skilled workers.
However, when I thought more about it, I realized that the global skills shortage is not about a lack of skilled workers. It’s really about our collective inability to connect learning with emerging job opportunities. The result is that we have a mismatch that leaves organizations without the skilled workers they need and otherwise talented and motivated workers without meaningful, sustainable job opportunities.
Traditional approaches to learning—compulsory or voluntary programs in a formal classroom setting—have not proven effective. More informal approaches, where learners are in control of the learning process and outcomes, have shown some promise but have failed to make a dent in the skills shortage.
The problem with traditional learning strategies is that they lack strategic focus. Companies usually offer employees opportunities to learn things that help them improve upon the job they are doing. Rarely, it seems, do they offer opportunities for employees to learn things that will help them fill the jobs of the future.
As well, too many organizations see their workforces as replaceable as opposed to renewable resources. These organizations believe they can still hire to fill new skillset needs. The reality is that global shortages of workers with future skills make it impossible to just go out and shop for new people on demand.
Complicating matters, younger generations now demand a whole new approach to learning and gathering information. These are the generations that do not read newspapers or watch the evening television news. They very much want to learn, but they don’t want to sit in classrooms or stare at awkward avatars. They want to use technology as a conduit for focused, purposeful learning.
Learning must be directly connected to actual jobs
LHH recently sponsored a luncheon in New York City to coincide with the World Business Forum (WBF). Our featured speaker at the luncheon was Ian Williamson, the dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government at Victoria University in New Zealand, and a featured speaker at the WBF.
In his luncheon address, Williamson posed a number of questions to the assembled business leaders to help them build a workforce of the future. The first question, and perhaps the most important, was “do you know the skills your organization needs to fuel innovation and drive business strategy?”
Williamson told us a story about work he did with Nestlé in Malaysia and Singapore. After decades of dominating the beverage industry in the two South Asian countries, a local upstart unleashed new and appealing products that eroded Nestlé’s once-insurmountable market share.
The problem for Nestlé was that this new competitor was very much rooted in the local culture of the two countries. Nestlé found its success by marketing its line of global products, not products with a true local flavor.
Rather than wave the white flag, Williamson said Nestlé began working closely with local schools to train a new generation of workers. The result was an influx of young and innovative talent that helped the company unleash a new array of products that were able to earn back market share from the local competitors.
Successful organizations must look first to their existing talent pool to fill future skill needs
Human capital must be viewed as a renewable resource, rather than a component that can be removed and replaced at the drop of a hat.
One of our clients, BAE Systems in the United Kingdom, has an extensive redeployment program at work that allows skilled workers in one area of its extensive operations to obtain training to take on jobs in other areas.
As a defense contractor, BAE has traditionally suffered through a hiring and layoff cycle driven by contract schedules. As one contract winds down, workers are laid off even as the company is hiring in another area to ramp up for a completely different contract.
To avoid this cycle, BAE Systems developed a program that offered intensive training for any employee that had roughly 60 percent of the skills necessary to perform a different job. Since 2008, the program allowed the company to redeploy more than 1,300 employees, saving more than £20 million in severance and transition costs and retaining 20,000 years of expertise.
Technology can assist learning but cannot replace the human touch
There has been a lot of talk about whether people are ready for the “Uberization” of education. That’s an interesting idea, particularly if you follow the logic employed by Uber.
The Uber app does not, in and of itself, transport you from one place to another. The Uber app connects you with a person with a car who is willing to shuttle you from one place to another for a fee. It is technology that connects people to accomplish a valuable goal.
Now, apply that same equation to education. We have already tried to use technology to deliver the actual learning with mixed results. In the future, however, we will need to employ technology as a conduit that connects the people who want to learn with those who can deliver learning.
We at LHH are already experimenting with technology that can help connect people with teachers, coaches and mentors. These are the people who can help individual workers plot their future careers and find the learning opportunities that will give the best shot at a sustainable job.
Right now, we are not doing a good job at matching people who need jobs with the jobs that need filling. But with a focus on improved learning opportunities and a more deliberate effort to connect people with future skills, we are getting closer.