Vice President, Projects, North America
Build a talent strategy for digital transformation
This episode is the second in a series of articles covering a 3-part podcast from HRO Today on digital transformation called “All ‘teched’ up + no place to go? Investments in IT infrastructure require the right people to succeed!” The podcast is hosted by Elliot Clark, CEO of HRO Today.
Clark chatted with our own Curtis Britt, Director, IT Services, North America, and Bridget Gray, Vice President, IT Services, Asia Pacific, about the challenges facing organizations undergoing digital transformation.
In the first podcast, "The war for talent & digital transformation", the trio suggested that organizations need to engage in both short- and long-term planning to ensure they have a sustainable workforce and talent strategy that’s ready to address current needs as well as anticipated needs.
In the second podcast, they dig into the need to plan for digital transformation over the long term — and how organizations should go about this planning.
Regarding the long-term planning Gray noted, “Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with in the world are scratching their heads a little bit at the moment,” given all the turmoil. But she mentioned that the turmoil has also been a force of positive change.
For her, “it’s been interesting to see that relationship with technology leaders and digital leaders and HR leaders become a lot more collaborative. They’ve come together over this period to work together a lot more effectively.”
Gray also remarked that changes are happening in talent strategy. “Almost everybody is rethinking the workforce, curating what that experience will be like. There’s a lot of fresh thinking out there for businesses compared to the past. So, for example, where an organization may not have looked at certain types of employment engagements before, it’s now looking at them differently. Organizations are also grappling with deeper questions, such as what problem they’re trying to solve and what service they’re trying to create. Then they’re considering how they are going to bring this workforce together.”
This in-depth questioning process is happening on both sides of the hiring equation: from both the employer and the prospective employee. When Gray recruits more senior IT leaders, the first question they ask is whether the organization and its HR department is thinking about this new world.
To respond to the changes, HR needs to work with IT to think about talent strategy differently. Gray suggested that organizations need to ask themselves a series of questions in addition to the ones they’re already asking. She recommended starting with considering what technology people need to be attracted to a business and what they need to be engaged and be retained in a business.
Organizations, she said, also need to reconsider job structures. She added, “Are they going to rethink their job families? A previous job family — and bandings and all those types of things that we look at when we’re creating a structure and a plan — are probably no longer relevant.”
Gray observed, “We need to make sure that we’re thinking about the problem and about the solution and then about how we best pull together a heavily curated workforce that is going to deliver the best outcome for the business. And that is quite different. If you cast your mind back a couple of years ago, we certainly weren’t thinking that way. It’s an incredibly exciting time, but we do need to break down the silos and we do need to throw out the majority of experience that we thought was quite solid previously.”
Clark recalled from episode 1 of the podcast that organizations don’t always have a long-term talent strategy. He asked Britt for suggestions on how to start preparing for the ongoing digitization of their business. Britt acknowledged, “This is a tough question to answer and solve for most clients, because digital talent has a half-life. What that means is that it’s ever-evolving. So, the best plan that a client can make is one that’s written in pencil. And it is one that can change and evolve and can handle ambiguity, agility and flexibility to meet both current and future technology demands.”
Britt offered QR codes as an example of the transitory nature of digital initiatives. He said, “Everybody thought QR codes are where you need to go. The trend was to put a QR code on everything. But after spending time on research, people realized that QR codes aren’t all that beneficial.”
Given the speed of technology evolution, and the shifting market and workforce needs that come with it, organizations must plan with the idea that things will change.
Britt suggested, “You plan for the future that you know now, with the knowledge that it will change at some point in time in the future. So, while that is not a definitive plan, it is the best sort of contingency plan you can potentially have.”
Clark also asked Britt whether there are certain areas that organizations typically neglect because they don’t realize how critical they are for digital transformation. Britt responded that a major problem, especially in the technology space, is that HR is slow to address future talent strategy trends.
While the IT function is working to forecast its future needs, in most cases HR hasn’t yet started re-evaluating the job roles and functions or the compensation and benefits packages for the function. As positions evolve, the requirements are changing, Britt observed. “What used to be a DevOps role in the past is morphing into a platform engineer role, and the compensation and requirements around that position is going to be vastly different.”
That’s why Britt encourages clients to make sure their HR teams re-evaluate their job roles, talent strategy, functionalities and compensation packages annually or at least biannually in conjunction with their technology department to make sure that they are keeping up with the times. “They don’t want to lose out on talent simply because they are misnaming a job or misrepresenting a job in the marketplace.”
To close out the podcast, Clark asked both Britt and Gray about changes in how HR is looking for talent and whether they’re open to different types of workforce structures. He queried, “Most people thought of IT talent as being permanent employees. They would hire consultants as needed, or they’d bring in temporary workers on a short-term basis. Are you finding now that they're open to the idea of planning the talent and looking at all these different channels as a potential source for having the right people there when they need them?”
Britt and Gray concurred that the gig economy is alive and well in the technology space. Britt stated, “There are a lot of job functions and skill sets that aren't necessarily long-term needs for technology firms. So, more firms are leveraging the gig economy, where individuals are working for multiple clients on a contingent or contractual basis to address unique or niche skill sets.”
Gray contended that contingent workers are “probably much more of a necessity than a choice now. Before, we talked about it at conferences, and people were excited about it. But back then, we were thinking about it from a conceptual point of view. Now, if we want to keep running on our digital transformation and build that capability gap within our business, we absolutely need to embrace it.”
But Gray cautioned that organizations looking to hire contingent workers need to take a two-pronged approach to their talent strategy. “We’re utilizing that gig economy and that more fluid workforce approach, but at the same time, we’re underpinning it with rescaling, redeployment and sustainability. Hiring contingent folks is all well and good for right now, which is what we need to address, but we also need to be thinking about what we want to be doing in a few years’ time.” She added, “We absolutely need to embrace it, but we also need to have a unifying strategy around how everyone comes together toward that common purpose without feeling like we are employed in different ways with an organization.”
Clark summed up the podcast by asserting, “Workforce planning and IT require a strong partnership between IT leadership and HR, a recognition that the roles and the jobs are changing and that you've got to plan for things to change.”
Because the best plans are written in pencil, not pen, organizations have to be ready to pivot — and they must be prepared to embrace change. Click here to listen to the full podcast. And continue on to the next article in the series with even more practical advice to aid in your digital transformation and talent strategy.