The Future of Work Demands an Agile Approach to Talent Management

By Caitlin MacGregor

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Plum CEO Caitlin MacGregor Breaks Down the Best Talent Management Approach for the Future of Work


Plum's CEO Caitlin MacGregor originally published this blog to SAP's Digitalist Online Magazine.

We are entering what many are calling the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Machines are forecast to carry out half of all work tasks by 2025, displacing millions of jobs while simultaneously opening up new jobs that demand more “human” skills like creativity, imagination, and social intelligence.

As the title “Fourth Industrial Revolution” connotes, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen such a disruptive workforce shift. Before the First Industrial Revolution, factory line workers didn’t exist. Before the Second Industrial Revolution, telephone operators didn’t exist. Before the Third Industrial Revolution, software engineers didn’t exist. In the same way, because of drivers like mobile devices, sensors, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, biotechnology, and wearable video, jobs will emerge in the next few years that we cannot even conceive of now. Soon, it will be impossible to imagine life without them.

What differentiates this disruption from the ones before it is the sheer speed at which it’s happening. Of today’s primary school students, 65% will be applying for jobs that don’t exist yet. While some jobs fade out as others appear, organizations will have two choices. One, let go of people in masses and hire new people at an equal or greater rate – an absolute recruiting and resource management nightmare. Or two, retain employees and engage them in new ways as they migrate from dying jobs to new jobs. The answer is obvious.

The way we currently manage talent, however, is not set up for such a transition. It’s no secret that current talent management practices keep people in rigid silos. Someone whose career path is in sales, for instance, might start as a business development representative, then become an account executive, then a channel manager, and so on. The age-old career ladder doesn’t leave much room for people to see where their talents and competencies can be applied in other departments across the organization – especially if roles in their current business unit are becoming irrelevant.

The future of work demands an approach to talent management that breaks down the rigid silos between business units and allows people to flow across roles and departments in a more fluid manner. In other words, enterprises need to take a more agile approach to talent management. Rather than expecting decades of company loyalty from employees climbing the ladder in one department, companies must allow individuals to seamlessly move across the organization into roles that match their innate talents.

Agile talent management practices increase employee engagement because employees avoid restlessness. Employees crave new work experiences; the opportunity for career progression is cited as one of the top criteria when looking for a new job. With agile talent practices, employees also attain diverse work experiences – often in places they may not have expected – without having to leave the organization.

Organizations also reap the benefits of these diverse work experiences, especially if these employees enter managerial positions and can understand the effects of decisions on multiple business units, not just a single department. Employees who understand all functions of a business can make smarter business decisions.

The reason business leaders and talent managers are hesitant to implement such a change to their talent processes comes down to people data. As more jobs require uniquely “human” skills and fewer jobs demand job-specific skills and experience, traditional methods that we’ve relied on for selecting internal and external candidates – like resumes and performance reviews – will become inconsequential. Organizations need to be able to quantify the behaviors and competencies that are less likely to be automated anytime soon – talents like adaptability, innovation, and communication. They must also develop accurate competency models that prioritize these talents over hard skills in order to match people’s innate strengths to these jobs of the future. Reskilling and development can go from there.

Some of the statistics concerning how many jobs will be lost and simultaneously created over the next few years can be cause for panic for many business leaders – will this mean mass layoffs, while simultaneously hunting for new talent at scale to fill these new and unfamiliar jobs? To those who may feel overwhelmed, I believe it’s comforting to know this isn’t the first time a disruption like this has happened – it is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, after all. The key will be adapting quickly to changing talent management needs – and that includes disrupting rigid talent management processes in favor of a more agile and competency-based approach to placing people into roles where they’ll thrive.

To learn more about agile talent practices and how they impact every stage of the employee lifecycle, read the e-book, “Talent and the Future of Work: The Essential Guide.