Change takes time, unless something catastrophic forces it. And that was the case with how organisations renewed their business models in the wake of COVID-19. The disruption and change forced by the pandemic triggered a major reset in how the concept of work is viewed, says Mercer's Puneet Swani, who heads the International Career Business and specialises in AMEA and the Pacific.
“Rather than a focus on growth, efficiency and returns, the biggest trigger for work without job comes from the need to be flexible and agile. How do I get my people to work from home? How can I rapidly expand or reduce my workforce in response to external dynamics? That has led companies to focus on a portfolio-based approach to work.”
What that means, he says, is that 'work' is no longer about full-time employees showing up at the office to produce deliverables. Instead, it is about categorising work into what can be automated and what can be done by humans, and then further breaking the human-executed segment down into what can be done within the organisation and what can be done with external resources.
On top of this, the job-to-work relationship has shifted.
“Traditionally, a 'job' follows a linear graph of progression across the organisation, and technology is there to support the work that needs to be done. But as companies shift to the portfolio approach, they are starting to break down work into tasks and projects. And when that breakdown happens, then you no longer say: 'I need a financial analyst to do that job',” Puneet explains.
Instead, organisations would look at what the job of a financial analyst requires: numerical skills, data modeling, communication skills, predictive models, and so on. And multiple people within the organisation, not necessarily a financial analyst, might have one or a combination of these skills.
“So why do I need to focus on the job? Why don't I focus on the task or the skill?” he points out.
In practice, a massive shift
The portfolio approach means that organisations no longer maintain a chart of jobs. Instead, they need what Mercer experts refer to as a skills inventory – an inventory of the skills that are required to do different tasks, which can be matched to individuals currently in the organisation and used to advertise for those skills which the organisation requires, or to reskill and upskill people.
“Go step by step,” Puneet advises. “Start by understanding what tasks and activity – what input – are required to deliver an output. Next, achieve an optimal combination of humans and automation, and under the human aspect, find the most efficient way to deliver the work. Do we really need a full-time project manager? Or do we need someone who will do project management for three months before the work needs different skills?”
Finally, he says, an internal talent marketplace must be established where tasks and activities are advertised, and individuals can apply to shift in and out of teams, upgrading skills as necessary, for the duration of a project, activity, or task.
It's hardly as simple as it sounds, however. A systemic overhaul like this challenges the entire organisation, from leadership to front line, and affects all the stakeholders, external as well as internal.
“Let's be honest about it, this is a reset of the entire talent management framework,” Puneet says. “If you look at the current HR system, everything is linked to a job. I apply for a job in the organisation, I am rewarded by how jobs in the market are paid. My succession, my promotion, all of those are linked to jobs. Right now, if you break down jobs, you are battling the entire system.”
Where to start, then?
“One business unit at a time. Map skills and individuals while you are still running on the jobs-based system, and create a parallel system which will tell you what gaps are there, what skills are required, and how we will have to train individuals before we move them to the new system. Once you have the list of skills, you can start bringing your HR function into the process.”
It's easier said than done, he cautions, and requires very strong change management; a very strong push from the leadership; and a great many other adjustments to existing systems to make it easy for employees to understand and acquire the necessary skills.
“Organisations need to reset their people strategies to gain a new operating system with better support, a high degree of agility, and high degree of flexibility to adapt to the rapid change and disruption we are seeing,” Puneet says.
Want to find out more? Puneet Swani will be speaking on the new work operating system and how to implement it at TechHR Singapore 2022 and Mercer's 2022 AMEA HR Conference. Drop by to hear his insights very soon!
People Matters is the exclusive media partner for Mercer's 2022 AMEA HR Conference.