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Talent Management

What’s Driving the Latest Talent Management Trends? Employee Experience

A headshot of Nyla Reed

Nyla Reed

Nyla Reed is a Founding Partner of Educe, by way of a merger with the firm she founded in…

In 2020, the pandemic forced organizations into reactive mode as employees began to work from home out of necessity. Companies scrambled to put processes in place to handle the unexpected change, and those who had not yet invested in the necessary infrastructure jumped to implement technology to support virtual work, collaboration, and remote learning.

Much of this effort, though, was intended to be a temporary fix as employers expected an eventual return to pre-pandemic normalcy.  Instead, 2021 and 2022 brought an uptick in retirements and resignations, new strains of COVID, and increased expectations for flexible workplaces. Employees who have felt overwhelmed from the pressures of the last couple years have seen the benefits of working from home (more time with family, less time commuting, savings on expenses like lunches and work clothes) and have felt what’s it’s like to have more balance between work and life. With the shortage of talent, they also see that there are other opportunities and are more likely to job hop.

Given this, and looking toward 2023, it’s no surprise that the latest talent management trends are hyper-focused on the employee experience. Organizations must adopt a people-first approach to stay relevant, drive retention, and be successful amidst the fierce competition to attract new talent. Achieving these objectives will require an intentional strategy that normalizes hybrid work, supports the changing role of the manager, adopts a modern approach to recruiting, and focuses on proactive upskilling and reskilling of existing employees. Let’s look at each of these components individually.

Talent Management Trend #1: Normalizing Hybrid Work

Employees are looking for formalized processes that standardize hybrid work, instead of ad hoc decisions made by individual managers or departments. First and foremost, companies will need to decide and clearly communicate what their “return to office” plan will be, including expectations for onsite presence, whether flexible work arrangements are available, who qualifies, how to request it, and criteria for approval. The lack of communication and absence of clear guidelines causes more questions and creates additional anxiety, both for the employees looking for information and the managers expected to provide answers.

Establishing enterprise-wide standards for hybrid work will help to address questions of fairness and equity. When these decisions are left to managers, departments, or specific locations, some individuals are afforded access to flexible work arrangements while others are not, creating confusion and feelings of unfair treatment. But some jobs do not lend themselves to a work from home option—factory workers must be on the manufacturing floor, health care workers need to work from the hospital, retail workers operate face-to-face with customers. These types of organizations need to decide whether they will offer corporate employees the opportunity for hybrid work when much of their employee population can’t have that option.

For companies where flexible work arrangements are a possibility, it will be important to create intentional in-person touchpoints. Although there are those that thrive in a work from home environment, there are others that find the inability to collaborate in-person with coworkers challenging and seek the social interaction that an office environment can bring. This is where policies requiring an employee to work a minimum number of days in the office each week are doomed to fail. Take for instance this example: an employee picks two days to come onsite because that is what required. She arrives, works from her desk, then goes home. She sees no real purpose for the commute but does it because she must. At the other extreme is the employee who craves interaction and goes to the office purposely to see people but arrives to find an empty office. Neither situation helps further the organization’s objectives because the policy was based on a quantitative measure rather than being specifically structured to encourage purposeful interaction.

Instead, companies should focus on formalizing policies and instituting initiatives around opportunities where being in-person furthers a specific objective, whether that be encouraging the creative process, driving decisions, or simply building camaraderie and connection. This will give purpose and meaning to being in the office, rather than making it a check the box activity. At Educe, we’ve established two programs in this vein. The first is “0-Day” which takes place every weekday that ends in a “0” (think May 20, August 10). Employees take turns bringing pizza, cheesecake, bagels, or cookies to share, but in addition to getting a 0-shaped treat it’s a chance to schedule project meetings, conduct check-ins with direct reports, and socialize with coworkers. Everyone knows that those two to three days a month are the days everyone will be in, and they work individually to take advantage of that.

The second program is EduceConnect Live, which just launched in June. This initiative targets our employees who do not live near one of our offices and work remote 100% of the time. In the spirit of providing equitable opportunity, our goal was to give our remote employees the chance for in-person collaboration, access to leadership, and networking opportunities with other employees along either geographic or functional lines. While these programs work for Educe, they may not work for everyone. The policies and processes each company identifies should reflect the culture that organization wants to create or reinforce.

A Glassdoor return to work survey found that 86% of employees—nearly 9 in 10—want to keep working remotely at least part time, while a Korn Ferry survey learned that 49% of professionals say they would turn down a job offer if the company mandated that they go into the office full-time. The organizations that establish and support formalized processes offering the greatest flexibility will likely win the competition for talent. Those that go a step further to institute in-person collaboration driven by purpose rather than pure attendance will be more likely to keep them.

Talent Management Trend #2: Transforming the Role of the Manager

Employees in hybrid and remote work situations have fewer meaningful connections with their coworkers than those who work in an office setting. There are fewer informal, happenstance interactions that traditionally helped build professional relationships, like small talk while waiting for a conference room to turn over or impromptu happy hours after work. As a result, the manager-employee relationship has significantly increased in importance; managers are often the employee’s primary connection to the organization.

But are managers ready to take on this enhanced role? Have organizations positioned managers to be successful? The answer to both of these questions is, most likely, no. Organizations must evaluate the range of responsibilities that their managers are tasked to perform. They need to prioritize those activities that support a people-first approach, bring added value to the organization, and ensure that managers have the appropriate training and tools to do their jobs.

One area that requires examination is performance management. Annual reviews may provide quantitative, organization-wide metrics but they do not position managers to provide the timely coaching that more agile environments require, nor do they enable managers to address employee expectations for frequent, ongoing feedback. Today’s employees and managers need simple, straightforward processes that encourage transparency and foster development conversations; performance management needs to be flexible and always available rather than limited to a specific cycle that opens and closes.

Check-ins can serve as one remedy. Encouraging shorter, more frequent touchpoints for managers and their direct reports will help to address multiple objectives. While managers have historically been asked to support the development of their direct reports from a skills and career path perspective, that role has expanded to include an employee’s emotional wellness and physical well-being. We are asking managers to identify employees who are overwhelmed, spot potential burnout, and in general, understand an employee’s challenges in managing their work-life balance. Check-ins provide the structure for an ongoing cadence that will allow managers to better identify these potential issues, while sharing feedback and discussing goal progress at the same time.

As the expectation for a personalized employee experience grows, organizations are relying on managers to help shape individual learning plans for their employees and identify personalized career paths. To do this effectively, managers need to understand the breadth of learning and development opportunities available for their teams, the skills and experience needed for various roles within the organization, and how the two are connected. This would be impossible to do in any scalable or sustainable way without technology. Learning management systems and learning experience platforms that surface available training and recommend learning opportunities based on targeted skills are critical for empowering employees and enabling managers.

With the expanded responsibilities managers are taking on, it’s important for organizations to minimize the time spent completing administrative tasks.  Organizations must look at automating tasks where feasible, such as PTO requests, timesheet management, and any reporting currently aggregated manually through spreadsheets or other means.

Talent Management Trend #3: Rethinking Recruiting Strategies

Between May 2021 and May 2022, the number of job openings in the United States increased from 9.6 million to 11.2 million. This high demand for labor has contributed to the intense competition for talent and is leading organizations to rethink how to fill positions. As a result, we are seeing greater focus on internal mobility, project-based outsourcing, and rehiring.

Internal mobility is the movement of employees to new roles within the same organization, either vertically or laterally. Promoting talent mobility internally not only helps fill critical roles, it can also prevent attrition by providing existing employees with opportunities for growth and encouraging their ongoing engagement with the organization. But implementing a successful internal mobility program requires more than just posting openings internally. Organizations need a deliberate strategy that enables the business to anticipate the types of skills that will be needed in the future while also having a deep understanding of the skills that current employees possess. They also need a common skill language across the enterprise. “Opportunity marketplaces” help put employees in control of their careers. These are systems and digital platforms where organizations provide opportunities for growth and development through learning, project participation, networking, and other experiences. Employees can see the breadth of what is available to them and seek out those opportunities that best align with their interests and career aspirations.

Another way organizations are filling open roles is by tapping the alternative workforce. Prior to remote work, using outside contractors was more challenging because of the expectation of being onsite and collaborating with team members in person. But after seeing the success of remote collaboration during the pandemic, businesses are more open to considering freelancers to fill open positions. In areas where it has become cost-prohibitive to hire new talent, businesses are looking to independent professionals to fill the gap and complete discrete initiatives. The largest increase in freelancer demand has been in the areas of software and web development, with 80% of hiring managers stating they have increased their use of freelancers since the onset of COVID. This approach has given businesses a wider pool of talent in which to find the skills they need, and often allows organizations to fill positions more quickly.

Yet another avenue for recruiting is rehiring former employees. Retirees and others who left the workforce during COVID are returning to work as a result of inflation, market volatility, and the attractive opportunities available due to ongoing strong labor demand. By early 2022, roughly one million U.S. retirees had reentered the workforce. Businesses that are proactively reaching out to former employees are tapping a pool of experienced hires that not only have institutional knowledge but also existing relationships and connections.

In addition to expanding target audiences, recruiters are diversifying the ways they source and evaluate candidates. Social media recruiting allows organizations to identify passive candidates and begin to build a relationship before any application is submitted. Using LinkedIn and other platforms, they can identify potential candidates whose skills and experience align to those needed in the organization, then stay updated as they interact with other people and groups to see what they are interested in and the types of opportunities they may be looking for.

Organizations are also dropping traditional qualification requirements that may disproportionately exclude underrepresented talent, such as where they studied for their degree, what degree they received, or whether they received a degree at all. Instead, the application process is focusing more on skills and potential, assessing cultural fit, resilience, and the ability to adapt. Businesses need employees that can learn quickly and are comfortable with pivoting as business needs change.

Talent Management Trend #4: Upskilling and Reskilling Current Employees

To bolster retention, encourage employee connection to the organization, and promote internal mobility, businesses need to take a proactive stance in upskilling and reskilling employees. In fact, according to a recent Korn Ferry survey, 37% of professionals say upskilling and reskilling current employees is the top way they are addressing the labor and skills shortage.

Upskilling focuses on helping employees develop new skills that relate to their current role. This approach helps organizations keep employees up to date as the way work is performed changes, for example, when new technology is introduced or when a manual process is automated. Reskilling focuses on preparing employees to move to new positions within the organization. This strategy is most effective when the priority is to change the trajectory of a single individual’s career, or when new roles are required due to broader organizational changes and other positions become obsolete. When there is a mismatch between employees’ current skills and the skills needed for jobs that are being created, reskilling helps to close the gap. The World Economic Forum estimates that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025.

In an environment where people are demonstrating a willingness to change jobs when they see better prospects, it is imperative for businesses to show their workers there is ample opportunity to grow and progress at their current company. Building a career-resilient workforce gives employees confidence that opportunities within the organization will exist for them if their job is phased out. Organizations need an ongoing, standardized process to collect and assess individual skills, as well as a mechanism by which employees can see how their skills compare to those needed by the organization, what skills are needed to fulfill roles they may be interested in, and how the company will support their skill growth through development and other opportunities.

Upskilling and reskilling programs are about showing commitment to the development and retention of current employees, but they are also about future-proofing the organization. To remain competitive, companies must invest the effort necessary to define the capabilities needed to achieve their short and long-term business goals and identify the skills aligned to those capabilities. Organizations also need to build and maintain a dynamic skills inventory that reflects the skills, education, and experience of their talent. With these components in place, businesses are better positioned to assess how prepared their current workforce is to meet company goals, and develop a strategic people plan that leverages upskilling and reskilling to address any deltas between required skills and the current organizational skill profile.

An integrated talent management system is key to effectively handling the dynamic sets of data that will be created, tracked, and updated on an ongoing basis: an organizational skills model, skills mapping to jobs, the inventory of skills for each employee, individual skill assessments, and learning that supports skills development. Among other things, these systems ensure process and data consistency across the enterprise and help to ensure equitable access to development opportunities.

Focusing on the Employee Experience—What does this mean for HR?

All of these activities have one thing in common: they contribute to the creation of an organizational framework that allows interactions to be tailored to the individual. Enterprise-wide standards for hybrid work empower each employee to determine their own working arrangement within established parameters. Providing managers with more adaptable performance management tools enables coaching and feedback in the moment of need, and at a flexible frequency. Opportunity marketplaces allow employees to identify the learning and development opportunities of interest that will help further their own career aspirations.

Organizations must invest in the development of a holistic strategy grounded in the employee experience to succeed in today’s competitive climate. To create this strategy, start by defining key points in the employee journey, identifying opportunities to personalize the employee experience at these moments, and aligning initiatives and resources to support personalization. Key points in the employee journey could include the application process, onboarding, development planning, and internal job changes. These activities can be defining moments for the employee, often determining if they are bought in to the job or if they start looking outward for better options. Enabling individualized career paths and improving transparency around the skills needed for jobs within the organization are examples of efforts HR can undertake to bolster the employee experience at these critical points.

Modern employee systems are a crucial part of this strategy as well. Investments in internal systems that improve employee experience signal that the organization values its employees. They also ensure equity across the organization by providing a consistent way for all employees to learn about internal job openings, find development opportunities, and access performance tools. Even before an employee’s Day One, recruitment and onboarding systems that are tied into and representative of the rest of the HR technology ecosystem set the stage for what the applicant can expect as an employee.

As such, it is essential for employee experience to inform technology decisions. It must be clear to the employee which system is used for what purpose. Organizations need to look at their existing technical landscape to identify areas where technology can be consolidated, leading to fewer systems to access and minimizing confusion (not to mention technical debt). Instances where overlapping functionality is being made available to employees should also be identified and remediated. With dispersed workforces becoming the norm, it is vital that systems work whether employees are remote or in the office. They must be scalable to handle growing and evolving skills profiles, performance data, and individualized career paths.

What’s Next?

Improving the employee experience may be driving the current trends, but once these initiatives become operational, organizations will again be looking to HR to ensure workers can follow through on their plans. While employees may have lofty aspirations and welcome the chance to establish individualized goals and development plans, achieving those goals may be a different story. As organizations turn their attention from establishing frameworks that improve employee experience to supporting employees as they execute their personalized plans, providing flexible options for learning and helping workers bridge the “intention-action gap” with well-timed nudges will drive future trends. Organizations will need to focus on people analytics to provide meaningful insights, drive decisions, and refine their people-first strategy.

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