When it comes to what CEOs want from HR to help drive business value, one of their main demands is that HR help communicate the value of talent to investors, whether that means Wall Street or a lone philanthropist. At a breakout session at last week’s ReimagineHR event in London, Brian Kropp, HR Practice Leader at CEB, now Gartner, explained that the reason CEOs want this help is not because investors believe in making employees happy for its own sake, but because they are increasingly acknowledging that talent is a leading indicator of business performance and growth. Below is an overview of some ideas HR leaders should think about when approaching this opportunity:
The Growing Value of Talent
According to PwC’s annual CEO survey, the percentage of CEOs concerned about the availability of key skills as a business threat to organizational growth has risen from 46 percent in 2009 to 77 percent in 2017. This year, CEOs identified “human capital” as the second most important investment to make to capitalize on new business opportunities, ahead of “digital and technology capabilities.” Various trends, from new technologies to demographic shifts, are uprooting the core assumptions of how companies and industries operate. In our analysis of earnings calls from 1,600 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies, we found that words like “change,” “transformation,” and “disruption” have become commonplace. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can see the full range of insights from our Investor Talent Monitor here.)
In a recent earnings call with Volkswagen, Chairman and CEO Matthias Mueller said that “Volkswagen needs to transform. Not because everything in the past was bad, but because our industry will see more fundamental changes in the coming 10 years than we have experienced over the past 100 years.” Highlighting the value of talent is becoming one way in which organizations can gain the trust of their investors that their business still has what it takes to outperform a rapidly changing, volatile market. Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oreal, mentioned in their earnings call that they were going through a “digital transformation” whose success “stems from our very decentralized agile approach in execution with a significant investment in talent.” Conversations like these are only growing, and investors are pushing for more. Private equity firms are even taking matters into their own hands, appointing executives to oversee the talent strategies of their portfolio companies.
As we’ve observed in our Investor Talent Monitor, 46 percent of the largest public companies talked about issues related to talent during their earnings calls in 2010, but by 2016, this number had topped 60 percent. This should not be surprising: Investment firms and activists have been making the news recently for taking an active interest in companies’ talent strategies, pushing firms for greater gender diversity on boards of directors as well as for firms to publish employee compensation and pay gaps.
HR leaders from dozens of organizations attended a session on women in leadership at our ReimagineHR event last week in London. Participants in the session, a majority of whom were women, expressed frustration with the fact that so many organizations worldwide are still having trouble advancing gender balance in their leadership. When asked why they thought this was the case, the attendees identified two main themes: bias and flexibility.
The Impact of Bias on Talent Management
According to our research, if you are human, you are biased: The human mind takes in 11 million pieces of information per second, yet we can only consciously process 40 pieces of information per second. Because of this discrepancy, bias is inevitable, particularly unconscious bias. People cannot be counted on to effectively and consistently catch their own biases. To solve this problem, organizations should focus not only on removing bias at the individual level, but also at the level of process. You can’t prevent people from having biases, but you can mitigate the impact of those biases on the decisions your organization makes.
Many of the participants at ReimagineHR are taking new approaches to addressing bias in talent management. We often hear about organizations working to remove bias from the hiring process by removing any identifying characteristics from an individual’s application or resume, but some participants in our session said the opposite approach had been working for their organizations. These participants shared examples of how they actually leveraged data on women’s representation in their talent pipelines to raise awareness of gender gaps.
CEB's Clare Moncrieff (L) and Mazars CLO Tyra Malzy (Simon Meyer)
According to recent research from CEB (now Gartner), in order to create an inclusive climate for teams, organizations need to focus not only on climate quality (the average level of inclusion that employees feel) but also on climate strength (the variation between how different employees perceive the inclusivity of their team). In a session on building inclusive leaders at our ReimagineHR conference in London on Thursday, we heard from Tyra Malzy, Chief Learning Officer at Mazars, about her experience integrating inclusion into her company’s business practices and engaging its younger workforce in decision-making. Here are some of the strategies she shared:
Normalize Inclusion in Leadership
As Malzy explained, Mazars needed to reach out to its millennial employees and help senior leadership see the business value of including these employees in its decisions. To meet these goals, the company made several key choices.
- Start with saying “yes”: Mazars found that when leaders were concerned with the impact of change, they often responded in a risk-averse manner, usually resulting in saying “no” to ideas that deviated from the organization’s typical decision-making process. By making a habit of saying “yes” more often, this helped generate a more open environment for co-developing solutions.
- Crowdsource ideas from employees: An important component of making leadership more inclusive is empowering employees to lead from the ground up. Mazars created an app for individuals to share their ideas with others within the company, vote on those which they like the best, and then have the top five presented to senior leaders. Finally, the executive team picks which business ideas to implement. Mazars also surveyed employees to understand their thoughts on management preferences and organizational culture. They then used this information to create specific projects associated with the interests of the employees.
- Bring visibility to functions and individuals that are doing this well: By sharing examples of diverse groups that are outperforming other teams or functions, Mazars challenges teams with limited diversity to step up their diversity of thought and improve their outcomes.
Create a Culture of Inclusivity in Decision-Making
At our ReimagineHR summit in London on Thursday, CEB (now Gartner) Principal Executive Advisor Clare Moncrieff led a session on creating a common vision of digitalization for the business and HR. After examining hundreds of trends, our research councils serving chief HR officers and chief information officers have identified six deep shifts in the business environment that will result from digitalization. These shifts should act as the framework for heads of HR to:
- Ensure talent conversations with the line are grounded in business context
- Identify the current talent implications of these shifts, project future implications, and partner with the line and C-suite peers to prioritize and respond to each
- Improve their teams’ business acumen (to underscore the importance of this, 58 percent of HR business partners indicated in one of our surveys that building business acumen was their top development goal in 2017)
(The case studies we link to below are available exclusively to CEB Corporate Leadership Council members)
1) Demand Grows More Personal
As customers seek personalized products that align with their preferences and values as individuals (rather than as segments), companies will rely on digital channels and digital innovations in logistics and customer service to achieve personalization at scale. Customers will continue to expect lower-effort, nonintrusive service.
This could, for example, affect how HR functions look for new talent. Attraction of critical talent now requires differentiated, customized branding and career coaching. Candidates will demand a more effortless, personalized application experience. AT&T approached this shift by creating a more personalized “Experience Weekend” to show the innovation of its brand to campus candidates and make top talent more likely to accept job offers.
WIred UK Editor-at-Large David Rowan (Simon Meyer)
“Technology doesn’t happen in isolation,” David Rowan, Editor-at-large of Wired UK, said at the opening of his keynote on Thursday at the CEB’s ReimagineHR event in London. Rather, Rowan continued, technological advancements create new norms of behavior that affect society and business in far-reaching ways. In today’s world of rapid and accelerating technological change, there is an unprecedented need for business leaders to understand not only new technologies, but also what they do to human behavior.
At the same time that technology is upending the business models and work processes of practically all industries and institutions, it is also changing the way organizations relate to their people. “You need to rethink how your people connect to the network,” Rowan said, meaning not what device they use to connect to the internet, but how they communicate, collaborate, and access information in a digital environment. Today, he asserted, “every kind of business is now a data business”: The cost of data-gathering technologies is falling exponentially and the most important innovations in business today involve figuring out ways to derive value from an ever-growing number of data sources.
Our digitally transformed economy is also producing a new type of organization. That organization, Rowan explained, is distributed, platform-based, and mission-driven. The rigid, top-down, narrowly focused organizational designs of the past are going the way of the rotary phone in a new business paradigm that rewards fast decision-making and constant innovation; Rowan pointed to several examples of CEOs who were actively trying to delegate as many of their responsibilities as possible, aiming to maximize agility by decentralizing and democratizing their companies.
At the ReimagineHR summit in London on Wednesday, Brian Kropp, HR Practice Leader at CEB (now Gartner), led a benchmarking and discussion session with over 150 chief HR officers, almost half of whom manage businesses with over 10,000 employees. The group shared their thoughts on the growing challenges heads of HR face today, and one theme remained constant throughout the conversation: change.
1) Disruptive Trends Changing the Pace of Business
As heads of HR look forward to 2018, the number one priority for many in the room will be change management. One HR executive, for example, said her organization’s major challenge currently was in managing multiple, overlapping acquisitions that were doubling the size of their workforce practically overnight—and both the pace and intensity of that form of change will only increase. Historically, organizations would make one acquisition and then wait several years before the next. Over the past several years, however, organizations have begun to face acquisitions or mergers one after another. Today, however, many businesses are struggling as they confront multiple changes at the same time.
One consequence of this, as another head of HR pointed out, is that organizations can no longer manage change using the same strategies they learned through their previous experiences. Every change is different, deserves its own unique response, and must be dealt with as if it were the first time the organization was doing it. There is no “one size fits all” approach to change.
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.