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Q&A with Josh Bersin: How Managers Should Fill the 'Capability Gap' in Today's Workplace

Cornerstone Editors

The U.S. education system is not meeting the needs of employers, says Josh Bersin, the principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a human resources research and advisory firm. College graduates often do not have the skills employers need, creating what he calls a "capability gap" in corporate America. Here, Bersin describes why managers need to step up and help employees learn from day one throughout their career.

What problems are companies facing with the capability gap?

For nearly ten years, the cost of a college education has increased at a rate three times higher than the inflation rate, making paying for education difficult for many young people. After people go to school, they enter a workforce with the need for rapidly changing skills, many of which must be learned on the job. The problem is one of building a "supply chain" of capability — young people ready to work as soon as possible with continuous learning opportunities available to help them grow throughout their career.

Massive Open Online Courses — or MOOCs — are a new, disruptive tool that can help. Large companies can’t find content fast enough, so if they can leverage online content available from Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Berkeley, they can make it available to their employees. Coursera, edX, Udacity and others now offer corporate programs built from MOOCs. Plus over the next few years these programs will become accredited and reduce the cost of education for job candidates.

Another issue is building skills through global talent mobility. You can’t build the world’s best engineers, for example, without letting them experience and work on many different projects in the company. This means expanding the concept of training into continuous capability development.

Most training departments have three problems. First, they often don’t know where all the training money is going, so they can’t necessarily consolidate it for optimum impact. Second, they need to shift their thinking and become "the capability development department" — and incorporate career progression and mobility into their training mindset. Third, they need to focus on building a learning culture. If learning takes place on the job, the learning and development team must help managers learn how to facilitate learning, give people time to reflect and see the value of learning. Companies that deal with these three issues build capabilities in amazing ways and can far outperform their peers.

How can companies move employees through different roles in the company effectively?

One of the biggest issues in companies today is the need to build some kind of career management or talent mobility program. In today’s flattened, team-oriented businesses it’s not easy. But the value is huge: when people move strategically they not only contribute, but also develop into well-rounded leaders.

Last week, I spoke with a large healthcare provider which has been investing in talent mobility for many years. The CHRO told me about a senior accounting leader who wanted a new job within the company but couldn’t find one, so he quit. Little did he know that the perfect job for him was in the department in the building next door.

This company is solving this problem through a major program for leaders called "facilitated talent mobility," which focuses on helping mid level and senior leaders move from role to role. Now, to expand mobility throughout the company, the organization has developed a competency model for 80 percent of the jobs in the 120,000-person company. They put the model online and have built self-assessment tools for employees to use. The company’s experience with senior talent mobility has given them the tools and culture to support mobility at all levels.

Not only is this organization making it easy for employees to find new roles, they’re also focused on building incentives for managers to help people move within the company. In order to get ahead in the past, managers had to make their numbers and deliver on their commitments. Last year the company added a new management measure: "talent production." Today you as a manager will not get promoted or be considered for senior positions unless people are being promoted out of your group into better positions. The company is changing the culture from one of "talent consumption" to one of "talent production," making all managers aware of the fact that the people working for them are their responsibility, and they must steward their growth throughout the business. This is the type of mindset companies need to build today.

How can companies move away from talent consumption toward talent mobility?

Think about how your managers are evaluated. On making the numbers? When you become a manager, what is your job? What are you expected to do? In most cases you’re expected to bring the team together and have them deliver results such as improved productivity and performance. Organizations need to expand their vision of management and make sure that talent development is a clear part of every manager’s responsibility.

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