Mine the gaps

First Published in HR Director, February 2018 - Reproduced with permission
This is a reprint of an article by Patrica Waldron-Werner, the Executive VP of Global HR, Internal Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility at Orange Business. In the article Patricia talks about the juxtaposition of digital and workforce transformation.


"Despite a dearth of end-to-end business initiatives to support, nurture and develop the global workforce, according to a global SAP study businesses are still losing the war on skilled talent. In 2015, 53 percent of respondents claimed that their company did not have the personnel with the necessary skills to manage digital transformation. That number increased to 64 percent in 2017. In this, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the skills vacuum is increasing.

In my mind, the skills gap has increasing power to undermine business performance, across all sectors, in a digital age that holds so much potential. In my role, supported by my team, I am responsible for developing the skills of over 21,500 employees in more than 100 countries. This means that I understand the vital importance of closing the skills gap and this topic is very much a priority.

Since early 2012, I have steered a multi-pronged programme to drive enterprise-wide change that starts and ends with people. It’s been a labour of love for over five years and I’m now in a position to share lessons learned with the wider community, in the hope that I can help others ready themselves for their digital future.

If you boil it down, digital transformation is made up of three constituent parts: digital-ready culture and skills; innovative technology and tools and real-time services. Most businesses regard culture and skills as the ‘and finally’ item but I’d like to urge businesses to consider it a joint first priority. If you don’t take care of “people”, the other parts will fail - as I’ve learnt from experience.

So how do you embark upon a workforce transformation project? In an information-driven world, start with data. So much of what lies in the future is written in the data - the retrospective storyteller. This means you need to mine your sources of intelligence to understand what skills profiles you already have and what you’ll need in the future. If, in the past, resource planning largely focused on the current and near future needs of the business, based on output and meeting supply and demand - today, with data-driven tools, we can forecast human capital requirements immediately, anticipate gaps as they occur and ensure the organisation has the capability and infrastructure to meet business objectives, increase competitiveness and stay relevant - indispensable in a flat economy.

Two important caveats for success

Firstly, meeting this milestone will involve a data governance and clean-up exercise. When we embarked upon our Skills Anticipation Programme, it pruned 800 job description profiles into a much smaller manageable set, more aligned with emerging job requirements and the sort of lean, flexible organisation it was morphing into.

Secondly, never take “people” out of the equation. An efficient skills management programme should be innately human-centred and seek to enrich the employee experience throughout. Thanks to the exponential pace of disruption, job roles are changing. The skills that we need today, didn’t appear on job specs five years ago. For instance, only recently social media managers were the new kids on the block and the ‘scrum master’ was a niche role.

Today, the latter is recognised as a key contributor to a company’s agile development initiatives. Of course, businesses will still need sales people, engineers and customer support agents as these professions will continue to exist, but the skills they’ll need to keep up with the day-to-day will shift a few gears. If these skills are still in their infancy or even non-existent, the organisation will need to decide whether it should create the learning paths from scratch, acquire a company that’s leading the way or train up the next generation in partnership with an academic body.

We've been on such a journey. It anticipated the speed at which emerging technologies will reshape the way we live, work and play and set about developing a rich bank of expertise across the organisation. This involved focusing on specialist skills at the frontline of cybersecurity, the Internet of Things (IoT), software defined networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV). Given that SDN/NFV are relatively new network paradigms driven by changing traffic patterns, the consumerisation of IT, the rise of cloud services and big data’s ever-increasing demand for more bandwidth, this required an innovative approach.

From 2013, we developed partnerships with universities such as ESIEE in Paris to develop specialised courses in virtualisation and drive home the vocational value of these skills to students, as well as Vannes Ensibs, part of Université de Bretagne Sud (UBS) in Lorient, France, to pioneer cybersecurity techniques. Its workforce planning analysis also informed a decision to expand its cybersecurity skills by acquiring Lexsi, a securities services specialist with 200 employees, including 150 engineers and technical experts. We also created a CyberSecurity Academy inside to share expertise and develop these rare, specialist skills which are in such high-demand in a competitive market.

It stands to reason that if the skills of the future don’t exist yet, then people will need to develop their skills on the job. Much of what they do will take them into new terrain. Therefore, organisations will need to create a culture of continuous learning, led by the top, and supported by a robust program of support, supervision and guidance. This should involve setting workforce targets far beyond short-term operational needs.

None of this is easy. You need a dedicated, formal skills transformation initiative. We have Eureka - a comprehensive, holistic skills management programme, which brings knowledge and expertise together from across the business, HR and digital. It incorporates a top-down leadership view of what the strategic orientation of the business will be over the next three to five years and a bottom-up management view of the skills it has today and will need in the future.

The programme uses big data and data science, among other methods, to identify the skills and competency gaps by country, region, function and technology. These insights proactively help to define a "make or buy" strategy to source and develop necessary skills and competencies.

To truly transform, an organisation has to shed its old skin. This means discarding hierarchical ways of working and learning to listen. This particularly applies to HR. Given that what we do and say contributes to defining the tone of the organisation, it’s vital that we show we’re actively listening, responding and drinking our own champagne. Rather than take a ‘do as I say‘ approach when it comes to encouraging agile working across the business, we gathered 26 architects from cross-functional teams in the business and in HR, and appointed 70 ‘makers’ from the global HR team to interrogate, brainstorm, iterate and forge new HR practices. Given our role in the business, these initiatives in one way or another, impact our wider employee base, meaning what we do, has an organisation-wide impact.

If business leaders are serious about transforming their workforce they have to win the trust and engagement of their people first and demonstrate, in tangible terms, that agile and digital ways of working enhance the employee experience while driving business growth. The business can turn the ignition key, but it should be the employee’s desire to engage proactively in digital transformation, for the sake of their teams, customers and projects. It’s nudge theory 2.0 in action.

To date, businesses have taken substantial strides in embracing the digital economy. A few years ago, the cloud was an enigmatic term. It’s now a ubiquitous business model. Amid broad consensus that we’re knee-deep in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s worth remembering that industrial revolutions represent a totality of changes - they take time to unfold. Seismic shifts in technology processing power have brought us to this point but the tectonic plates are still aligning.

Human transformation may seem like the ‘softer’ edge, or even an after-thought, but its pivotal contribution to the creation of a new digital existence cannot be underplayed. Which is why strategic workforce planning should go hand in hand with work force transformation.

Today, everything that relates to our workforce and their skills and talents should be mapped to the organisation’s wider transformation journey. This brings me to my previous point - workforce transformation must be elevated to the top of the strategic agenda. If left in third place on the to-do list, it’s easy for organisations to pay lip-service or simply overlook this key driver of digital transformation. The new digital look and feel of the organisation is a priority as compelling for the boardroom as the company’s financial performance."
Patricia Waldron-Werner

First published in HR Director, February 2018 - Reproduced with permission

Glenn Le Santo
Glenn Le Santo

Editor in Chief, International, at Orange Business. I'm in charge of our International website and the English language blogs at Orange Business. In my spare time I'm literally captain of my own ship, spending my time on the wonderful rivers and canals of England.