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Allison Bailey, a managing director and partner at BCG and the global leader of the firm’s People & Organization practice, talked to us about how creating a people advantage will strengthen a company’s resilience for the long haul.
With so many issues on the minds of CEOs right now, where does talent strategy fit in?
We’re in a period of deep economic uncertainty, so of course CEOs are very concerned about the state of their organization’s resilience. They’re thinking about their cost structures and improving how responsive their cost management is to the current environment. At the same time, most companies are deeply involved in either a digital journey or a climate and sustainability journey—or both. And CEOs know they don’t have all the expertise they need to be successful on these journeys at the pace and scale required.
So while managing costs is critical, attracting and retaining talent—the right talent—is a top priority when it comes to building resilience and coming out ahead.
But it must be hard to tackle both those things at the same time, right?
Actually a downturn can be a good time to build your talent advantage. In the US, in particular, as major tech firms lay off employees, it’s an excellent time for organizations across sectors to find the tech talent they need and speed up their digital journeys. But they need the right talent strategy in place in order to find the right people.
It’s all about developing an understanding of what the company needs, a willingness to innovate as they look for talent solutions, and a plan to invest in those solutions in ways that make sense. And yes, that means investing even when economic conditions are unclear—maybe especially then.
What’s involved in that first part of the equation: understanding what the company needs?
It’s so important. To get it right, you need to modernize your internal capabilities—using the latest technology and data and analytics tools so you can understand the skills you have today and where you’re lacking.
You need to think about this at a skill level, not just a role level. Among your existing employees, what skills do they have? What skills are being tapped by their current roles? What skills do they have that are untapped that might be applicable for alternative roles? What skills do you need to bring in that will best complement current employees’ skills in order to strengthen the business overall?
The data and technology to help leaders answer those questions have significantly improved in the past couple of years, but many companies aren’t fully leveraging the platforms that are out there. Or they don’t have the employees with the skills to do so. In one exciting development, however, there are new HR tech firms cropping up, such as Gloat and Eightfold, that can help bridge this gap. They can dig into employees’ skills on a more granular level and match people to potential internal job opportunities.
Once you know what you need, what’s the best way to find and keep the right people?
When it comes to talent acquisition, there are some great approaches that we like to bring up with clients. One we call “screen in, not out,” which involves redefining traditional job requirements and focusing instead on the critical skills that are needed. In other words: make job postings more inclusive. IBM, which removed degree requirements from 50% of its US job postings, is a great example of a company taking this approach.
Another approach is to make changes that allow for faster hiring. WM, North America’s leading waste management and environmental solutions company, has decreased the time it takes to fill out an application to three minutes—and the time before an offer is made to three days or fewer. Amazon’s interviewing software and AI-driven pre-hire assessments have reduced time-to-hire to just 24 hours.
There’s also the “try before you buy” strategy, which PepsiCo employs through micro-internships that serve as pathways to full-time positions. And PayPal holds hackathons to attract tech talent and build brand awareness.
But creating a talent advantage is also about the nitty-gritty—offering people what they’re looking for through an impressive employee value proposition.
How do you do that? What are the ingredients of an appealing employee value proposition today?
Lots of internal career and mobility opportunities. One of the things we’ve learned when it comes to tech talent in particular is that they’re not just thinking about the job they’re applying for. They’re considering the range of potential experiences the company might offer down the road and how they’ll be able to build their own skill set. For some people, this is just as—if not more—important than compensation and benefits.
And by being open to the idea of rotating people within and around the company, leaders are not only creating a more attractive home for long-term talent. They’ll also be able to fill holes in expertise as they come up.
Employees and recruits are also looking for flexibility in both where they do their work and when. The pandemic taught us a lot about working-from-home productivity. If you don’t need people to come in to the office for a given role, you expand the pool of potential candidates dramatically. A more recent, and equally valuable, realization is the notion of time flexibility—trusting employees to get the work done on their own schedule.
But don’t get me wrong. Comp and benefits are still an incredibly important part of the employee value proposition. In fact, they’re more of a driving factor in many sectors than I thought, according to the work we’ve done at BCG.
Overall, it sounds as if these kinds of investments are important in both the short and long term—the creation of a talent advantage that can help companies weather the current storm and be ready to thrive in the future.
Exactly. As I said, CEOs need to put a premium on understanding the skill sets of their current workforce—not just on the potential that’s out there in the market. If you’re able to upskill, redeploy, and cross-deploy employees, as well as offer opportunities for talent to shift across and among regions, you have a truly flexible workforce and, ultimately, a more resilient organization overall.