Blog Post

Empowering the future workforce part 3: Advancing intelligently

Ike Bennion

Director of Product Marketing, Innovation and Strategy

Increasingly, organizations are realizing the power of making their employees a partner instead of merely a subject in development. Let’s not pretend that it’s easy — this shift in thinking requires overhauling content libraries to be more consumer-grade, adjusting company policies to adopt continuous performance conversations and more. But there is one step that is an important gap: how to deal with the expectations for growth and reward.

More recent generations have brought a marked shift from merely wanting to be satisfied in their work to an attitude for continual development and growth. Gen Z and Millennials see their roles as opportunities for development. What do they do when they don’t feel challenged and rewarded? They leave because the mere act of moving to a new company presents more opportunity for growth in itself than looking to the available development resources at a company.

Understandably, hiring firms have been exasperated since this requires more than just updating your talent management system or changing the frequency of check-ins. This means actually changing the way that work is done. The good news is, technology can step in to help build the important partnership to harness and unify the energy of employees and the organization to drive meaningful development.

Decomposing and decentralizing growth opportunities

The opportunity to develop through work has been inhibited to some extent by the definition of work itself. Roles have been built to be very static: you have a list of responsibilities, key tasks, skills, relationships and key performance indicators housed underneath a title. In many cases, the opportunity to actually practice, demonstrate and perfect these aspects are often limited to actually advancing into that role. But what if we broke up the role and allowed development-hungry employees the opportunity to shadow, practice, and assist in completing tasks as a means to grow?

New technologies like talent marketplaces or career exploration tools promise to do just that. These tools are essentially recruiting tools turned toward employees to allow them to explore where they can take their experience and skillsets. However, it’s important to recognize not all employees define progression the same way. Some employees define progress as moving into new roles and some see progress in incremental growth whether large spurts or small. The bottom line is we won’t solve the problem in maintaining the development of employees if we just dress up old tools for internal promotion in new facades — we must provide continuous, iterative growth opportunities.

To create this type of structure, providing feedback and further growth opportunities can’t only be managed by talent management teams alone. The model just wouldn’t scale. Managers, SMEs and other leaders in the organization are key in engaging and developing the workforce along this continuous path. However, they need to be equipped with tools to have structured conversations, content to help build their own coaching abilities and ways to prescribe development resources to employees. Again, skills come in here to help identify people with high aptitudes, connect them with workers who want to develop and focus their efforts meaningfully.

Development in the flow

We’ve already discussed learning in the flow of work, but it’s time to introduce its close cousin, Development in the Flow of Work. The market has many options for productivity tools, many of which monitor tasks. There’s immense potential here to capture meaningful, timely feedback on defined tasks (which again can be tied directly to our backbone of skills).

Let’s unpack this. Imagine if you are working on a project with a team and you deliver a milestone. The completion of the task in the project management system prompts an email to your team to provide you a quick rating and feedback. A handful of teammates provide feedback that your work was high quality, but you could have done more to minimize risk in completing the milestone. That data is now available for a development conversation with your manager, personalization of your development in your talent management system and a recommendation of new tasks you can take on to practice.

Sure, there are considerations to make this consistently meaningful and useful, but the underlying principle is there is an opportunity to deliver feedback as close to the time of performance as possible to help encourage additional growth. But also, the matrixed nature of work almost requires it. Managers have poorer and poorer visibility as individual contributors work with more and more teams. The manager needs better, more timely data to also assess fairly and coach meaningfully.

Safe spaces to practice

Technology is perhaps most promising in enabling more close-to-live opportunities to practice. When considering the employee experience, it’s important to think about how employees can practice, experiment and innovate on their work in places that are safe to fail. For instance, video practice tools are abundant in the market with the ability to practice privately, with a manager or with a team. Exemplary videos can be maintained in a library to teach others about new concepts or techniques.

Even the implications of more emergent technologies aren’t fully understood. Many mistake virtual reality as just another modality of content. They aren’t completely wrong on that front — but they also don’t understand the massive amount of data generated in a single 10-minute VR session makes it a prime assessment and practice tool. One particularly interesting, but heart-wrenching, VR scenario available in the market is learning about how to fire a direct report. In the scenario, the direct report reacts to your talk track, and even cries with certain lines. This practice scenario is difficult to simulate but is critical to get right in real-world situations.

Combining these technologies with hackathon-style formats can also be powerful. The concept of setting aside a week or so for teams to self-form and develop entrepreneurial concepts within the context of an existing company has rapidly permeated tech engineering in software companies. But what’s stopping, say, a marketing organization to do the same? To experiment with the thought of how to do work differently, employ new skills, use new technologies, develop cheap prototypes and pitch ideas to a “panel of VCs.” Members of each team can experience new roles for a week, practice new responsibilities and maybe even discover new passions. Oh yeah, and they can get feedback through Development in the Flow and plan their future development.

Why these criteria

The focus of Human Capital Management (HCM) technology in its early days was to scale existing top-down operations. In the meantime, the nature of work has dramatically shifted, and tech has failed to keep up, especially in how to capture the inherent energies of employees to develop themselves.

To meet the immense challenges of preparing for the rapidly transforming nature of work, employees need to also own and have resources to prepare themselves. With the organization involved to help shape that energy in a meaningful way, there’s less waste with ineffective content or misguided efforts. The hope of a promotion isn’t enough anymore, the new generations of the workforce have said that loud and clear. A carefully constructed set of footholds will help keep employees engaged, retained and growing.

This post originally appeared on Toolbox HR.

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