In a transformed workplace and business environment due to the coronavirus pandemic, HR departments need to be more accountable for business success as talent identification, acquisition and development undergo an overhaul.
For instance, a couple of years ago, you may not have seen the need to hire certain types of tech talent, but with the acceleration of digital transformation today, you’re likely struggling to find the right specialists. Having the foresight to hire early could have not only prevented this, but enabled your business to stay ahead of the digitalisation curve.
Don’t only spring into action when threatened by a crisis.
During a recent PeopleSearch webinar, “Digital Disruption Amplified: Can you handle it?”, we discussed what businesses and HR departments in particular need to do today to ensure business success in a world changed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here are the highlights of our discussion with Chief Digital Officer at Sembcorp Industries Ltd, Matthew Friedman; Managing Director, Head of SME Institutional Banking Group at DBS Bank Ltd, Koh Kar Siong; Group Business Leader, PeopleSearch Singapore, Jaime Lim and Chief Technologist (FSI) at Red Hat, Vincent Caldeira.
AN ANTICIPATORY APPROACH TO TALENT ACQUISITION
Jaime Lim, Group Business Leader of PeopleSearch Singapore recalls starting an executive search team for the data science and data engineering industry several years ago.
“We spoke to talent acquisition and HR leaders. We explained the need for their companies to start hiring such specialists. I recall the resistance we faced,” she said.
At that point, there wasn’t an immediate need for such talent and many of them said they preferred to wait. However, as we’ve seen in recent years, whether there’s a crisis or not, organisations that wait tend to end up playing catch-up.”
As Covid-19 mitigation measures are compelling businesses to accelerate digital transformation in order to stay viable, even more organisations are finding themselves caught in this position.
On the other hand, the ones that took an anticipatory approach acquired such talent early and are thriving during this period.
There is a silver lining. Many organisations that only began digital transformation when the crisis set in are realising that if they commit fully to the process, they can achieve exponential progress.
But the manpower challenges remain formidable due to the scarcity of top tech talent.
Still, better late than never, according to Lim.
“Leadership needs to understand what the critical functions are. They need to always be looking to the future. It’s not just about what you need today. It’s about what happens after Covid. The manpower gaps within your organisation have to be clearly identified. Once these are identified, it’ll make sense to bring in the specialists you need as soon as you can.”
She explained that companies will have to consider the time it is likely to take to onboard new employees, let them cultivate a strong working relationship with the organisation’s existing employees and learn the nitty-gritty of the business.
“This can take a good six months. As the economy recovers, your competitors who have been incubating ideas, relearning and reskilling will start acting, so you need to be prepared as well. You need to have the right manpower ready to help you take advantage of opportunities,” she said.
Experts agree that foresight is crucial.
With tech talent in great demand in a market plagued by skills shortages, organisations that continue to move too slowly risk losing out.
When you hire fast, you also reduce the chances of talent bidding. As a result, salary costs will be much lower.
EMPLOYERS’ ROLE AMID DISRUPTION
While acquiring new talent is important, employers must move fast to reskill and upskill existing employees.
Managing Director, Head of SME Institutional Banking Group at DBS Bank Ltd, Koh Kar Siong explained that DBS has been doing this on several fronts for some time now.
Staff are consistently apprised of new job roles as the organisation undergoes digital transformation and are provided with comprehensive training programmes to enable them to transition into these roles.
“Internally, we also move people around across business units and geographies,” he said.
Koh explained that every business leader within the organisation is involved in developing staff.
“We manage the business, but we also manage people. We release good people for them to go to other markets, other departments, other units to get exposure and to get trained.”
These diverse opportunities enable them to cross-skill and imbue them with a global perspective.
The bank is also actively involved in shaping education to ensure that graduates are equipped with relevant skills.
“Members of our leadership team in Singapore actually sit on boards of schools. We help develop and design the curricula so that they can train and develop talent locally to meet future needs,” he said.
On their part, workers need to be globally competitive. This is especially so since remote work is becoming more acceptable. As a result, companies are more open to hiring remote talent on a larger scale.
“We need to compete with global talent. So we must have skillsets that local and global companies will be willing to pay a premium for. As with any change, there will be fear but along with fear, we need courage. We have no choice,” said Lim of PeopleSearch.
THE RECRUITMENT PROCESS NEEDS AN OVERHAUL
However, all of this won’t amount to much if HR practitioners don’t change.
For some time now, the recruitment process has prioritised candidates’ hard skills.
Vincent Caldeira, Chief Technologist (FSI) at Red Hat said vital soft skills have been neglected for too long.
“The first one is the ability to collaborate. Who in any organisation is able to perform his job in isolation? No one. This is valid for technology people as well. For me, the difference between a good developer and a bad developer is not how many years of writing Java code or how many data science courses they have taken,” he said.
A good developer “takes the active step to listen to the business problem, to actually identify several potential solutions and has the reflex to constantly test, try out and improve the solution on an ongoing basis,” he explained.
Technical skills can be picked up and improved.
“But it’s very hard to fix a person who doesn’t listen,” said Caldeira decisively.
“A willingness to learn is also vital. Hard skills are something that management can control by sending candidates for reskilling or upskilling programmes. On the other hand, a willingness and ability to learn new things is very much dependent on candidates’ nature,” said Lim of PeopleSearch.
HR personnel must also be much more open-minded when screening candidates. Caldeira illustrated this with a powerful example.
When he started his own FinTech startup some time ago, he interviewed candidates for a developer position. One of them had started his career as a system administrator and went into development later. Caldeira met the candidate even though there were other applicants with more experience.
“During job interviews, I have a habit of asking people to talk about something they’ve worked on that they are proud of. I like to evaluate the problem they had, what they understood about the problem and the solution they tried.”
In this case, the candidate mentioned a project that he had done for a video streaming company. He had designed an algorithm that could detect erotic scenes in movies. It removed the need for manual screening and classification of content, saving the company a lot of resources and time.
“He explained the details of the business, the challenge that was presented to him and the solution he came up with.”
This shows that HR personnel have to go beyond the CV to ask questions that would accurately reveal candidates’ competencies and traits.
“You can’t be stuck in a box. For instance, just because you are recruiting for the financial services industry, it doesn’t mean that you only see candidates who have worked in the industry. You should also look at specialists who have worked in other industries. They could bring fresh perspectives and superior problem-solving skills or other important transferable soft skills,” said Lim of PeopleSearch.
In concert with this, they must relearn other fundamental aspects of their role.
“How they define skills, or write a job description… They need to look at how HR can start to review the definitions and testing of traits such as adaptability or the ability to collaborate,” said Matthew Friedman, Chief Digital Officer at Sembcorp Industries Ltd.
HR’S ROLE – TIME FOR DISRUPTION
Going forward, HR personnel must also partner businesses more strategically to ensure that personnel at all levels are equipped with the skills necessary to do well in a disruptive environment. These include agility, adaptability, resilience, critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Considering rapidly changing business needs in an uncertain world, the role of HR practitioners is likely to change dramatically.
Friedman suggests making HR personnel more accountable in terms of their impact on business outcomes.
“I’m not an HR expert, but if I look at what I’m responsible for in my job, I have a P&L (profit and loss) to manage. I’ve got to manage the delivery of core technology as well as digitalisation transformation. I’ve got to create value for the business. Can the HR function be run with a P&L too?”
Experts have suggested HR leaders be measured on their ability to identify, acquire and develop talent in a manner that increases the company’s competitiveness. In order to be able to take an anticipatory approach, HR practitioners need to be aware of market developments and trends. They must have the capabilities to interpret such data in order to project skills gaps and come up with strategies to address them. Rather just responding to changes, they should be leading discussions on which tasks can be automated versus capitalising on human talent for specific job roles.
HR practitioners will also be key in driving mindsets about the future of work and how technology interfaces with human talent. Aside from their contributions to workforce planning, reskilling and upskilling, they should be able to show that their efforts are improving the employee experience; enabling employees to thrive in a disruptive and highly digitalised workplace.
In the Singapore context, a new challenges is emerging.
As large tech companies such as ByteDance, PayPal and Tencent invest in the city-state, others have to improve their hiring practices and terms swiftly in order to attract and retain top tech talent in a competitive sector.
“One of the issues is compensation. Traditionally, HR practitioners peg people on salary grades and bands. Instead, I think we need to look at skills and what’s available in the marketplace in order to relook at banding for that particular function or position. For example, you shouldn’t band data scientists or solutions architects across the broad IT infrastructure band. They deal with data differently so you shouldn’t classify them that way,” said Lim of PeopleSearch.
HR also needs to put more effort into employer branding and candidate engagement.
“In the technology space right now, it’s a candidates’ market. Tech talents have competing offers on the table, so you have to ensure you have a good employer brand and are able to engage existing staff and new hires successfully in order for them to choose to work for you,” she added.
According to Friedman, every touchpoint matters.
“Because everyone’s competing for a very finite pool of talent, you need to create more personal experiences for these individuals right from the start, from the point of courting them. If you can make a person feel, “Wow! They really care about me. They understand what I want, as well as what the company needs,” you have a much better shot of attracting and retaining them.”
Click here to watch the webinar in full.
Feel free to contact us for a talent conversation.