It’s no longer far-fetched to imagine people using implanted microchips as their metro pass. If this is how people choose to live, how will they want to work? The late Stephen Hawking said: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” and this focus on human adaptability certainly weaves through Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends Study Unlocking Growth in the Human Age.
What struck me this year is that people feel apprehensive and excited in equal measure about technology’s heady mix of challenges and possibilities. After years of fretting about disruption, there is a readiness to take action as we reimagine a new future.
This year, the findings reveal organizations poised for action that puts people first, taking advantage of human resilience, empathy, creativity, and our strategic thinking. In pursuit of new technologies, it has become easy to lose sight of how people connect and collaborate, how teams co-create, and what motivates different segments of the workforce.
To drive change, employers are focused on human skills such as innovation, a global mindset, and complex problem solving that are highly sought-after this year. Indeed, 94 percent of companies have innovation on their core agenda and are looking towards their people to drive this.
This new focus is exciting for HR because it requires, and benefits from, an unprecedented collaboration between HR and the business. And, it’s good news for individuals, too, who crave involvement in innovation and seek jobs that unlock a sense of purpose. From the 7,600+ voices that make up this year’s report (Board Directors, Executives, HR leaders, and employees) we identified five trends shaping the workforce in
- Change @Speed: The C-suite believes we are entering a state of permanent transformation – of structures, cultures, and people that have regeneration in their DNA. The ability to change, and change at speed, is emerging as a core competency itself. Change agility requires a quickened pace of learning and giving more power to individuals. The challenge is balancing empowerment and governance, and efficiency versus reskilling for tomorrow. Half of the executives predict at least one in five roles in their organization will cease to exist by 2022, but HR reports mixed confidence in being able to identify jobs that will be displaced and how to effectively and proactively reskill employees.
- Working with purpose: Employees crave meaningful work: 75 percent of thriving employees – those who are fulfilled personally and professionally – say that they work for a company with a strong sense of purpose (almost double those who don’t feel like they are thriving). Yet firms are out of sync, with only 13% of organizations differentiating their EVP with a purpose-driven mission today.
- Permanent flexibility: The quest for flexibility is even more pronounced in 2018: most employees want their company to offer more flexible work options than they do today. The good news is over 80 percent of executives view it as a core part of their company’s value proposition (up significantly from 49% last year). The bad news is that organizations are still grappling with how to apply flexible working fairly, with just 3 percent reporting that they are industry leaders in this area. This year the focus needs to be on evaluating each role for its flexibility quotient and enabling people to design work arrangements that put them in life’s driving seat.
- Platform for talent: All of us in HR are feeling the pressure to build the workforce for the future at the speed that matches executives’ appetite for growth. The answer comes in moving away from our traditional HR models and embracing a platform approach that matches skill supply with work demand through enhanced data and analytics. With two in five companies planning to “borrow” more talent in the next 12 months, this moves us in the right direction. And, this mandate is coming from the top with executives anticipating the greatest ROI this year from talent investment will be speeding up the movement of jobs to people and people to jobs.
- Digital from the inside out: Companies continue to lag on delivering a consumer-grade experience for employees. Only 15% of C-suite executives describe their company as a digital organization today. Those that are digital report a stronger ability to change and more involvement from HR in managing talent. This year enhancements to performance management and learning systems are in focus, but the greater value might be unlocked by doubling efforts around analytics and how to enable remote working and virtual collaboration.
The report also notes that thriving organizations “systemically analyze and reflect on how they might be exposed to talent-related risks, not only to measure and address their bench, but also to understand what specific practices or interventions will encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work.” A future-focused people strategy will also need to include a contingency plan for emerging markets. Turnover is likely to be higher, especially for talent with specialist skill sets. An example of a company with a future-focused people strategy is DBS, which is well-known throughout the Asian region for its forward-thinking products and focus on human capital. In an effort to remain agile and data-driven, DBS refers to the company as a 22,000 startup where “DBS employees work with industry partners and startups to develop innovative mindsets.”
DBS recognizes that talented individuals look for fast-paced organizations and opportunities for continuous learning. Especially as products are more and more idea-based rather than production-based, employers need to engage employees effectively.
UOB Bank is another organization that is future-focused. By leveraging employee interest and creativity through the 2020 Ideas Contest, employees are encouraged to come up with innovative solutions for the banking industry. This contest also ensures that employees are digital-ready and will be competitive in the future of work. Some even enter The FinLab, an incubator which gives full-time support and funding to employees for three months.
It is always challenging to build up a talent pipeline, and even more so in an emerging market. However, with a focus on creating a responsive and agile workforce, a company can thrive.
Ensure that talent is continually upskilled, and determine the necessary skills to remain competitive. Perhaps it’s equipping teams with digital skills or incorporating hackathons regularly so that they become part of the company culture. What is essential is that employees feel valued and that they have trust with the organization. Give employees chances to experiment, and even to fail. As the world of work moves from ideation to automation, talent needs to move from surviving to thriving.
As I’ve been sharing this year’s trends with clients and colleagues, it’s clear that one of the biggest challenges is how to bring people along on the transformation journey – a top ask from employees this year was for leaders who set a clear direction. As companies reimagine the future of work, they must bring an understanding of how the workforce is changing and be careful not to neglect the human operating system that powers their organizations. Only when we are living digitally, working flexibly and being rewarded uniquely can we truly build a workforce for the future.