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It Takes an Ecosystem to “Future-Skill” a Workforce

As Emergent Trends Demand Continuous Expansion and Evolution of Employee Skillsets, Companies Face Urgent Need for Holistically Integrated Talent Strategies.

For the American worker, Labor Day may arrive this year with an unusual level of reflection—on the changing nature of work itself. From new expectations for global collaboration and work/life balance, to hypercompetitive employee monitoring and rating processes, to the eclipse of full-time salaried jobs by the “gig economy,” recent months have sparked multiple public conversations on the technology-led transformation of jobs, careers, and the workplace. More significantly, perhaps, leading companies are engaged in a parallel dialog behind the scenes—one that will define how they attract, develop, and retain their workforces for decades to come.

Future-Skilling Your Workforce, published today by The Conference Board, examines the historic confluence of factors—technological, macroeconomic, demographic, environmental, and more—now reshaping corporate talent strategies. Drawing on ideas and case studies from top human capital practitioners convened in a Research Working Group (RWG), the report lays out a comprehensive map for companies navigating this novel terrain. RWG members included executives from Booz Allen Hamilton, Disney, Edwards Lifesciences, FedEx Ground, Fidelity Investments, IBM, Kaiser Permanante, Prudential Annuities, and Selective Insurance Company of America.

“When it comes to their workforces, many organizations are still operating with a twentieth-century mindset in a twenty-first-century world,” said Amy Lui Abel, managing director of human capital at The Conference Board and a co-author of the report. “HR and talent professionals need to break down silos and look at their efforts holistically—with functions like recruitment, compensation, and training becoming integrated talent processes aligned to a clear business strategy. Likewise, employees can no longer be seen as isolated points on a hierarchical org chart, but rather nodes in a web of networks sprawled across the organization, and beyond. Today’s rapidly changing business environment demands a talent strategy that maximizes agility and flexibility; companies that fail to adapt will find themselves increasingly unable to compete.”

From Top-down Plans to the People Ecosystem

In place of the rigid, siloed procedures of the past, members of the Future-Skilling Your Workforce RWG propose a “people ecosystem” that links all elements of a talent strategy to each other, enterprise-wide concerns, and external trends and risks. Like its name suggests, this ecosystem concept is envisioned as a living, interconnected structure that anticipates disruptive changes and responds with maximum agility and resilience.

“In a world that faces major talent shortages unlike any in living memory [see report From Not Enough Jobs to Not Enough Workers], it’s fitting that the people ecosystem adopts a metaphor from nature,” said report co-author Sherlin Nair. “From baby-boomer retirement and falling fertility rates to unprepared graduates and the rise of robots in the workplace, today’s HR strategists must balance a dense ecology of long-term demographic forces and socio-cultural pressure points alongside all the traditional internal and marketplace factors. No single executive or department can master these currents on their own. Only a highly distributed, interconnected, and self-adaptive approach—an ecosystem approach—will ensure sufficient, sustainable talent pools in the long run.”

Supported by case studies, rich graphics, and an array of guides and diagnosis tools, Future-Skilling Your Workforce details the three essential components of a people ecosystem:

Strategic Talent Planning (STP).

Looming labor shortages mean businesses must become more programmatic about identifying challenges, evaluating options, and considering alternatives. Instead of a static need to be filled as quickly as possible, every opening is a chance to reassess—and perhaps realign—talent strategy with enterprise goals. This proceeds in five stages:
1. Assess business context
2. Prioritize Issues
3. Form hypothesis and perform root cause analysis
4. Design, develop, and execute
5. Measure and evaluate

Results-Focused Execution.

No matter how rigorous the five stages of STP, they’re useless without a robust execution plan, tailored to the specific needs and resources of an organization. The report lays out possible plan components—both time-tested and cutting-edge—across three stages of execution: attract and acquire, connect and develop, and continuously monitor and optimize. Throughout, the focus is not only on mobilizing the talent required to meet the business goal at hand, but also strengthening the sense of partnership between employees and the organization.

Strategic Talent Development and Learning.

In an era where untold lifetimes of knowledge are just a click away, workplace learning needs to be democratic, organic, and tailored to an employee’s individual “experience”. To meet this standard, the RWG found that a corporate Learning and Development (L&D) function must: align with overall business strategy; have a comprehensive understanding of the learner experience, especially that of younger generations; and be subject to effective governance systems, with executive buy-in, sponsorship, metrics, and control.

The conversation continues on Twitter. Follow @Conferenceboard and ,#FutureSkilling.

For complete details, including a strategic overview and functional summaries for CHROs and CLOs:

Report: Future-Skilling Your Workforce
              Leveraging People Strategies for Developing Future Capabilities
(Research Report R-1587-KBI)
              By Amy Lui Abel and Sherlin Nair
              Contributions by members of the Research Working Group on Future-Skilling Your Workforce

About Guest Author The Conference Board

The Conference Board is a global, independent business membership and research association working in the public interest. Our mission is unique: To provide the world’s leading organizations with the practical knowledge they need to improve their performance and better serve society.


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