#MercerChats Rewind: How Leaders Can Redesign their Organizations & Invest in their People for the Future of Work

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Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders for an online discussion of the most pressing issues. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our September 2020 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb is as relevant as ever for businesses looking to retool and reinvent for the future of work, as many leaders face the choice between abandoning their workforce in favor of new talent or rebuilding from within through robust reskilling programs. While on its face this can seem like a uniquely modern dilemma, on closer look it becomes clear that even in these fast-paced times, there’s something to be learned by listening to our elders.

As it turns out, the leaders of some of the world’s top firms agree, with employers investing millions into reskilling and retrofitting their workforce for the new challenges of tomorrow. Now more than ever, HR and workforce strategists are interested in how they can reposition people to close the growing skills gap and reinvent outmoded solutions for new problems. And while this isn’t a new conversation, it has certainly taken on new weight and immediacy in light of the pandemic and new business landscape, and it will only ramp up as the business community continues to adapt to the impact of COVID-19 and the new normal.

In order to take stock of the rapidly evolving landscape, we invited global thought leaders and industry experts to discuss the outlook on social media and identify the keys to the new training imperative and skills revolution. Below are a few key takeaways from our conversation, which illustrate what HR and business leaders need to know to act now.

Reskilling is a commitment to your business and your people

If the experience of the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that for all the talk about an AI and tech-powered future, people are what really matters. When we’re all swimming in a sea of tech, individuals and culture differentiate top-performing organizations from their counterparts, and that’s what enables businesses to compete in the future of work. It’s also why talent – not tech – is top of mind for executives and HR leaders.

But if leaders want to attract and retain the best people in business, they need to remember that they’re in the people business. That means tailoring their digital transformation to their people, as Amish Gandhi points out, and going beyond lip service about “people being your most valuable asset.” Stela Lupushor shared as much during our conversation by mentioning how reskilling your workforce shows them that they’re valued stakeholders in your business and can pay dividends for both your company culture and employer brand. This creates a positive loop for employers, and, as Lewis Garrad observed, helps firms avoid shocks to their culture and pursue organic growth. 

 

The most important part of reskilling is getting your people to commit

If reskilling is a commitment to your people, the first step is getting them to buy into that same perspective. From corporate communications to line managers, organizations need to lead workforces through the uncertainty of reskilling and show them that this is not just a fleeting moment before a return to the old ways. The workforce will only prioritize something if it’s made a priority, so leaders must commit to change and demonstrate the long-term trajectory if they want people to buy into the mission.

The good news? Identifying those who are ready for change is the first step in identifying high performers in the future of work. Carrie Maslen made this point during our tweet chat, noting that agility, willingness to learn, and a passion for organizational mission are the top skills needed for the next stage of work. But don’t fret if your workforce seems to be lagging in these skills; as both Yvonne Sonsino and JoAnn Corley-Schwarzkopf shared. Exceptional leaders are those who can identify what’s needed, articulate that gap to their organization, and rally people to make the change. All of this helps to create the employee experience that Will Ferguson spoke to during out discussion, giving people a reason to change with your organization.

 

Reskilling is an opportunity for leadership to mindfully rebuild

In some ways, HR and business leaders can be excused for feeling like they have an impossible task. Reskilling your workforce while keeping your business running is bit like rebuilding a plane while it’s in the air, but that is what’s needed in the modern business environment. And though this may require a herculean effort, leaders should be grateful for the opportunity that the reskills revolution offers them: the chance to remake their organization in their own vision.

Organizational reskilling is the ultimate blue sky exercise, allowing leaders to detach from the bounds of what “is” and consider what “could be.” Kate Bravery spoke to this during our chat with her observation that leaders must work together to identify where skills are most needed and invest in those areas first, especially now that the pandemic has accelerated the transformation journey. As Chris Edmonds pointed out, reskilling is a chance to design organizations and their cultures around what’s really needed, and future-focused executives would be wise to emphasize agility and learning. But to be successful, that emphasis must come from the top. Tamara McCleary touched on this when she noted that both reskilling and cultural adjustments are long-term exercises that require long-term commitment. 

 

The journey has already begun

The most difficult thing about planning for the future of work is that there will always be a “future of work.” Even if you have a verified fortune teller leading your reskilling program, by the time HR can develop and activate your skills development strategy, new skills gaps will appear and another part of your workforce will be falling behind the skills curve. Mark Babbitt touched on this during our conversation when he pointed out that many reskilling programs fail to account for what’s just over the horizon, and you can certainly appreciate the uphill battle that many HR leaders face in getting their people ready for “the future.”

But that doesn’t mean they should throw in the towel. As Dr. Marcia F. Robinson shared during our tweet chat, we’re already on the treadmill of skills turnover, and so far people have shown they’re more adept at keeping up than some may have predicted. The pandemic forced entire organizations to make the leap into a more remote, flexible working world, and by and large the results have been a remarkable success. To continue this forward trajectory, Diana Wu David noted that the onus is on leaders to continue pioneering into the next area of need, redesigning and reskilling people for whatever lies ahead.

Danielle Guzman
by Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media