What Is Talent in the Future of Work?

The definition of talent is changing in today’s workplace, contrib-uting to a tumultuous shift in how HR professionals manage their talent. This disruptive environment is forcing leaders all over the world to readjust their settings when it comes to attracting and nurturing talent in their organizations.

Learning how to “think” about talent is crucial to discovering ways to effectively handle the myriad issues revolving globally around workers today. For starters, there’s an explosion of contingent work, with 40 percent of U.S. workers fitting into this category by 2020.1 Then there’s automation: One-third of jobs are vulnerable to automation in the United Kingdom,2 while that figure jumps to 77 percent in China.3 What’s more, rapid change in technology and job descriptions means the average tenure in a job is 4.5 years and dropping.4

At IMPACT 2018, David Mallon, Vice President & Analyst-at-Large, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, led the workshop “What Is Talent in the Future of Work?,” along with his Bersin colleagues Jeff Mike, EdD, Vice President, Human Resources Research Leader; Robin Erickson, PhD, Vice President, Talent Acquisition, Engagement & Retention Research Leader; and Julie Duda, Lead Advisor, HR & Talent.

After presenting seven key disruptors to managing talent in the global business environment and reviewing the continuum of talent options (see Figures 1 and 2), Mallon then asked the participants, who sat in table groups, to quickly create a running list of what talent looks like in each of their organizations. The readout from many of the tables underscored general confusion about the word talent, especially in light of the contingent workforce.

Figure 1: Seven Key Disruptors

Figure 2: Continuum of Talent Options

But the more meaningful takeaway was that a very smart group of 80-plus senior HR leaders was sitting together in a room and struggling to come to a clear answer of what talent meant to them. Mallon quickly moved the discussion forward to talk about the obstacles in evolving an approach to talent. In response, one attendee talked about job titles, and in general, labelling people: “You are missing out on a large part of the organization in focusing on what we call the high potentials, for example.”

“All super chickens must die,” another attendee said, and went on to explain, “If you bring all super chickens together in one room, they will kill each other. It’s problematic if you’re only looking at one kind of person, such as HiPos.5 We need to have a much more inclusive environment.”

For the rest of this working session, Mallon prompted a group exercise called “Thinking in Extremes,” asking the group to imagine what the future of talent might look like by framing it with these two questions:

  • What if you had one-quarter of the resources you have today?
  • What if you had four times that amount?

The answers were surprising. Many tables agreed that when people were stretched, they discovered skills they didn’t know they had. One attendee felt that when people have less resources, it forces collaboration. All agreed that the true advantage of having more resources is that it allows for experimentation. For example, one participant’s bank turned one of their branches into a bar to encourage customers to come in and learn how to go digital. “No one is thinking out of the box when you are consumed with core job responsibilities,” he said.

At the end of this working session, attendees were asked to think about how we can all start addressing these issues in practical ways. The following are some suggestions to consider from the attendees in this group:

  • Open your recognition programs to everyone, including unionized employees and contract workers.
  • Don’t take it on faith that we can’t treat our contractors like employees. Build a business case for your CEO that focuses on the benefits, not the regulatory or risk issues.
  • Don’t push work to the roles. Push the roles to the work.
  • Help your fellow leaders change their mindsets: think about the employees as people and what they can do next, rather than their next vertical step.
  • Changing mindsets without changing processes doesn’t work. They both go hand in hand.
  • Measure your leaders by talent mobility and performance of talent mobility.
  • Use social media and platforms. As Erickson pointed out, one company got rid of their entire learning and development program and uses only an Internet video source.
  • Use analytics and predictive software to help your employees figure out their careers.
  • Empower your employees with serious reskilling efforts.

Although the session ended with no final consensus or definition of talent for the future of work, all conceded there is a lot of work to do but an exciting journey ahead.

1 “By 2020, 50% of the Americans are Expected to be Working as Independent Contractors,” LinkedIn / Alexander Zubair, August 21, 2017.
2 “These are the jobs most at risk of automation according to Oxford University: Is yours one of them?,” The Telegraph / Patrick Scott, September 27, 2017, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/27/jobs-risk-automation-accordingoxford-university-one/.
3 “World Bank President: Automation Threatens 77% of Chinese Jobs,” CEB, Talent Daily, October 5, 2016, www.cebglobal.com/talentdaily/automation-threatens-77-percent-chinese-jobs/.
4 “True Or False? ‘Employees Today Only Stay One Or Two Years’,” Forbes.com / David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, January 13, 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2016/01/13/true-or-false-employees-today-only-stayone-or-two-years/#312fc22d6b4c.
5 A “high-potential employee” is an employee who has been identified as having the potential, ability, and aspiration for successive leadership positions within the company. Often, these employees are provided with focused development as part of a succession plan and are referred to as “HiPos.”


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