As a workforce author, researcher, and consultant, I observed many organizations that were concerned about a labor shortage brought about by baby boomer retirement. This shortage, and the skills gaps that went along with it, was partially delayed in part by the financial crisis and subsequent recession, because many baby boomers lost savings and were working past traditional retirement age1.
Many baby boomers, born 1946-64, are now in their 70s, and the time has come for them to exit the workforce. According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve2, industrialized nations like the U.S. are facing a shortage of working-aged professionals, and employers need enough qualified employees to survive.
In my experience working with dozens of companies over the last decade, I’ve seen that corporate training and development can be an effective solution to this problem. As more senior roles are vacated, corporate training, particularly for succession planning, may be a good vehicle for mid-level professionals to master skills like team leadership, business acumen, strategic planning, conflict resolution, and decision-making.
All Employees, All Levels
One of the topics I write about most is increasing automation and machine participation3, and given this trend, I believe that even employees who will not become senior leaders must continuously upskill or reskill to maintain their value within the organization. The days of having one degree and one corresponding skillset may be numbered, because if that skillset is automated, what then? Corporate training provides one way to diversify what each individual employee can contribute and the variety of roles he or she can hold.
There are other benefits besides skill acquisition. I’ve written that despite technological advances, productivity in most organizations is lagging4. Corporate training is one method for adjusting your processes, targeting efficiency so employees can better perform tasks and focus their energies more specifically on company goals. I have personally seen that many organizations with solid corporate training initiatives keep their people longer because the employees appreciate the investment in their development. And, I’ve observed that organizations that do right by their people are perceived as having strong brands that customers want to support.
The technology skills gap is a well-known issue in American employment circles. Yet, research tends to focus on only one aspect of the problem – the shortage of hard tech skills like programming and information security management. But there is another, perhaps even more critical dimension to the technology skills gap1: the lack of applied tech skills in the workplace.
As we’ve talked about previously, when an individual has applied tech skills,2 they can integrate people, processes, data, and devices to effectively inform business strategy and plan for and react to unanticipated shifts in direction.
At the annual Association for Training and Development (ATD) conference3 in San Diego, I moderated an applied technology skills gap panel with John Aquilino, Manager, Skills Gap Training and Services, DeVryWORKS; Jessica DiCicco, VP, Learning & Development, Randstad; Jackie Linton, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, City of Philadelphia; Kristen Switzer, Sr. People Development Manager, Taylor Morrison; and Andre Walker, VP of Training & Development, Securitas Security Services.
Applied Technology Skills: Why Now?
I began by asking the panel why applied technology skills have become so critical in business. “Everyone in our company, whether they are in construction, purchasing, accounting, or customer service, touches a technology system. They need to understand these systems to do their jobs well,” said Switzer. “We are also offering training on a variety of technology platforms that require employees to come up to speed.”
Next, I asked John to comment on how his cross-industry employer partners are equipping their workforces with applied technology skills. “Access to training and development is not the issue,” he responded. “It’s much more about how those skills are curated and aligned to arrive at actionable outcomes.”
Panelists shared that their organizations are searching for and using solutions that help their employees develop “soft skills” related to technology adoption such as critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving. “Applying knowledge of Big Data, digital infrastructure, and integrated processes is essential to effective decision-making,” said Aquilino. “Companies are infusing learning experiences with technology, so employees can leverage the familiarity of working with machines in their daily roles.”
Starting a business usually involves significant personal, professional and financial risks. But while most business owners and entrepreneurs are hardly strangers to business risks, it's often hard to know what constitutes a risk that's likely to succeed.
Adam Mendler, CEO of technology venture company The Veloz Group, says that an acceptable risk is one that's well-justified and offers a higher expected value than alternatives.
“Before taking significant business risks, it's important to identify, research and evaluate all your options—which may range from radical action to doing nothing," he says.
According to Dan Spalter, co-founder of roommate matching service Circle for Roommates good business risks should be taken with the big picture intention of improving pre-determined KPIs.
“Before taking any substantial risk, your team should try to find less risky means of achieving the same goal," he says. "If a safer alternative does not exist, a business owner should brainstorm creative ways to reduce the potential loss."
Both Mendler and Spalter have taken valuable business risks to drive their organizations forward, including the following:
Going All In
"The biggest risk was taking the plunge, leaving a corporate career to start something from scratch," says Mendler. "The entrepreneurial journey has been invaluable, though, as I have learned, grown and developed in ways unlike any others in my professional or educational careers."
Competing With Established Companies
Many owners are in the business of disruption. This means, however, that you're competing with organizations with multi-million dollar budgets, and the ability to take and implement your concept.
It may seem like there's no way to win in this scenario, but by being agile and innovative—and by taking calculated business risks that other companies won't touch—you can be competitive.
Many business owners dream of taking a company overseas. You're capable of making such a potentially lucrative move—with the right global business strategy in place.
Tamara Nall, CEO of data consulting firm The Leading Niche originally incorporated in the U.S. But she decided to go global as a result of a relationship map that plotted the strength of her most influential relationships against the need for her company's services.
"Glaringly, the map pointed to international markets and West Africa specifically," says Nall.
Kelly Gibbons, co-founder of personal branding firm Main and Rose has a slightly different story. Her company, which helps socially-driven entrepreneurs and brands with communication services, received several inquiries from international clients every week.
"When the time came to expand, we decided to base our new office in a location that many consider the center of the world: the UAE," Gibbons says.
Consider Your Proposed Strategy From Top to Bottom
A global business strategy should include:
an overview of expansion plans,
a description of the market, including size and competition,
a description of planned overseas operations (including how products will be produced, distributed and marketed) and
a description of how the international business will be led, managed, staffed and positioned for growth.
It sounds deceptively easy. But, according to Nall, developing an effective global business strategy requires careful consideration of a variety of factors.
Before the internet, most innovation took place in small communities, with isolated breakthroughs eventually spreading throughout the world. Today, however, global business innovation is the norm.
Business owners pursuing growth may want to make a habit of looking around them—and not just at local competitors. How other companies around the world do business can affect your organization.
I spoke to two business owners to understand how they tap into global business innovation to power their companies.
Stepping Out of Your Communal Bubble
Fabrizio Moreira is the owner of The Moreira Organization, a nonprofit that develops world leaders. He has learned that everything a business owner touches involves a global team of talent—from manufacturing to storing data in the cloud.
“This global talent pool means you're competing with a lot of innovators who you ignore at your peril," Moreira says. “Many emerging markets are leapfrogging established markets because of need-based innovation and fewer existing infrastructure constraints," Bullen says. “Paying attention to what these markets are doing can help you identify opportunities in your own market as well as threats that may be down the line."
He seeks out intelligence on global business innovation by observing similar organizations operating in other countries, and finding ways to plug in and work with them.
Erik Bullen is CEO of MageMail and is actively involved in the start-up and innovation community, mentoring and advising for programs such as Techstars, MassChallenge and LaunchX. His ideation is regularly informed by other cultures, markets and industries.
“Many emerging markets are leapfrogging established markets because of need-based innovation and fewer existing infrastructure constraints," Bullen says. “Paying attention to what these markets are doing can help you identify opportunities in your own market as well as threats that may be down the line."
It’s not unusual to hear HR professionals at large, publicly-traded companies lament: “No one wants to work here. I wish this was a nonprofit.”
On the surface, this makes sense. After all, nonprofit organizations are often an easier sell for millennials, who say they want the opportunity to do meaningful work on issues that benefit society. But as they get older, millennials who want to pay down debt and start saving are increasingly looking to employers who pay handsomely. And if they do accept a lower salary for a job, they expect that nonprofit environment to provide the most rewarding experience they can imagine. As we all know, however, even the noblest nonprofits are still organizations, and no organization is perfect.
AccessLex Institute is a nonprofit that advocates for policies that make legal education work better for students and society alike and conducts research on the most critical issues facing legal education today. The mission is intriguing, especially given how many young professionals consider and eventually enroll in law school. And sure enough, AccessLex never had much of a problem attracting millennial candidates for its open positions. The organization’s challenge has involved getting them to stay once new hires realize that nonprofit employment can be stressful and frustrating at times -- just like any job.
Assimilate Talent Strategically And Early
Based on nearly 15 years of working with millennials, I can confidently say that the most important thing organizations must do to retain millennials is to assimilate them strategically and early. First impressions matter a great deal and new millennial hires aren't likely to give a company a second chance if they don't like what they experience initially.
To that end, AccessLex set out to increase its retention of new millennial employees by creating a high-tech, high-touch virtual onboarding system. The tool was built based on what they learned was new hires’ biggest hurdle -- feeling disconnected from the culture. The organization’s internal research revealed that young employees would accept a job, come in for a few weeks and keep interviewing. If a better opportunity presented itself, nothing stopped the new hire from taking it. “We knew if we could make them feel part of the organization right away and get them to hang out with us for a year, we could actually keep them for much longer,” said Tanya Papahristos, Director of Human Resources for AccessLex.
Starting in the last few years, culture has played a central role in a new focus on employee experience. Employee experience encapsulates what people encounter, observe or feel throughout their tenure at a given organization. The desire to create the most authentic, user-friendly experience has given rise to what is known as the consumerization of human resources. This is the process of creating a social and mobile interface for employees inside an organization, which serves as the entry-point for an immersive dive into the company’s culture and what employees experience every day.
Driven by a more dynamic HR and c-suite involvement than most of us are used to seeing, this setup portrays the organization as quickly evolving with the needs of its workforce, and able to communicate in real-time where the company is, where it’s going, and how the individual employee fits in. Each employee accesses the experience via their own devices, all content is digital and available on demand, recommendations are customized due to input from analytics, and social interaction is prized and promoted.
Today and in the future, the notion of employee experience is complex and requires forethought, planning, and coordination between HR and the c-suite. Journey Mapping is a tool that got its start in the customer world. It imagines the employee experience across the entire talent lifecycle, and as an employee progresses through the Journey Map, they might go through stages like the following. Alongside each stage, let’s propose some activities a collaborative HR/executive team can undertake to influence and shape the experience.
Apply and Evaluate Stage: How the candidate learned about the company; how they engaged with recruiters or hiring managers and learned sufficient information about the organization to make an educated decision.
Your experience must answer the candidate questions: What is this organization about and why would I want to work there? Is this the right organization and role for me? How can I be a part of what this company delivers its customers?
HR and Leader-Driven Activities:
Target job boards, employee referrals, and internal career sites/social media platforms to attract top talent
Convert top talent by telling a compelling story online and tuning candidates into company messages early
Leverage mobile and one-click apply apps to simplify your process
Create and deliver personalized messages for consistent touchpoints
During conversations, provide insight into brand and talent goals
Engage candidate in behavioral interviewing and assessments
Provide access to a variety of sources, including current employees and supervisors
Solicit and address feedback on the recruitment experience
Provide a customized e-offer letter
Upon acceptance, launch new hire onboarding experience
Join Stage: How the new hire was on boarded and assimilated into the organization.
Your experience must answer the employee questions: What can I expect here, and what’s expected of me? Where, how, and with whom should I work?
HR and Leader-Driven Activities:
Deliver personalized content and solicit feedback on job location(s), schedule, and role
Enable new hire to easily complete new hire paperwork
Introduce new hire to team, mentors, and leaders
Set job scope and performance expectations
Connect individual goals to overarching strategic goals
Survey new hire about experience and monitor performance
Learn Stage: Projects and training opportunities that facilitated integration into the organization.
Your experience must answer the employee question: What do I need to do right away to be productive and efficient at my job?
HR and Leader-Driven Activities:
Serve up relevant content via a mobile-responsive interface at the right time in the right dose
Recommend supplementary content to ensure continuous development
Set mutually-agreed upon, short-term performance goals and provide interactive touchpoints to reinforce them
Create an automated process to monitor completion and ensure compliance
Contribute and Grow Stage: How the organization fostered an environment of innovation and collaboration and provided opportunities for promotion and new responsibilities.
Your experience must answer the employee questions: How can I make a difference here? How should I give and receive feedback? How can I further develop the skills necessary to drive my career forward?
HR and Leader-Driven Activities:
Check in regularly to monitor progress, improve relationships, and recognize accomplishments
Leverage ongoing reviews to identify skills gaps and create learning plans
Adjust short-term goals to achieve long-term objectives
Foster a culture of giving, requesting, and receiving feedback continuously
Illuminate development paths, mentorship, and additional training opportunities
Empower employees to take charge of their development and skill acquisition
What else can you do to foster a positive experience at these different stages of the employee lifecycle?
Traditionally, the HR function has not been known for it. In fact, it’s typical for HR to be several years behind other industries – or areas of the same organization – when it comes to implementing new and more efficient ways of conducting business.
However, today’s HR leaders are working to change that. Thanks to an infusion of younger and in many cases more agile workers into the profession, HR departments are leading the way in cutting-edge implementations that facilitate stronger employee experiences, better productivity, and longer retention.
If this sounds palatable to you, and you want to be the person who makes a difference in your organization, there are a few ways to go about it. The first is to understand that even the most forward-thinking initiative shouldn’t be developed in isolation. This means that you should first speak with your boss about the larger business and departmental goals you need to achieve, and where you should be focusing your attention to that effect. As you brainstorm, zero in on concepts that fall within this scope.
It’s also worthwhile to pay attention to the world around you. HR conferences like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), HR Technology, Disrupt HR, and Work Human offer sessions to learn industry best practices as well as innovative new techniques for solving HR-related business problems. Every time I attend an event like this, I return energized and full of promising ideas.
Similarly, if you are part of a local HR community, reach out and learn what other organizations are doing. Visit other companies with similar challenges, attend networking events, and bring in expert speakers to get your team thinking about issues in a new way.
You can foster the birth of forward-thinking HR initiatives from within your own ranks too. Instead of relying on the same people all the time, seek out new blood. Invite skilled individuals from other departments to spend time in HR, and crowdsource ideas from your larger employee population through hackathons and MVP (minimum viable product) competitions to design HR-related products and services.
Many forward-thinking HR initiatives naturally involve technology, and the effective integration and use of people, processes, data, and devices in order to work strategically and effectively is an up-and-coming HR competency. At DeVryWORKS, we say that employees who can do this have applied technology skills, and recent research I conducted with DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board found that nearly half of HR and hiring managers believe there is an applied technology skills deficit in their current employee base.
One critical applied technology skill with particular relevance to HR is citizen development. According to Gartner’s IT Glossary, a citizen developer is a worker who creates new business applications using development environments sanctioned by IT. Over the last few years, most organizations have moved their HR systems into cloud platforms. These platforms are the perfect hosts for mobile apps and other tools that make it easier for employees to do their jobs and have a continuous, positive experience. And now, you or members of your team can build applications without the programming expertise or coding experience that was mandatory previously.
That’s not to say that you’ll be instant experts. The key to developing a forward-thinking HR application that actually works is to engage with IT to understand the basic principles behind app design, and to use technology that has already been vetted and well-integrated with your company’s existing IT infrastructure.
For any technology-based initiative, you should establish a strong, ongoing partnership with IT. Meeting with that group regularly will allow your team to receive essential governance, guidelines, and best practices. Your initial effort will likely be most successful if the implementation is a pilot, meaning its scope is limited and it is launched with one business process or one team. Pilots are useful because they facilitate experimentation and continuous improvement with minimal disruption to the business.
Regardless of whether your planned project is a new application or a new employer brand, effective communication will make or break it. Make sure that at every step of the way, your employees are informed about proposed changes, that they understand how the initiative impacts their roles and responsibilities, and that they are encouraged to test and provide feedback. A team approach to innovation is the best approach to innovation!
In a world that's increasing its degree of automation every day, the value of human interaction is greater than ever. That's why having strong customer service skills is important—and why improving those skills can be a valuable goal for the new year.
Those who excel at customer service may differ in their level, role and industry, but they typically have these competencies in common.
1. Business Knowledge
If you aren't well-informed about your customer's business issues, consider making that a priority for 2018. You can read industry-related publications and relevant social media accounts and/or company materials. You could also interview colleagues about what they've learned.
If you're in doubt about challenges a customer is facing, ask. Showing extra interest and investment in their business can enhance your customer service skills, as can taking the additional step of questioning an existing process or situation in favor of continuous improvement.
There is no substitute for being able to effectively communicate that you understand where your customer is coming from and that you will do everything in your power to help.
Your level of sincerity can make or break your efforts. Listening carefully to the customer's scenario and imagining how you'd feel in her shoes can help you boost your empathy.
It also helps to pay attention to tone and to read between the lines. Consider gently asking questions and paraphrasing back what you hear. And if the customer just needs to get something off her chest, try letting her.
Customers can be infuriating sometimes, but those with stellar customer service skills rarely, if ever, lose their cool. "It's important for service representatives to practice emotional control because they are essentially representing the entire organization," says Emily Bennington, author of Miracles at Work: Turning Inner Guidance into Outer Influence. "It helps to recognize that what we tend to view as a personal attack from a customer isn't really personal at all—they're frustrated with the business. Maintaining that perspective can help you hold your composure no matter what."
This week, from my friends at DeVryWORKS: The world of talent acquisition has never been so challenging. In most of the developed world, the pace and volume of hiring has picked up significantly, yet most recruiting teams have not adequately staffed up to cope with the demand. At the same time, manual processes are still king, with resume screening and interview selection and scheduling among the most labor intensive.
Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform recruitment operations, but it must be used strategically, since most agree that talent acquisition should be a highly personalized, human to human engagement. The sweet spot of AI here is the lower level, repetitive tasks that eat up the time of the recruiter, who should instead be using his or her interpersonal power to draw talented individuals into the organization. Here are a few promising AI-related technologies that both simplify and streamline recruitment operations.
The “Smooth Hiring” sourcing program automatically broadcasts a job description to the top job boards and identifies applicants that match your needs through a ranking process based on previously identified attributes. Candidates with a Strong Fit score meet or exceed at least 18/20 traits (including 5 Critical Traits), and all minimum skill and experience requirements. Recruiters receive an email every time there is a new Strong Fit, and once every 24 hours notifying them of all new candidates from that day.
One of the most challenging hurdles recruiters face is unconscious bias, which is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations based on our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. GapJumpers combats this by offering a blind-audition process in which candidates are given a job-related assignment and hiring managers assess the completed task without seeing any personal identifiers, including name, gender, work experience or education.
This all-purpose assessment engine allows TA professionals to measure everything from personality across six different dimensions and cognitive and problem-solving capabilities to language proficiency and situational judgment specific to the role in question. It can even measure a candidate’s work environment preferences and compare them to your organization’s to better ensure a match for cultural fit.
This software automates resume screening by applying machine learning on an existing resume database. According to Ideal, the program determines which candidates went on to become successful and unsuccessful based on their performance, tenure, and turnover rates. It learns about existing employees’ experience, skills, and other attributes, and applies this knowledge to new applicants in order to rank, grade, and shortlist the strongest candidates. For the applicants themselves, the software uses publicly available data to offer recruiters a more complete profile of previous employment and social media engagement.
Custom-build recruitment chatbots like JobPal allow TA professionals to respond to candidates in real-time and guide them, step-by-step, through the application process. Many candidates fatigue before they can finish an often lengthy form, but chatbots can prompt them for the same information in a more user-friendly format. And, if candidates don’t provide everything required, chatbots can check in to remind them. Bots can also maintain an active relationship with a candidate, providing status updates on an application, scheduling interviews, and letting them know that a job has been filled and they are no longer being considered.
Many recruiters have trouble attracting diverse candidates based purely on the language in their job descriptions. This AI program examines 40 million job listings and considers the outcomes: how many people applied, how long the job stayed open, and the demographic groups the description did or didn't attract. Based on the data, a predictive engine provides feedback on how likely a job description is to draw diverse candidates along with suggestions for how to phrase descriptions using more neutral language.
Featuring scheduling assistants “Amy” and “Andrew,” this software allows recruiters to connect their calendars, update their preferences, and schedule phone screens or in-person interviews with candidates. Allegedly, Amy and Andrew were created based on a comprehensive analysis of human meeting habits and terminology, and their communication appears so natural people often believe they are working with humans.
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