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The world of work is changing radically driven by a dynamic and increasingly complex workforce, the transition to a knowledge-based economy, accelerating globalization and the pace of technological advancements. Given this landscape it is no longer viable for organizations, and HR functions, to view the workforce as a single, homogenous entity. In a digital world HR too often retains an “analogue” approach as far as talent models and understanding the workforce are concerned. As the Marketing function has become customer-centric to attract, engage and retain customers, so the HR function must become more workforce-centric to better attract, engage and retain talent. HR can benefit hugely from adopting approaches more associated with Marketing by, for example, using data and analytics to segment the workforce to better understand the preferences, behaviours, and learning styles of different elements of the workforce.

The workforce is becoming increasingly complex, with five generations in the workplace, increasing levels of contingent labour (up to 45% of the workforce by 2017 - Christopher J.Dwyer "The Future of Contingent Workforce Management Webinar Recap", DCR Workforce Blog, January 2015) and rising and falling working populations in different geographies impacting the availability of skills.

This complexity is compounded by technological shifts that are reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work and the skills and capabilities needed to be productive in the future, whilst hyperconnectivity, made possible by social media, smart devices and cloud technology, enables people to work in whatever geographies and time-zones the technology and corporate policy allow. This impacts the way we collaborate on ideas and products while altering traditional approaches to engaging with peers and organizations.

Whereas technology used to speed up or automate existing work the opportunity now is for technology to completely transform the work itself, and this is exactly what it is doing, resulting in changes in the skills and capabilities we need in the workforce. The skills and capabilities that we need though are becoming scarcer and scarcer with 87% of executives struggling to find talent and retain top employees according to a 2015 Harvard Business School Analytic Services Report (Harvard Business School Publishing, "Holistic Talent Supply Chain Management", 2015). Meanwhile those that possess these scarce skills and capabilities, the talent, are becoming far more selective concerning how they want to work, where they want to work, for whom they want to work, how long they will stay in a particular organization, how they want to be developed and how they want to be rewarded. The growth of the portfolio career is an example of changing attitudes, with workers “collecting” experience at specific organizations to construct their own “brand” and set of experiences. How does this portfolio approach to careers sit with three to five year succession plans and internal career models? In short it doesn’t.

Despite this increasing complexity many businesses and HR functions continue to have a restricted, one-dimensional view of the workforce and to leverage talent models that no longer fit today’s realities. In a knowledge-based economy, where talent is the primary engine of business growth and where the balance of power resides with those possessing the scarce skills, knowledge and experience that organizations compete for, we as HR professionals have to increase our understanding of the workforce, their drivers, behaviours, preferences and, critically, the talent models that can be used to attract, engage, develop, reward and retain them. A “one-size, fits all” approach is no longer viable. HR needs to become much more workforce-centric in the same way that the Marketing function has had to become customer-centric. Leveraging data and analytics to segment the workforce will enable HR to better understand the preferences and behaviours of the different segments within this complex, connected and mobile workforce. Marketing seeks to attract, engage and retain customers through understanding preferences, mass customisation, competition, social media activity and providing multiple entry channels for customers to find information, provide feedback, consume services and buy products. HR needs to adopt similar approaches and models for today’s consumers of HR services.

So, what does HR need to do?

Firstly, leverage data and analytics to segment the workforce in order to better understand, by workforce element (generation, function, gender, tenure in role, engaged/disengaged, performance, etc.):

  • Preferences on compensation, benefits, communication channels, learning styles, ways of working, management style, location, technology, performance management, collaboration, culture and work-life balance
  • Behaviours, including typical tenure in role, average length of stay with an organization, reasons for seeking new roles, approaches to building a career, propensity to use social and collaborative tools and networks, etc.

Understanding the different segments of the workforce then enables HR to:

  • Rethink talent and career approaches, models and mindsets to better suit the preferences and behaviours of the groups the organization seeks to attract and retain, with continuous performance management, broader career development planning that incorporates external organizations, and employee-defined compensation through reverse talent auctions being examples.
  • Take a mass customisation approach to benefits, policies and programmes and so create different value propositions that are relevant for different segments of the workforce. This is not suggesting policy anarchy or management by exception, but customising HR services within a standardised framework, much in the same way that we choose models and then select options when purchasing a car.
  • Leverage social media to provide effective and targeted communications to different segments of the workforce, to build learning communities and support content sharing, social-based onboarding and collaborative performance management.
  • Have visibility of social media activity and better manage and market the employer brand to prospective talent.

It is approaches such as these that HR needs to bring into play to increase workforce performance, engagement, talent attraction and retention and ultimately to increase the delivery of successful business outcomes.

This requires changes to HR skills, roles and technology. In terms of skills the function has to increase capabilities in analytics, not only in understanding and analysing data, but also in connecting trends, uncovering insights and the ability to “tell a story” with data. This may require a group within HR dedicated to HR analytics. With regard to creating different value propositions for different segments of the workforce, potentially there is a need for HR resources specialising in the preferences and needs of each of these segments, who also thoroughly understand the business and posses the customization skills needed to develop relevant services and models to suit. The skills and knowledge required already exist to a large degree within the Marketing and Finance functions of many organizations, so HR does not need to start from a blank page, but can begin by borrowing capabilities and approaches from other departments.

From a technology perspective there is a strong need for powerful workforce analytics solutions, collaborative technology to drive enhanced and targeted communications with the workforce and a comprehensive, integrated talent and core HR solution, covering contingent workers as well as employees, to enable redesigned (re-imagined) talent approaches and models.

To provide organizations with the workforce needed to successfully execute business strategy the HR function needs to re-imagine Talent Management approaches and models in line with the preferences and behaviours of an increasingly complex workforce. In doing this the function can learn much from the Marketing function, but will need to up-skill, re-organise, leverage analytics and utilise integrated Talent Management and Core HR technology.

To learn more about enabling HR with powerful Cloud HR solutions visit SAP SuccessFactors via the link: