Pandemic. What talent meets the needs of the day?
The pandemic has been accelerating the pace and scale of the digital transformation. One of the toughest challenges faced currently is to secure the right human resources. And although recruiting the right people is vital in today’s world, it is unclear what selection criteria are going to work best. What kind of manager or leader will perfectly satisfy the demands of the pandemic-stricken world?
Here’s what I wrote on the qualities of a leader in the digital age in one of my previous posts: “(…) the prime characteristic of this age is CHANGE. Change affects information, data, situations, management models, and customer behaviors. A sense of discomfort has become the new normal. No managers, business owners or employees who suffer from too little predictability can expect to gain more of it. But then not everyone is groping in the dark … “. Today, these words describe the world around us even more accurately. We have reached a point where very few know where the world is headed. Such an uncertainty does not spare HR managers as they try to determine whom their company is going to need the most and what people are going to be critical a year or two from now.
When it comes to the skills needed in the covid-induced transformation, we are wandering around in a maze of “blind data”. 31 percent of respondents to a Gartner Talent Neuron survey have indicated they were unable to clearly identify what skills were essential. We lack a critical understanding of the talent we need the most. All we have to go on are our daily observations and intuitions. Slowly but surely though, in response to the pandemic, new talent acquisition and team management trends are emerging. What are they telling us?
Digital skills are key
It is now common knowledge that the boundaries between the offline and online worlds have blurred. The leaders who deny this have been compelled to re-examine their conservative beliefs. Buying, selling, searching for information, developing brands and recently also work have all migrated to the web. In such a time, leaders must accept that the basic drivers of innovative business are found online. Excellent digital skills are no longer merely a welcome addition in a résumé. They have become key. This is particularly true for companies that embark on a digital transformation after having postponed it for a while. Any medium- or large-enterprise leaders who refuse to embrace digital culture in business can be sure they will see their management careers come to an abrupt end.
New relationship between leader and team
It is no exaggeration to say that the distance between regular employees, managers and leaders is shrinking dramatically. In companies that face the new challenge of remote work, one’s formal rank in the hierarchy is losing significance. And so, just as there was once a time when everyone had to learn to use Zoom or Teams, we are now all being simultaneously confronted with the need to adopt a new approach to customers and planning. In many respects and in many of their behaviors, leaders and their employees become alike, not least because there in a similar place psychologically. Everyone is driven by a sense of uncertainty. But although we are all in the same boat, the team leader is still the one who’s responsible for other people. While it may be more legitimate today to admit to not knowing, there are only so many times that you can say it. That is why during the pandemic, leaders must learn fast. They can’t shy away from new information about their markets, people, and the company’s position. The successful leaders of today need to be humble, willing to learn to navigate the new reality that is devoid of signposts and knowledgeable about how to do it. They need to be prepared to, in a sense, start with a blank page.
Flexibility in place of vision
The ability to predict the developments of the coming months or years is now at a premium. Does this mean it is visionaries that we need the most? I wouldn’t be so sure. The ability to act “in the here and now” has become more important than vision-driven decisions that may or may not work. So, today, I would trust the sort of managers and leaders who have an above-average ability to adapt to change. We need people who can rapidly shift production from cosmetics to sanitizers. We need those who are not afraid to take the bold step of turning a failing restaurant chain into a provider of sophisticated, high-end processed food products. In these highly volatile times, being flexible and able to see emerging market niches is of great value in any organization.
Focus on variety and soft skills
The pandemic should galvanize managers to refresh bonds in old teams. This is particularly vital in remote work. It is equally important to embrace the people who can bring a new perspective, an unconventional approach and impressive soft skills, which are now especially crucial. Employees vary widely in their reactions to the stress caused by current upheavals. You can strengthen your teams by showing them that despite all the budget cuts, you remain open to people outside your “bubble”. You need to bring new blood your teams by giving a say to people that offer a whole new take on problems. So, in your searches, you should reach beyond the narrowly defined IT community. Don’t look exclusively for engineers. Bet on specialists with excellent digital competencies and impressive exceptional communication skills and those who readily display the makings of a good leader. By recruiting such people, you can build interdisciplinary teams that will cope with new challenges better than narrowly specialized groups.
Design work reveals human potential
The era in which workers are assigned for long periods to perform their tasks in an unchanging business environment is over. Rapid changes are certain to cause unpredictability, surprise managements and perpetuate design-work models. It will not be unusual to use experts from chosen fields for a limited duration. Projects will rely on experts borrowed and exchanged across business units. As soon as a project is completed, the experts will move on to a different project in another unit. The assessment of their skills and of the benefits they contribute will be ongoing and provide more of a snapshot than a long-time perspective. In this environment, the new normal will be to resort to a project-based approach, instant responses to rapid change and spontaneous team building.
Remote work is here to stay
With just a few months, a revolution has swept through the world. We have abandoned our desks for bedrooms and studies in our homes. Even when the pandemic subsides, a partial remote-work mode is likely to persist. To many people’s surprise, being physically removed has had no adverse effect on workers’ performance. Remote work doesn’t seem to dramatically erode the sense of belonging to a company or team. With such a positive experience of soft transition to the new model, many companies may be reluctant to return to the old open-plan office in the corporate tower. Neither would it make financial sense. With a potential crisis on their hands, companies will push to cut the cost of renting their premises. However, remote work comes with a range of its own trends and needs: people communicate and collaborate differently, and require new technical skills. All these changes create the need for new training in communication, home office hygiene and dispersed team management.
Even before the pandemic struck, many HR leaders felt it became increasingly complex to predict demand for talent. Digitized organizations faced a whole new set of challenges that rendered the old ways of managing employees completely ineffective. Covid has only confirmed the sneaking suspicion of many that the old ways are obsolete. Especially in this age of rapidly rising digital economies, the old approaches to problems, tasks and projects are doomed to fail. The big tech companies, most of which have only been around for a decade or so, have been warning of this dynamic and volatility for many years. Their premonitions have now been confirmed.
Gartner, STAMFORD, Gartner Survey Reveals Talent Shortages as Biggest Barrier to Emerging Technologies Adoption, IT Executives Cited Lack of Talent Ahead of implementation Cost and Security Risks, Link, 2021.