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Talent in a hybrid world

We all know the world of work has changed.

Leaders talk about the challenges of innovation, collaboration, diversity and agility. In this world creativity and ideas are what matter, flexibility is key. 

Complexity has become the norm. The right people matters more than ever in this knowledge and collaboration era. We can see all around that the impact of talented people is highly variable, that outcomes are no longer linear and that diversity is a good thing. How people turn up is now just as important as if they turn up at all.

This comes after an era when the ideal working model featured people doing what they were told, employers driving down variability, and increasing reliability through control and process. The industrial age model of people working like interchangeable cogs in a machine.

What is the Hybrid Challenge?

The truth is that most of the world’s large and mature organisations combine both old and new in their working practices.

In reality, there are large percentages of the workforce which are still centred in the industrial age. These may be call centres, retail stores, manufacturing or logistics centres. They are places where repeatability, compliance and standardisation are still key. 

Looking ahead, this is where we can see the impact of artificial intelligence and automation making the biggest dent. Looking back, this is where outsourcing, offshoring and disintermediated supply chains have been a common option.

Then, there are a smaller, but growing, percentages within organisations where creativity, collaboration and innovation are now key. Where people are focused on knowledge work and where flexibility is key. These are the roles where the last thing you want is people to follow the "manual", you want them to be making an impact in their own ways, creating the future, based on their expertise and judgement.

These different areas are spread unevenly across different industries, across different companies and within the functions within an organisation. And the talent in these different areas have different career paths, different views on their value and different views of how work should work for them.

The big challenge that talent management now needs to solve, is how to deliver across both areas, how to support leadership teams get the most value from their industrial age areas and their knowledge work areas. This is what we call the Hybrid Challenge.

Industrial age or collaboration age – which era is the talent tool kit designed for?

When we look at how mature organisations manage talent, we find a tool kit in use that was almost exclusively built for the industrial age. The kit attempts to control the metaphorical “cogs in the machine”, and the default is still standardised approaches that treat everyone the same. 

There is often a big focus on processes that measure and grade people. Forced rank performance distribution is still common. The go-to is still psychometrics that seek to dig deeper into the core of an individual, and use their detailed specification to predict their future. It is the manufacturing model applied to people.

Learning is still seen as a transmission and retention challenge. There are sheep dip training programmes designed to push information out from the clever people in the centre to the waiting recipients who need to be told what to do and how.

Recruitment focuses on the interview but not the work, on the individual but not the team, and on finding reliable employees rather than finding elusive breakthrough skills.

Some of these tools have been updated to be more digital and easier to use, but they are still designed around the industrial age paradigm. Just putting performance processes into easy-to-use apps will not change how they are used or how effective they are. They assume that people are reliable, consistent, one-dimensional, and don’t have intentionality in how they act.

When these industrial age talent tools are used with collaboration age talent, they appear irrelevant and they don’t work. Too often the response is to just add more – more data, more complexity and more technology – instead of stepping back and recognising that in a complex hybrid world, these tools will never work.

The common result of all this is that organisations put a brake on their talent. They slow down their speed of progression, they slow down their speed of learning new skills and their speed of exposure to new experiences – all of this just at the point where the external world is getting faster. 

What can a new talent approach look like to work in in this hybrid world?

Talent management needs a new approach and a new tool kit that is designed for the complex nature of today’s hybrid businesses. 

The core of this new approach has to be a new paradigm with differentiation at the core. One that is set up to use different tools for the different talent groups. This moves away from the one size fits all approach and addresses head on the need for relevance in a complex world.

And the answer for complexity is always less data, less process and less breaking things into smaller components. Complexity is tamed by creating simple rules, understood and applied where it matters, on the leadership front line. These rules come together to create a talent system that guides outcomes, rather than trying to define inputs, and which let people make the right decisions on their own, rather than needing constant intervention or interference from the centre. These rules also need to be designed to get the scale benefits of being a large business.

Of course, part of being differentiated is that organisations need to be honest that, although everyone is important and everyone has potential, not everyone is treated as “talent”. Some roles, and hence some people, are more critical than others in terms of impact and variability.

The new tool kit is made up of a laser like clarity on what talent is there to achieve, scalable talent mechanisms that create simplicity of action, portfolios of initiatives that are designed to amplify each other, scorecards to measure the progress of the talent system and the storytelling so a workforce understands, buys into and is engaged by the ethos of how talent works.

Only by moving to this new way of thinking can organisations avoid the curse of the big company – bloated bureaucracy, slow decisions, slow learning and stuck people.

This becomes a disaster when the business is moving slower than their rapidly changing markets and competitors – and, of course, competitors are not just other big slow moving giants. They now include fast growth companies where talent is rapidly progressing, alive and connected. So just when an organisation needs its talent to accelerate to keep up, they find their talent is moving slower than the market and holding them back.

To keep your talent moving in the hybrid world you need to develop the new talent tool kit.

To find out more about how well your business is set up to keep you talent competitive in this hybrid world explore our diagnostic below.


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