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How 3 Talent Leaders Are Making Smarter Talent Decisions (Spark Live 2024)

As technology advances and economic shifts occur, organizations are struggling to keep up, resulting in skill gaps and employee uncertainty. There’s a growing need for HR to make changes in order to modernize practices and prepare for the future workforce – and they need to make better use of data, especially skills intelligence, to inform talent decisions. 

CIOs, CMOs, CXOs, and COOs are asking: What are the new skills we need? How do we build them? How do we hire for them? Skills gaps are a top concern. 

In this Spark Live panel discussion (Build, Buy, Borrow: Making Smarter Talent Decisions) moderated by Betsy Summers, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, industry experts highlighted the transformative potential of skills-based approaches, offering valuable insights for navigating talent management complexities in the digital age.

build buy borrow panel

What did Ash Walvoord, Associate Vice President of Talent Management at Verizon, Art Lokerson, Product Director at Wells Fargo overseeing Talent Acquisition, and Olga Power, Global Director of Talent Acquisition at Just Eat Takeaway, have to say? 

The power of skills intelligence 💡

At the heart of the conversation was the concept of skills intelligence – the ability to harness data-driven insights to inform talent acquisition and strategic decision-making, and identify skill gaps within organizations. 

Panelists discussed how skills-powered HR technology can help them connect people with roles, to aid TA, and to create personalized career paths for employees, to support professional development.

Olga mentioned honing their hiring strategy to better understand where they source externally for various skills, or “facilitate more skills-based internal mobility and internal skills development”. 

“Skills intelligence is an evolution of core HR data. We see skills as the next layer of maturity in our talent acquisition function, driving the evolution of how we identify and attract talent.” – Art Lokerson

Strategic workforce planning 🗂️

Strategic workforce planning based on skills intelligence was also a key theme. As Betsy noted: “Skills intelligence can inform every aspect of the candidate and employee journey, not just matching candidate skills to jobs, but also working farther upstream to help normalize and harmonize all the language that we use across our job architecture, into workforce planning and org design.” 

Only 20% of organizations engage in strategic workforce planning (Forrester Research). The panel emphasized the importance of using skills data to anticipate future talent needs, and build stronger workforce plans. By analyzing market trends and aligning skills strategies with business objectives, organizations can position themselves for long-term success.

“One step at a time is fine for survival. But if you want to thrive and grow and outpace your competition, you have to ensure that longevity for your workforce, and plan ahead to what you might need in the future.” – Betsy Summers 

Art Lokerson pointed out that roles like data science had become more prevalent within financial services in recent years, which was a good example of how businesses can and do change through their talent. “We’re not just looking at just to fill a person in a seat: we’re looking at the evolution of the organization.”

Measuring success 📈

Measuring the success of skills-based talent planning initiatives was also a talking point. 

Success metrics such as quality of hires, time-to-fill positions, and employee retention rates were cited as key indicators of effectiveness. 

Ash Walvoord mentioned “the percentage of horizontal movement that is cross-functional” and “the percentage of external fills that bring us new insights about how our strategies are meeting the market”, as well as measuring the success of the change management process itself, and keeping an eye on employee engagement during the transition to a skills-based approach. 

Overcoming barriers ⛔

The panel highlighted the various challenges organizations face when adopting skills-based approaches

One big barrier was resistance to change, particularly amongst Hiring Managers. Olga Power discussed how HR is becoming more like partners to the business, using intake meetings (for example) as a way to show hiring managers how powerful the skills-first approach can be

The speakers emphasized the importance of partnership across the organization, engaging stakeholders from HR, business units, legal and compliance, and risk management to ensure a seamless transition. They emphasized the need for leadership buy-in and alignment with broader business objectives – and using data to bring people on the journey, wherever possible. 

“There’s no point in TA being over here, HR here, and the business kind of somewhere in the background. I think it needs whole company buy-in to overcome any barriers.” – Olga Power

Ash Walvoord noted that, despite there really being no pre-existing playbook for this approach (and how hard it is to prove ROI in these early stages), many organizations are “choosing to play anyway” – and iterating along the way. 

Driving business value 🧮

Despite the challenges, the panelists agreed on the transformative potential of skills intelligence in driving business value. 

By using skills data to inform decision-making, organizations can gain a competitive edge, drive innovation, and enhance the employee experience. 

From identifying high-performing talent to closing skills gaps and fostering a culture of continuous learning, skills intelligence was seen as a powerful tool for organizations to be more successful – particularly in a connected skills ecosystem. Skills data can be a “catalyst” for breaking down silos, enriching and bringing more value to the business overall. 

“Skills can be an unlock for the C-Suite’s priorities, for the board’s priorities… There is a lot here that directly enables things that are very tangible and very real.” – Ash Walvoord 

Embracing an iterative approach 🪜

Given the complexities of skills intelligence, the panelists emphasized the importance of taking an iterative approach, and of educating yourselves as HR professionals. 

Art Lokerson highlighted the value of starting small, proving value, and leveraging past successes to build momentum for future initiatives, while Ash Walvoord talked about “progress over perfection.”

“We may not move as fast as some organizations, but we pursue this… movement to more of a skills-based organization, and skills intelligence, deliberately and thoughtfully.” – Art Lokerson

Seizing the opportunity 🤩

In closing, the panelists urged organizations to seize the opportunity presented by skills intelligence. With the business landscape becoming increasingly competitive, waiting on the sidelines is not an option. 

“With our markets becoming more competitive for top talent and retaining talent, I think this is the way to go.” – Olga Power

By taking proactive steps to leverage skills intelligence, organizations can gain a competitive edge, drive innovation, and position themselves for long-term success in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

“This can be you… You can move the field forward or you can move your company forward. There’s lots of ways.” – Ash Walvoord

🌟 Watch the on-demand recording of this session, and see more Spark Live sessions here