Talent Summit: accelerating growth through talent and technology
Sigmar’s Kate Stewart discusses the emerging HR trends among Irish employers, revealed in the latest Sigmar & EY Talent Leaders Pulse Survey
Pictured (left to right): Kate Stewart, head of HR recruitment, Sigmar Recruitment, Robert Mac Giolla Phádraig, founder, Talent Summit, Niamh O’Beirne, partner - People Advisory Services Group, EY and Caitriona Lannen, head of The Irish Times Jobs and Education.
The Sigmar & EY 2018 Talent Leaders Pulse Survey has revealed some very interesting trends among Irish employers, including an increased use of data analytics in the hiring process, a greater emphasis on leadership performance, a shift towards flatter workplace structures, and increased investment in learning and development. In addition, some two-thirds of the combined workforce of the companies surveyed expect to receive a pay rise in the coming year.
In all, 269 talent leaders from across Ireland took part in the survey, which focused on key talent themes and priorities for the year ahead. These talent leaders are the senior people responsible for a variety of functions such as learning and development, performance management, talent acquisition, leadership, and organisational development, which fall within the overall remit of the HR department.
“We carried out the first Talent Leaders Pulse survey last year,” says head of HR recruitment, Kate Stewart. “Our theme this year is Accelerating Growth Through Talent and Technology and we focused on aspirations and challenges organisations face across the whole range of HR functions.”
When asked to rank their priorities for the year ahead, retention and attraction of talent came out on top. “In a strong economy, with the lowest unemployment rates since 2008, this is an unsurprising result,” says Stewart.
Top 11 priorities for HR in 2018
- Retaining talent
- Attracting key talent
- Increasing employee enrichment/engagement
- Leadership development and succession planning
- Developing key skills and competencies through more agile learning
- Designing an agile organisation for high performance
- Performance and reward
- Promoting diversity and inclusion
- Exploring the use of artificial intelligence/automation/robotics
- Better use of people analytics to drive talent decision-making
Another key finding related to the increased use of technology by talent leaders. “Technology is viewed and used positively as a tool to support and improve recruitment and employee engagement,” Stewart notes. “However, with many organisations expecting significant technological advances to come within the realms of AI and machine learning in the year ahead and beyond, it is likely HR will have a key role to play in change management, as individual employees’ daily working lives are altered and organisational systems change.”
Another finding of particular note related to the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came in at number three on the priority list. “HR teams will have to dedicate significant resources to be ready for the May deadline for GDPR,” Stewart adds.
The survey also looked at a number of key themes, including leadership, organisational performance, artificial intelligence, and the emerging skills generation.
In exploring the future of talent acquisition, the survey found 69 per cent of employers are using metrics and analytics to improve their talent acquisition process. On the other hand, 52 per cent don’t track and measure their candidate experience.
“Recruitment technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated and is automating much of the search cycle,” says Stewart. “Actively engaging the right people in the right way at the right time has become essential to acquiring top talent.”
Ranked as the second highest key HR priority for 2018, identifying and onboarding top talent remains a major challenge for organisations and is increasingly seen as a critical bottleneck in driving competitive advantage.
Leadership is increasingly seen as a sustainable competitive advantage that influences every aspect of the talent agenda
“As the recruitment market tightens, companies are scrutinising their talent-acquisition process to ensure they are best placed to compete for top talent,” Stewart adds. “This includes the use of metrics and analytics across areas such as time to hire, application drop-off rate, offer-acceptance rate, source of hire and cost per hire. At the extreme end, we are seeing organisations using artificial intelligence, video interviewing and even virtual reality technologies to ensure that they have a strong hiring process.”
On the other hand, she believes many companies are still missing a trick when it comes to harnessing important information in relation to their employer branding, with more than half not measuring their candidate experience.
“This is a huge opportunity area for companies to gain insights to ensure they present an attractive employer value proposition and ensure that an unsuccessful application doesn’t negatively affect the overall company brand or threaten a loss of current or future potential customer,” Stewart explains. “Hiring is a costly and time-consuming activity and if there are problems with it they need to be fixed.”
A heartening finding of the survey is that leadership remains uniquely human in the age of machine learning. Furthermore, with organisational structures becoming flatter, leadership is seen as being a function for all employees. This helps drive what has become known as discretionary effort – the additional output of employees who are engaged in their work and believe in the purpose of the company which employs them.
“Leadership is increasingly seen as a sustainable competitive advantage that influences every aspect of the talent agenda – most critically retaining and driving the discretionary effort of employees,” Stewart notes. “With retention ranking as the number one challenge facing talent leaders, and only 46 per cent of them stating that their leadership team are very or extremely effective at driving discretionary effort, it’s evident that the leadership agenda presents a significant challenge and opportunity for employers.”
This is manifesting itself in organisations moving towards frontline leadership, where all employees are empowered to lead and resolve issues locally. This is reflected in the survey results, with 97 per cent of talent leaders saying investing in leadership development at all levels is very or extremely important.
However, only 13 per cent have structured coaching programmes in place for all employees. More encouragingly, just 17 per cent of employers have no leadership development programme in place while a healthy one in four organisations have very effective succession plans to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow.
The survey also explored the impact of new continuous monitoring and feedback tools and how employers can improve performance while balancing wellbeing and enhancing the employee experience.
“It’s clear that talent leaders are becoming increasingly data-driven, with the use of pulse surveys and social tools to measure employee sentiment on a more regular basis,” says Stewart. “However, over half the employers in our survey still only hold performance discussions with staff once every six months or less often, which suggests that many of them don’t use the insights yielded to drive performance in real time.”
On the other hand, 63 per cent use continuous employee engagement measurement tools and 24 per cent hold at least monthly performance discussions. In addition, 45 per cent reported they discuss performance at least quarterly.
“This reflects the shift towards flatter working structures and higher levels of autonomy, where self-directed working styles require continuous feedback and ongoing performance appraisal,” Stewart points out.
Reward was also discussed under this theme, with an average of 66 per cent of the combined workforce of those surveyed expecting to receive a pay rise in 2018.
The results under the overall theme of artificial intelligence and its potential effects on the future workforce were very interesting. Fourteen per cent of employers reported their workforce had their daily tasks altered within the past 12 months due to the introduction of robotics, automation or artificial intelligence (AI) to the workplace.
With careers changing as quickly as technology, employers are expected to offer on-demand learning to upskill staff for future needs
Also of note is the fact that 14 per cent of the combined workforce of the companies surveyed is made up of freelance, gig-economy workers, temporary agency employees or daily-rate contractors.
According to Stewart, we are now witnessing the advent of the augmented workforce, employees who are assisted in their daily tasks by technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality. “This tends to be overestimated in the short-term and underestimated in the long-term, but the augmented workforce is increasingly blending cognitive thinking, AI, automation and people,” she says.
“Organisational structures are changing radically, with hierarchical models being turned upside down and with networks of teams being formed around functional expertise, designed for speed and agility,” Stewart adds. “With AI now permeating deeper into business operations, the results of the survey show that expectations of the impact it will have on the people agenda are high for 2018, with over 41 per cent believing their workforce will increase their usage of cognitive computing, predictive learning or robotics in the year ahead.”
This will present a particular challenge in terms of change management. “Any change is difficult for people and employees are naturally resistant to it,” Stewart explains. “As more organisations embrace these technologies, talent leaders will need to engage in change-management processes to ease their introduction. This will involve an increased focus on internal communication, training and organisational development and design.”
The demands of the “skills generation” for improved learning opportunities was the other theme addressed by the survey. “The current generation of workers need to adapt and evolve as quickly as the technology in their workplaces,” says Stewart. “With careers changing as quickly as technology, employers are expected to offer on-demand learning to upskill staff for future needs and to sustain competitive advantage through the continuous development of their employees.”
Where there is a shortage of particular skill sets, companies can gain an edge by providing them themselves
Against this backdrop, the results of the survey are very reassuring, with 72 per cent of respondents describing their organisation as having a learning culture, while 53 per cent of organisations offer an always-on skills learning platform.
“Leading organisations are moving their learning and development infrastructures onto digital platforms while also nurturing a learning culture,” Stewart continues. “They are doing this partly to meet the growing desire amongst employees for more flexible and self-directed learning options. Modern learning software and e-learning content has enabled more companies to offer always-on learning platforms. Furthermore, companies can provide greater choice so that employees can craft bespoke development programmes to their interests and needs.”
As niche skills are becoming increasingly difficult to find, many organisations are also looking at acquiring them through operating structured internal academies and even corporate university models in some cases. “Where there is a shortage of particular skill sets, companies can gain an edge by providing them themselves. This also plays into employee retention, as staff will be more loyal to organisations who have provided them with new skillsets and enhanced career opportunities.”
Building better change capability
What is clear is that what has worked in the past won’t always work in the future. In our own organisation, CEO Mark Weinberger was recently quoted as saying that it is becoming more important than ever to hire for mindset and not necessarily skillset. This is on the basis that in the future we are going to have a job we don’t know yet, using a technology we don’t have yet, solving a problem we don’t know exists yet.
“This uncertainty will bring game-changing threats but also huge opportunity. Organisations need to be supported in doing things differently, in building leadership capability and flexing their culture to respond to the changing conditions around them.
“This is what inspired EY and Simon Sinek to join forces to develop a purpose-led leadership platform, building better change capability across leadership teams and consequently throughout organisations.
“It is also why we are seeing organisations looking for support in measuring their culture with robust diagnostic tools and looking for support thereafter in growing and enriching their culture with an evidence-based approach.
“We know that words are easy. What’s harder is creating a business that embodies its values in real, tangible ways. After all, the role of business is not just about wealth-creation; it’s about society as a whole. It’s about building a better working world.”
Talent Summit magazine will appear in print, in The Irish Times, on Friday, February 16th. For more information on Talent Summit 2018, and to book tickets for Thursday, February 22nd, visit talentsummit.ie.