Over the last year, many employers have gone from worrying about how to fill potential skills gaps to how to stay afloat as the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked its own special kind of social and economic havoc. Part of this equation has involved working out how best to optimize costs and redeploy workers.
A couple of Gartner surveys illustrate the point. In March, around 79% of hiring managers said they expected external recruitment activity to remain frozen for all or some positions, while a month later, two thirds of HR leaders indicated they were increasing, or planning to increase, internal staff mobility as an alternative to laying people off.
But a key problem in this context, Scott Engler, a Vice President of Advisory at Gartner told attendees recently at its online ReimagineHR conference, is that the average job role has changed by 40% in the last three years, and the pandemic has "fast-forwarded us three to five years into the future".
As a result, it is starting to become clear that many existing roles are now "poorly designed", fail to correspond with how people work and will, in some instances, require as many as 10 new skills to be added by next year alone. To make matters worse, Gartner research shows that a mere 16% of new recruits possess the skills they need to do their job either now or into the future.
To try and address this situation, Engler's key recommendations are to deconstruct roles into skills and projects into tasks, and then match the two together. Although scoping which skills are needed within each given role requires a significant amount of work, such an approach is important because:
It shows the highest correlation of execution against strategy, and the ability to form and reform these roles was the biggest link to performance. But a lack of flexibility today is affecting many organisations' ability to compete in the new world.
Aadil Abbas, Director of Advisory at Gartner's HR practice in Australia, agrees that the most likely companies to thrive at the moment will be those in a position to respond quickly to changing circumstances. Therefore, agile ways of working and the creation of "fast-forming" teams and projects that stop and start as required all help.
The benefits of an internal talent marketplace
But a big challenge for many organizations is the lack of an efficient or effective means of matching employees and their skills to short-term projects or development opportunities outside of their immediate team. In Abbas' view, this is where internal talent marketplaces come in. Gartner defines such marketplaces as a:
Platform-based system for supporting an internal gig economy inside an organization. It matches employees to work assignments or projects based on inputs from employees, managers and enterprise systems.
Key components include employee profiles based on their skills and capabilities, and project profiles, which are created by managers. Also part of the mix is an algorithm to match suitable staff with given assignments — although such activity can also be done manually if volumes are small — and the creation of a feedback loop to ensure continuous improvement.
The benefits, believes Abbas, are two-fold. On the one hand, they provide employees with skills and career development opportunities, which help with motivation and retention. On the other, they facilitate and enhance "talent resource allocation" by making it possible to staff projects with existing employees and/or appropriate contractors and by helping to smooth out uneven demand.
But at the same time, Abbas also acknowledged that the market for off-the-shelf marketplaces was still at a "very early stage" and, in reality was probably five to 10 years from hitting the mainstream — although start-ups like eightfold.ai and ProFinda are already starting to build some capabilities into their products today. Nonetheless, as he pointed out:
You don't need to invest in new technology from vendors — you can build it yourself. Intel, for example, used employee and assignment profiles to match staff to opportunities and its system wasn't AI or algorithm-enabled. Employees created their own profiles based on their skills and what roles they were looking for, and project managers created assignment profiles and evaluated who was a good match. They found once they built it, employees came.
Another organization that has gone down a similar route is NASA. After the US space agency created a visual framework to plan how to incorporate ‘future of work' trends into its culture, talent processes and overall business goals, it also built an agency-wide internal talent marketplace.
The aim was to expand its access to an internal talent pool that could staff programmes based on key criteria, such as skills and grade, while also providing employees with the chance to participate in onsite and remote projects, lateral assignments and rotations from across the business, which they may not have had access to in the past.
Internal talent marketplaces as tools of transformation
According to Leah Johnson, a Vice President of Advisory at Gartner's HR practice, the move has enabled NASA to compete more effectively both internally and externally in talent terms "by being ahead of future of work trends". It has also created a:
More transparent and accessible way for internal talent to seek opportunities to develop their skills, and for the organisation to build a culture of mobility, engagement and innovation, driven by talent being able to access those opportunities.
Over time though, as "the flywheel picks up momentum", Abbas believes that internal talent marketplaces will move beyond this initial set of use cases to "transform talent processes". He explained:
While today performance evaluation is mainly undertaken annually by a direct manager, in future it could be done continuously by the rest of the project team, so you get a thumbs up or thumbs down by everyone you've interacted with. In other words, evaluations would be crowdsourced, which should make input more accurate.
Marketplaces could also automate the collection of skills data relating to each individual employee. By automatically adding new experiences and credentials to their profiles once a project has been completed rather than relying on staff to do it manually as is currently the case would inevitably ensure such information was more up-to-date and accurate.
Lastly, rather than relying on HR professionals to design fixed career paths to help workers meet their goals, they would be better positioned to pursue the skills and development opportunities that appeal to them as and when they come up.
But there are also potential barriers to successful adoption too. A key one here consists of "talent hoarding", whereby managers either consciously or unconsciously block their staff from taking the opportunities available to them.
Getting this difficult scenario right takes more than just encouraging internal mobility though. Instead it requires the introduction of a number of processes and policies to ensure talent-sharing between teams becomes a cultural norm. But as Helen Poitevin, a Vice President Analyst, was careful to point out:
An internal talent marketplace doesn't work everywhere. You need an adaptive organisational structure, a forgiveness not a permission culture and an entrepreneurial mind set, and if you don't have them, you might not be ready for the transformation that's likely to result.
Although it may be some considerable time before a fully-functional, off-the-shelf internal talent marketplace makes an appearance, it is more than possible for organisations to start applying the key principles now as a useful means of getting on top of a re-skilling challenge, which is currently moving relentlessly and ever more loudly up the corporate agenda.