Gartner Reimagine HR 2018, Orlando.
In the past two years, issues related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace have appeared with increasing frequency in headlines, legislation, and shareholder earnings calls, underscoring the growing importance of D&I as a strategic priority for businesses. While it’s encouraging that CEOs and investors are paying more attention to D&I, this trend also puts more pressure on D&I leaders to create effective, sustainable strategies with direct impact on the organization’s priority concerns.
In a panel discussion at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in Orlando last week, Gartner’s Vice President of Inclusion and Engagement, Rajiv Desai, moderated a discussion with a panel of D&I leaders at major companies on the practical lessons they have learned in adapting their D&I strategies to business needs. Our panelists included Lori McAdoo, Global Lead–Inclusion and Diversity at Alcoa Corporation, and Vanessa Abrahams-John, Executive Director, Global Diversity, Inclusion and Talent Acquisition at Praxair, Inc. While Alcoa and Praxair have taken different approaches to evolving their D&I strategy, both our panelists emphasized the need for D&I leaders to build networked teams in order to create sustainable strategies, and shared two specific ways they are integrating teamwork into their D&I strategies.
Embedding D&I Strategy into Business Processes
A key theme in both panelists’ success stories was that D&I strategy is not only about programming, but also about embedding D&I into the heart of business processes. This requires intentionally engaging senior leaders to increase their buy-in and help them take action on D&I efforts.
Alcoa’s effort to integrate D&I principles into the business started in a familiar place: building the business case for why diversity matters to everyone, not just the D&I team or diverse employees. McAdoo explained that to gain buy-in, Alcoa led with respect because, “In a practical sense, it is hard to disagree with the general principle of respecting others.” By evolving the company culture into one where all individuals matter, their D&I principles organically shifted to a D&I functional strategy that supported key business goals. However, integrating D&I into the business sometimes does come with changes to policies and procedures to support its integration. For example, Alcoa changed an operating policy to support this new inclusive culture, adjusting shift lengths from twelve hours to eight hours to better support parents and caregivers. By having policies and procedures that align with cultural values of inclusion, Alcoa was able to treat D&I as a business necessity, not just a “nice-to-have.”
In a breakout session at the ReimagineHR conference hosted by CEB (now Gartner) in London today, a group of several dozen HR leaders came together for a peer benchmarking session to compare notes and discuss common challenges in the field of talent analytics. The attendees at Wednesday’s session had a variety of roles, including some CHROs, some heads of employee experience, HR business partners or other leadership positions within the HR function: Just as in our peer benchmarking session last year, very few identified themselves by title as heads of talent analytics. The diversity of titles and roles in the room illustrates both the breadth of the impact talent analytics is having on the HR function and the fact that many organizations do not have a dedicated talent analytics team.
The discussion centered on several key themes in the sphere of talent analytics and the challenges attendees were facing at their organizations in bringing data analysis to bear on their talent strategies. Enabling the use of talent analytics, making the function more strategic, building analytic capability, and improving data quality were all areas of concern. These are some of the key challenges that came up in Wednesday’s discussion:
Aligning Talent Analytics to Critical Business Questions
Asked where they were primarily focusing their efforts to drive action in enabling the use of talent analytics, a plurality of attendees identified this as their main focus. Some attendees noted that they are gathering robust data but were still struggling to translate that data into actionable insights to solve business problems. Attendees at last year’s session shared the same frustration. To some extent, the degree to which data can be leveraged is a matter of the analytics function’s maturity. One component of solving this problem is ensuring that the data is “clean,” accurate, and helpful in making decisions: As one HR leader remarked, she is often presented with the data that is easiest to gather rather than the data that is most useful.
Artificial intelligence is poised to transform the way we work, both in ways we’ve long imagined, and in ways we can’t. Because AI and machine learning are emerging technologies, the talent that knows how to build and use them is currently in short supply. Compounding that problem, Cade Metz writes at Wired, is that large corporations with massive war chests are acquiring AI startups left and right, hiring up all the top talent and leaving none left for the little guy:
Not everyone can go out and grab thirty AI-happy astrophysicists. And if you can’t do that, the talent pool becomes very small very quickly, since these machine learning techniques are so new and so different from standard software development. Even the big players talk about the tiny talent pool: Microsoft research chief Peter Lee says the cost of acquiring a top AI researcher is comparable to the cost of acquiring an NFL quarterback.
In an excerpt at the Harvard Business Review from their book Strategy That Works, Paul Leinwand, Cesare Mainardi, and Art Kleiner criticize the functional model of organizations and make a case for establishing permanent cross-functional teams as a way to scale up a business’s distinctive capabilities:
A growing number of long-standing innovation groups, for example, bring together disparate functional skills (typically R&D, marketing, customer insights, and IT) to facilitate the launch of new products or services. Some of these teams are relatively informal, whereas others involve major shifts to the organizational structure. In one case, to develop its portfolio management capability, Pfizer Consumer (before it was sold in 2006) set up communities of practice: semi-formal ongoing networks that included lawyers, health professionals, and marketing experts. These communities helped spread key ideas and best practices to brand and product groups around the world.
From permanent cross-functional teams, it’s only a small step to having formal capabilities teams.