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Preparing for a New Type of Workforce

Workforce of the future – and why preparing means rethinking human resources now

The next BriefingsDirect thought-leader interview focuses on the fascinating subject of preparing for the workforce of the future. It's now clear that we are entering into a very diverse and even unprecedented work environment -- something the world perhaps has never known.

But how do enterprises prepare, and how do they create the means to analyze and manage the transition to very different work environments? BriefingsDirect had an opportunity to learn first-hand at the recent 2014 Ariba LIVE Conference in Las Vegas.

To learn more about hiring and acquiring talent and managing a diverse and socially engaged -- and even more knowledge-driven workforce -- we sat down with Shawn Price, President for Global Cloud and Line of Business at SAP, and the former President of SuccessFactors, now part of SAP. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Now, this is a really fascinating subject for me, this new diversity and this talent-oriented workforce. But companies must be thinking, how do I reduce risk? How do I think about making this an opportunity rather than a challenge?

Price: Dana, if you think about it, what you have just described is the company that has already started to take steps to make sure that they don't get caught unprepared for the future.

A lot of companies are having to respond to dramatic changes in their operating models, where they’re driving revenues against the backdrop of a global economy. And companies are required to deploy flexible workforces that can be engaged and can change with this fast business environment that we’re in.

We have a scenario here in the US market, in particular, where every day, 10,000 people turn 65 and that will continue for the next 19 years. So you have an experienced staff that's leaving the workforce. Then, on the front-end, you have a talent shortage. There just are not enough millennials to replace that exodus that’s occurring.

The astute companies of the future have mapped this out, have laid a plan, have started to build warm pools of talent, and understand this in everything that they do. They’ve tied their strategy to their people strategy and acquisition, and they’re really managing it for the cultural nuances that the regions that they operate in require, and they’re pretty flexible and nimble.

More diversity

Gardner: One of the characteristics, as I understand it, is that there is more of a diversity in the ways in which employees or talent are engaged with a company, many more varieties than the full-time, 40 hours a week, 9-to-5 employee type. This seems to have some upside, but it's different. You don't manage folks in the same way when they’re working through these different models.

Price: There’s a real movement and emphasis on personal brand. To a degree, you’re starting to see free agents in the market. When you look at it on the retention side, planning strategy to the right people, to the right place, and at the right time, with a lot of millennials that are entering the workforce there is a clear six month delineation. That is the greatest risk for your company to lose that talent.

They’ve come in, they’ve looked around, and they’ve decided whether they’re actually advancing their personal brand, their knowledge base. It's less about hierarchy and the old models of the past. They’re making a call on whether they’re actually advancing and learning or it's more tenure based. The way we measure is different as well.

One measurement that's completely different than anything that we’ve done in the past is your engagement index: How much do you contribute? How much is your content consumed? How engaged are you in the day-to-day?

Gardner: I suppose there’s another complicating factor. I’ve read that by 2020, there will be five different generations working together, and each with a very different set of skills, experiences, expectations, and behaviors. It means that companies can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to this. In fact, they might have to be able to have multiple ways of engaging.

We need start to create a relationship at a much earlier point in order to create these warm pools of talent.

How does that factor into what you’re talking about, the workplace of the future. I guess we should talk about the enterprise of the future, and that they need to have a diversified approach, not just a single way to engage?

Price: You’re absolutely right. If you look at talent acquisition today, it has shifted. The focus used to be in the past on how do I put as many people as possible through my applicant tracking system, but today it's far more strategic. It's where do I need them and how much do they cost. We need start to create a relationship at a much earlier point in order to create these warm pools of talent.

Second, it's really asking who are my best performers, where are they from, and how do I get more of them? If you have a particularly productive intern program, for example, which college are you drawing talent from that's performing the best in the specific function? So the workforce of the future looks vastly different.

The power of how talent is acquired has shifted subtly as well. It used to be solidly in the hands of the employers, but today it's a two-sided equation. If I’m hiring somebody, I often do interviews over SMS or text, because it's a stream of consciousness. It's not a prefabricated dialogue.

But I also look at their LinkedIn profile, which is how they want the world to see them. I look at their social media profile. And then the most valuable thing to me is the peer references that exist in my network that can validate that that individual is who they’re representing themselves to be.

The flip side

But the flip side of that is we have websites that allow the applicant to look into the leadership style. They can connect to their network of people that may have worked for that leader in the past. They can see if the culture that they’re espousing is working.

So you have the fundamental shift in how you’re attracting, retaining, and working with talent that is completely different from things in the past and the way that we have done it.

What the future will hold is that we’ll go to a point where you will carry your composite profile of who you are and that will be made up of both social media external to the company, the LinkedIn profiles, and in some cases, even your performance reviews, where it's appropriate to externalize it. All of that will go in your employee record that will follow you throughout your career. Systems will automatically update that, and so it will be much more consumable.

Smart companies that are innovating are redefining the processes by which they engage. In retail, for example, you have seasonal workforce, and that seasonal workforce typically has to go through the entire recruiting process again if they come back the following year.

We’re encumbered in many ways to systems and thinking of the past around some of these talent acquisition processes that are so core to delivering on the strategy.

Maybe I had a good experience year one. If I reapply, now I’m going through the website, now I’m doing verifications. Why can't we re-imagine the on-boarding to be, “Dana, you worked with us last year. You did a terrific job. We’d like to have you back. Is everything the same?” In fact, you can put an  application on your smartphone with which you can make sure that the information is accurate, and then turn you on as an employee in the system automatically.

Instead, we’re encumbered in many ways to systems and thinking of the past around some of these talent acquisition processes that are so core to delivering on the strategy.

Gardner: Shawn, thinking about the past, I suppose we used to measure things pretty directly -- productivity measurements, top line, bottom line. Is there a new way to measure whether we’re doing this correctly, whether we’re getting the best workforce and best talent, ramping up to give ourselves the resources we need as organizations to meet our own goals? Should we not think about this in productivity terms? What's the right set of metrics?

Price: It's funny. We will always be top-line and bottom-line driven to some degree, but the measurement isn’t necessarily productivity. Maybe it’s rethinking processes that can have a material impact. One is this learning management notion, where I was describing engagement. Imagine you are on-boarding to a new company. The most important thing for me as that hiring manager is to get you up to speed and, in your words, productive as quickly as possible.

How did we do that in the past? We put you in a training course or maybe state-of-the-art, an online web-based training course that would run days, if not weeks, on end to try and have you assimilate everything that we needed you to learn.

Moving ahead

The new world, which is not based on that, is trying to move that on-boarding and productivity ahead. The way that we’re doing it is we are saying, “We already own all of the subject matter expertise required to on-board somebody. Wouldn't it be cool if, before you even join the company, you could connect by a social network, not one of these isolated ghost towns that stand on their own, but a social network connected to HR or connected to Ariba?”

We could have you engage with somebody doing your same job, so you could ask that person anything you want before you got there -- what should I read, what should I learn, who should I talk to, what's my first week like? That engagement was already occurring.

Then, when you arrive in the company,  it would be your compliance learning, and the normal HR functional learning, but you would also take advantage of subject matter expertise.

Today, the way that we learn is not in large chunks of data. Think about YouTube. It's web downloadable, consumable in five minutes on my mobile device. That content that I need in order to be enabled and to thus be productive is available from my coworkers in the form of a five-minute video. Or there's this advent of massive online communities that are producing content. Or I may choose to bring in an expert from outside the company to create content.

The visualization that I have is Khan Academy, where the most complex topics are searchable and digestible via mobile in 15 minutes. That's where we’re seeing the shift from just pure top line and bottom line to rethinking what on-boarding and engagement look like, and what does that ultimately do to the acceleration of someone’s comprehension? There are many, many examples.

Many times social networks are established as standalone entities and they become ghost towns after a while.

Gardner: Are you saying that companies need to start to become more open and social and create content and the media and mechanism, so that they can be in a sense part of this community? And how far along are companies in actually doing that?

Price: Many times social networks are established as standalone entities and they become ghost towns after a while. You kind of lose interest because they lack content and context.

When you attach it to an actual application, you can publish dynamically to that community, and you can search and see, for example, what was the number one search content today, this week, this month.

Increasingly, I’m starting to see things on people’s resumes like their engagement index, which says, “I was the number one producer of content for my company that was consumed by the social network.” You’re seeing stack rankings of that nature and form.

Cloud strategy

Social will become, and has become, an enormous component of our cloud strategy. In fact, today, we sit with more than 12 million subscribers on our social platform.

We have a large hotel chain that is actually using it to manage contract labor and part-time labor, because they want the engagement. They want the connection, but they want to be able to connect differently to them than the employee who is a full-time employee. And this hotel chain has over 170,000 contractors in their communities, and they’re grabbing information and all the expectations.

The other part of social, of course, is the mobile side of it. Our networks and our access to vast amounts of skills that would have in the past been hidden are now available to peruse, almost like a skills catalog within your own organization. You’ll find things that you didn’t even realize you had in pockets of the globe. People’s skills that you wouldn't necessarily have on file even are now apparent through that dialogue.

Most companies are going through this transformation in HR because of the macro trends we’ve been describing. What they’re ultimately trying to figure out is how do I create a strategy? How do I build a set of applications that allows me to execute against that strategy and measure whether I’m performing? And how do I drive cost out of it?

For many companies, they visualize this at the top line and the strategic level, but they also visualize it as a process, and they think of that process as recruit to retire. We believe that you can start anywhere, but you’re going to end up with this process that's interconnected.

Maybe your starting point is recruiting, because you have a lack of talent or you’re opening or you’re expanding. Maybe you have a learning management on compliance, or maybe you have performance and goals where you’re actually measuring the progress. You can start with any application and interconnect it over time.

We have actually completed the entire portfolio of applications end to end in the market. Think about Ariba’s connection with HR, which seems like a funny thing to say. On the Ariba Network today, we have 1.5 million connected companies. We’re adding one every three seconds. Imagine in that supply chain, in that labor pool, what would be available to you if you were to publish a job requisition, for example.

So we look at it as recruit to retire. Where the world is going though is our cloud applications. Today, we manage in excess of 35 million subscribers, the byproduct of people working with us like that is two-fold. One, they tell us very quickly what they like and don't like, which allows us to innovate very quickly. But the other side that you raised is the predictive side.

Predictive analysis

HR is really wide open right now for predictive analytics, and the only way you get there is by having scale of people using your system. Today, for example, we have built 2,000 key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarks to be able to tell us things like, what is my management bench strength, today, 30 day, six months, and a year from now? Who is ready and who is going to be ready, because of course that’s dependency to your strategy?

Or what's the voluntary turnover rate? We talked about five generations in the workforce. For experienced workers, what's my voluntary turnover rate versus the millennial workforce?

Where we’re getting to is really being able to correlate multiple indexes to give us a predictive view of what's going to happen. And that’s pretty exciting. That’s a pretty big breakthrough that we’ve seen.

Gardner: If I understand you correctly, Shawn, we’re talking about being able to analyze what's going on inside your company across many aspects of the business to better know what your requirements are going to be vis-à-vis talent and in human resources. But you’re also analyzing externally something like the Ariba Network and/or social environments so that you can then, if you can't hire, you can procure, or perhaps the boundaries between them are shifting as we get into more services procurement and we automate.

The community component of this is really fascinating -- contributing best practices in new ways.

But the key here, I think, is the analytics. We need to analyze better what we’re doing and how we are doing it, but we also need to analyze what's going on externally. Sometimes, that’s difficult without a third party, a partner, or a platform. How do you advise companies to be able to do this sort of comprehensive analytics capability?

Price: It's a great point. We have analytics on a particular application. So if you want to instrument learning, that exists. There is analytics that cross the recruit-to-retire spectrum.

But then you hit on a really good point. How am I in category, in mining for retention for this cost of worker, or how am I for recruitment and retention ratio relative to a 100 other minds? You’re absolutely right. You can do it within an app, across an app, and using the power of the 35 million subscribers look at patterns that exist within an industry or a best practice.

The community component of this is really fascinating -- contributing best practices in new ways to look at things and new indexes that companies build and publish to the cloud so our communities can consume those new ways of looking at a particular process is an exciting time. The byproducts are 2,000 KPIs that you subscribe to, to not only give you what is best in category in your industry.

Gardner: Are there some examples of being able to create campaigns that start to pull this together? It seems to have an impact across many parts of the business. We need to think about change. We need to put in the technology. We need to think more social, engage people in different ways, and think about sourcing of talent in different ways.

We’re at a state in the market and the technology today where it's really a matter of imagination more than anything else.

Is there any precedent that you can point to of a campaign of some sort that has begun to make the shift? Perhaps there’s a methodology that we can look at.

Price: We’re at a state in the market and the technology today where it's really a matter of imagination more than anything else.

If you take retail, they have always had a historic problem of getting the right amount of talent, in the right place, at the right time, as seasonal as they are. They may have two weeks of hyper growth and they may have a great season or a bad season, but if they’re slow, they can't hire enough talent.

So retail has re-imagined hiring. Of course it doesn’t fit all, but in some large global multinational chains, they found that the actual people that shop in their locations is the same demographic of people that work in their locations.

So they said if we can build a smartphone app that would allow you to apply while you are in the store, and the manager in the store at that time can see your resume or your LinkedIn profile, we can put you together and collapse this formal hiring process of weeks into potentially hours. This is just a complete re-imagination of recruiting. They collapsed all of their hiring from weeks to days.

We’re seeing this across all areas of the business, the ability to transform and visualize data. Where did I get that last recruit from that was so exceptional, and what is the profile of that individual? Talent doesn’t necessarily look like we think it looks from the past. Talent comes in every gender, every diversity, and from every corner of the globe. So what patterns do we have in our workforce that we want to replicate? The impact isn't just productivity, as we described. It's the engagement and contribution.

Creating a connection

Then, if you think about some of the other areas, you just follow this example. If I’m joining a company as a new sales rep, that application should be smart enough to look within my company for people who have worked with me before, create a connection over social and say, do you want to go for coffee, congratulations.

Maybe it goes out and sources over the Ariba Network for all of my laptop, my mobile, everything that I need. And if it's really smart, it takes all of my contacts and pushes it into my customer cloud, because I will have been selling to the same people over and over. That’s an example of a process that will run across four legs of the application stack. We’ve never been at a more exciting time -- ever.

Gardner: When you were speaking, you reminded me of the mantra several years ago in customer relationship management (CRM) of know your customer well, know them end-to-end. It now sounds as if we need to apply that to the employee.

The informed companies of the future will know their workforces better than anyone.

Price: Absolutely. If you don't, and you don't really have the engagement level, you’ll probably have a talent shortage, because you’re not measured hierarchically any more. You’re not measured on the old traditional way. It’s about what you get in your personal brand. The informed companies of the future will know their workforces better than anyone and know how to replicate and scale them up or down at will and on-board them instantaneously.

Gardner: Perhaps the corporation of the future isn't a single brand, but an amalgamation  of many thousands of brands for all the people contributing to their common goals?

Price: Absolutely.

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More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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