new talent reality post covid

Last month, we welcomed author Gavin Russell as our webinar guest speaker to discuss the new talent reality we all find ourselves in.

Gavin published 'Transformation Timebomb' in 2019 and now runs Pepper Moth - a change and innovation partner. We asked Gavin why he thought change wrought by the pandemic in the world of work was different now, compared to what has gone before. We also talked about what this means for business leaders and HR, and what HR needs to do differently to address these challenges.

The full recording of our interview is available on-demand. Here, we summarise the discussion and highlight the key points HR leaders need to be considering.

what's different this time?

Back in 2019, Gavin outlined in his book that organisations are facing a fundamentally different talent reality. He proposed that they needed to act quickly and radically, adapting their approach to talent if they were to be successful - and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. What's different now?

Gavin's view is that the pandemic hasn't really caused new or additional change; it just accelerated what was already happening, and thrown into sharp focus the urgency with which organisations need to tackle talent challenges.

Before Covid, AI, automation and data were already precipitating the biggest change to work, the workplace and the workforce that we'd seen for 200 years.

For businesses, squeezing process efficiencies and cutting operating costs to maximise shareholder value was getting less and less effective. Businesses were being asked fundamentally different questions and time was running out to come up with fundamentally different answers.

In our interview, Gavin discusses how these changes were really visible in the world of work. We were already starting to shift the definition of human capital value from content-based skills to cognitive-based skills. The demand for speed and agility was already generating new talent models and our idea of the workplace was already changing. The fuse on this new reality was already burning - Covid just launched the rocket....

the forces HR leaders now have to contend with

I asked Gavin how he would summarise the forces that are now shaping the challenges that HR leaders are grappling with. He believes there are nine forces to contend with - but industry has traditionally ignored some of them because things used to be so stable and predictable they didn't have a material impact on doing business.

Now, the post-Covid world is a much more unstable and unpredictable place. HR has to understand all these forces in much more detail in our new reality so they are better placed to address the causes of change; rather than just the symptoms.

Gavin groups these nine forces under three headings:

  • Political, economic and commercial instability
  • Operational unpredictability
  • Changing characteristics and shifting motivations of the workforce

To hear about all nine forces, please download the recording (we start talking about these forces at about 5.50).

One example Gavin gives about operational unpredictability is how Fever Tree - a company of only 40 employees - successfully took on the category leader Schweppes. Massive, vertically integrated businesses struggle to adequately respond to more agile challenger brands. Who's to say the next industry disruptor to take on your company isn't starting up right now? Gavin provides several other examples and references interesting research in our discussion.

what this means for business

Next, we talked about the impact these forces were having, and what's created our new reality. Gavin admitted we're talking about things that everyone is already seeing and experiencing as a result of the pandemic:

  • Businesses need to move faster and deal with much greater complexity
  • They need to build in greater flexibility to deal with ongoing uncertainty
  • They need to continually innovate and evolve the customer experience to stay ahead
  • And they need to unify and inspire a more distributed and autonomous workforce

what this means for HR

At 23 minutes in, we get to the key question - what does this mean for HR? Gavin says he's already seeing more that just how to manage a shift to hybrid working; he's seeing organisations demanding major, long-term changes when it comes to people. In fact, he sees that HR has never been more important.

He quotes Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum: "Talent, more than capital, will represent the critical production factor. For this reason, scarcity of a skilled workforce, rather than availability of financial capital is more likely to be the crippling limit to innovation, competitiveness and growth."

People are the key. Gavin goes on to cite three things that are different about talent in the post-Covid world (you can hear about them at 25.45 in the interview).

advice on what HR needs to do differently

We begin to wrap up, at 34 minutes in, with three recommendations for what HR leaders can focus on in this new reality. Essentially, Gavin encourages us to let go of the old ways of doing things. New challenges require new solutions.

What resonated most with us at Randstad RiseSmart, was one of Gavin's points around his third recommendation, 'Liberating human capital to perform' (at 42.40). Gavin talked about the need to rethink the approach to learning and career paths. We know from our own work with clients that careers are no longer defined by slow moving, vertical succession plans. They're fast-moving, dynamic and multi-directional. They constantly present development opportunities for people - so offering continual learning is essential to attracting, engaging and inspiring talent. This chimes with our own view that the key to this is to guide people on how to self-direct their learning to refresh and update their skills and ensure long-term employability.

related content: download the full report on our global skilling survey

further listening

To conclude, we had a couple of questions that Gavin answered:

"What do you think HR should be focused on for the remainder of 2021?" (at 45.10)

"What's the key skill that HR people should be developing?" (at 46.50)

It was a fascinating and engaging discussion. Thank you, Gavin, for sharing your insights with us.

coming next

On the 13 July at 10am UK time, we host Anna Hemmings, two-time Olympian and Britain’s most successful female marathon kayaker with a staggering eleven World and European Championship medals, 9 of them gold. Anna will be talking about 'The resilient leader's toolkit' and sharing a model of resilience that HR and business leaders can assess themselves against - registered participants are able to complete a free assessment. The assessment isn't a requirement to attend the webinar, but it will make the content more personal to you. We hope you can join us.

chris perkins.

head of marketing, UK

09 June 2021

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