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  • Writer's pictureSherry

What's your Talent Ecosystem? A conversation with Edie Goldberg

The pandemic has changed everything we know about work, workers and the workplace. One unfortunate constant that remains is our underutilization and scarcity of talent. Even in the face of growing unemployment, there are skill gaps that hold us back from competing in this new landscape of work.

Edie Goldberg, friend, author, consultant and expert in the future of work, talks with me about her forward looking perspective on talent.

Sherry: How has COVID changed your thinking about the future of work?

Edie: I would not use the term changed, as much as I would say it has accelerated things. There are two specific trends I have been watching that I think COVID has pushed to the forefront of leader’s minds.

The first is that our rapid shift to work from home (WFH) has shocked a lot of business leaders. Most leaders have been dead set against remote work because they believe that both innovation and productivity will take a hit if people are working remotely. First, research has shown (both pre- and post-COVID) that people who work from home are more productive. They spend more time on core task-focused work and less time on off-task communications. While leadership trust still remains an issue, I would say the preponderance of evidence is that workplace productivity is actually improved for most (but not all) remote workers.

My biggest fear during this time period was that because of the lack of child care and the stress of the pandemic would cause a huge drop in productivity and give leaders the ammunition they needed to say that remote work is a terrible idea. Thankfully, this has not been the case. But what has happened is we have enabled millions of employees to work from home, and now that they have the “perfect work from home set up” will they want to come back to work? Recently Tracy Kehoe, the CHRO for HP, surveyed 10,000 employees about returning to the office and 87% of employees said they liked working from home and did not want to come back to the office. 87%! That was surprising.

Then we have Facebook who has stated that within 5-10 years at least 50% of their workforce will be remote. What their business leaders realize is that it is growing increasingly difficult, not to mention expensive, to attract talent in some of these larger urban hubs. If the organization can attract great talent from anywhere in the world, they can have a talent strategy advantage that reduces costs by reducing real estate investments. So the first acceleration that I am seeing is the concept of “talent from anywhere.” This will address the talent shortages we still have. (Note: Most of the jobs lost in the pandemic have been in hospitality, retail, and travel. Most of our skills shortages are in skilled trades, engineering, IT, and sales. So our talent shortages still remain, despite high levels of unemployment).

The second area where I think COVID is accelerating the future of work has to do with sharing talent across organizational boundaries. However, my future vision was that a decade or so from now organizations would share talent across their ecosystem. And then came COVID. Sysco is an example of talent sharing. As a wholesale food distribution company, Sysco had nothing to do because all of their customers (restaurants, airlines, cafeterias) were shut down. However, the food supply chain had rapidly shifted to our local grocery stores who could not keep up with the demand for food in the stores. Sysco loaned its furloughed employees to Kroger so that they could get food distributed more quickly. Then several brilliant CHROs developed an employer-to-employer initiative that brought together companies laying off or furloughing people with those companies in urgent need of workers. This is a clear case of the pandemic accelerating the future of work.

Sherry: Five years from now, what will you look back on and suggest was the game changer for successful leaders?

Edie: Those companies that were more agile and able to pivot to what they needed to do to meet their current business demands will win in the marketplace. For some companies this was redeploying talent from a part of the business that was experiencing a depression in activity to another part of the company that was experiencing a surge in demand. For others, it was quickly reprioritizing projects to meet new business demands.

Organizations that have been sticking with hierarchical, slow moving decision-making structures will suffer during this time that has required rapid response teams. Organizational agility is the new superpower.

Sherry: Who are the role models for letting go of old models and adapting to a new talent operating model?

Edie: I think I would point to HERE Technologies as a role model. HERE is a global technology firm with over 9,000 employees in 56 countries. They provide location-based services to the companies they serve. They were interested in becoming more agile as an organization because their business ecosystem was being constantly disrupted and skill sets were rapidly changing in this industry.

They needed to find a better way to match project needs with talent to do the work at the right time to improve their speed in getting projects completed. And they wanted to do this without an over reliance on contractors.

Kelley Steven-Waiss, their former CHRO, had the idea of creating an Internal Talent Marketplace so that they could share talent across organizational boundaries and help employees continuously learn and grow in the flow of work. They transitioned from boxing employees into a job, to focusing on the work that had to be done and letting employees opt into projects that they were interested in working on.

And in their first year of implementation, they had some amazing results. By leveraging their own internal talent, rather than hire contractors or new employees, the company was able to engage the equivalent of 111 full time employees (FTE) throughout the year based on the number of hours employees contributed on the platform (outside of their regular role). The employee experience was so improved they were able to contribute to an increase their employee engagement score by nine percent.

Sherry: What are you hopeful about?

Edie: I am really hopeful that opportunities for work will be better in the future. Technology allows us to move people from low level work to expanded roles where skill development is supported.

I believe that technology will augment what we can do and create better jobs for everyone. It will also facilitate new ways of working and connecting that will enhance people’s careers.

Sherry: Any advice for leaders today?

Edie: Companies have had a great deal of difficulty improving organizational productivity over the past decade. I believe a big reason for this is we continue to use technology to simply automate the things we do, rather than rethink them entirely. There is a Clayton Christensen quote I am particularly fond of:

The reason why it is so difficult for existing firms to capitalize on disruptive innovations is that their processes and their business model that make them good at the existing business actually makes then bad at competing for the disruption.

I think it is time to rethink our processes and our talent operating models. It is time to look at our talent ecosystem and manage the humans inside and outside of our companies holistically. We will see a new role emerge called the Talent Supply Chain Manager – someone who manages the company’s inventory of skills just like the inventory of other assets.

In order to learn more about this fascinating future check out Edie’s book.

Edie Goldberg, Ph.D. is the President of E.L. Goldberg & Associates in Menlo Park, California. She is a nationally recognized expert in HR and talent management strategy and organizational effectiveness. She is the co-author of The Inside Gig: How Sharing Untapped Talent Across Boundaries Unleashes Organizational Capacity (LifeTree Media, April, 2020). She was recently named one of the top Silicon Valley HR Executives to follow on Social Media. She serves on the board of the SHRM Foundation and is an advisor to start-ups in Internal Talent Mobility.

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