December 14, 2021

How Talent Intelligence Supports a Global Workforce

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated already-existing trends toward an interconnected world in which geographic location matters less and less. Today, many companies have the opportunity to access talent worldwide via technologies that support remote work. 

Searching for talent worldwide poses challenges for traditional methods of recruitment, however. Deploying a global workforce, optimizing the use of workers’ skill sets, and building career paths for each employee are likewise daunting at scale without the use of artificial intelligence and other technologies. 

To meet these challenges, human resources teams will need to use new tools and apply them in new ways. Applied correctly, AI-based talent intelligence can support the creation of a global workforce. 

Find and Keep Talent With Needed Skill Sets

Talent intelligence, according to Josh Bersin, “integrates insights about workers – their skills, capabilities, experiences, career aspirations, performance, demographics, learning needs, development opportunities – and uses this information to help people find the right opportunities for them.” Yet it’s up to human resources staff and organizational leadership to determine how those methods and technologies are deployed, what information they gather, and how that information is used to build a global workforce. 

A Focus on Skills 

The need to hire for skills has become ever more pressing for companies in a wide range of industries. Skills-based hiring can be quite granular, focusing not only on individual candidates or employees but also on individual skills possessed by each person. 

Before technology transformed hiring, human resources professionals and hiring managers often used shorthand to understand skills. They grouped skills into sets, accepted past job titles as indicators of skills, or saw degrees and certifications as shorthand for mastery of a certain skill or range of skills. While helpful in the short term, this shorthand also introduced unconscious biases into the hiring process. 

Today, hiring teams can abandon the old, biased shorthand. To do so, they will need to become comfortable with AI-based talent intelligence tools. “CHROs and the HR teams they lead need to commit to keep learning and adopting digital technologies that help improve how they hire, engage, and retain talent if they’re going to stay competitive,” writes Louis Columbus, principal at IQMS.

Past hiring practices were adapted to humans’ limited ability to parse data. These practices used shorthand and limited the geographic range of talent searches to make finding new hires manageable. AI-enabled talent intelligence tools don’t need these adaptations. These tools can look at candidates from a global talent pool as individuals, evaluate their skills, and predict career roles and paths that put those skills to use. 

Reskilling and Upskilling: See Your Team As They Are

Companies that take a skills-based approach to their staff often find they have two options to resolve a skills gap: Find a new hire with the necessary skills, or help an existing employee cultivate the necessary skills to cover the gap. 

Investing in existing employees’ skills pays off. A 2020 McKinsey study based in the UK found that “in about 75 percent of cases, it pays for an organisation to reskill an employee,” write Tera Allas, Will Fairbairn, and Elizabeth Foote. Yet few organizations take a systematic approach either to employee reskilling or to hiring workers based on the skills they bring to the table. 

Reskilling gets overlooked in two key ways. First, companies may overlook the need to build reskilling into their talent management. Second, workers often underestimate their own skill sets and abilities, according to one study by the Consumer Industries of the World Economic Forum. 

The study found that most people are unconsciously biased to understate their own skills. “If you were to write a list of your skills, you would probably come up with around 11. But if artificial intelligence assessed them, that figure would more than treble to 34,” writes Kate Whiting, senior writer at the World Economic Forum. 

Talent intelligence can help workers and their employers see the true extent of workers’ skill sets. The technology can also be used to identify true skills gaps among your existing workforce and to find the right people to cover that gap, no matter where they’re located. 

Talent intelligence can delve into candidates’ skill sets, helping organizations find the talent they need — even when candidates underestimate their own skills and abilities. The results can not only help organizations find the skills they need immediately, but also illuminate career paths within an organization for long-term retention and growth. 

Top view of accessories for travel on vintage wooden background with lots of copy space; talent intelligence for a global workforce concept

Improve Flexibility to Tackle Unprecedented Challenges

Talent intelligence tools allow organizations to focus on the skills necessary for success within a particular role, career path, department, and company. By using skills to understand and categorize workers, these companies also gain the ability to improve organizational flexibility and innovation. 

One way to enhance flexibility is through a flow-to-work operating model, which groups workers based on similar skills. Groups can then be placed on certain projects according to which skills are required for success, write Elizabeth Foote and fellow researchers at McKinsey. Grouped workers may shift among roles on each project, tackling the tasks best suited to their skill set in any given scenario. 

Grouping workers by skills improves organizational flexibility, particularly in the face of unusual challenges or immediate crises. Work teams also become more efficient by focusing essential skills where they are needed most. As workers take on various roles, they broaden their understanding of the organization’s day-to-day tasks as well as its overall operations and the goals it pursues. 

Organizational agility played a key role in success for companies weathering the pandemic. In one study, Christopher Handscomb and fellow McKinsey and Harvard Business School researchers found that companies that performed well through the pandemic shared one trait not found among their floundering competitors. Top performers were “those with agile practices more deeply embedded in their enterprise operating models.”

By opening up hiring to workers anywhere in the world and focusing on the skills each worker possesses, companies can quickly reorganize their teams to address new challenges, urgent needs, and shifting priorities. In a rapidly-moving world that faces a number of unusual and unexpected challenges, this flexibility is essential. 

Map checking for the direction; talent intelligence for a global workforce concept

Innovate From a Broad Base of Diverse Experiences

The era of unexpected, urgent challenges is already here, with the COVID-19 pandemic providing a prime example. Among other sudden changes, the pandemic triggered a mass shift toward remote work. The shift caused disruption at first, but it is quickly becoming familiar and even preferred by many workers and companies. 

One result of the remote-work shift is renewed attention to the work being done, rather than to limitations of geography. “The new reality is a world where we focus on the work, instead of where it happens,” writes David H. Mayes, principal of tax and global mobility services at KPMG. 

The freedom to focus on work isn’t the only freedom created by remote-work technologies. Human resources professionals can now focus on building a global workforce with a globally-informed collection of diverse viewpoints, life paths, and experiences. 

A Globally-Inspired Culture

Embracing a global workforce also means embracing a wide range of approaches to work and workplace culture. These viewpoints can enrich organizational culture, improving support for workers to deploy their skills in the most effective ways.

A healthy approach to common behaviors and the norms that drive them can also drive business success. Research indicates that “companies with healthy cultures have three times greater total returns to shareholders,” says Brooke Weddle, a partner in McKinsey’s Washington, D.C. office. 

The sudden shift to remote work posed challenges for companies seeking to perpetuate workplace culture and communication using the old in-person models. Some companies might find that a loss of communication options results in less innovation, notes Nancy Baym, senior principal researcher at Microsoft. Companies seeking global talent will also need to focus on building communication lines through both technological and in-person means. Creating new norms around virtual communication will help these organizations realize the full benefits of the diverse experiences, viewpoints, and skill sets offered by a global workforce. 

Use Talent Intelligence to Build Skills and Careers

Effective talent management is also essential to success in the global marketplace. A 2017 McKinsey Global Survey revealed that “organizations with effective talent-management programs have a better chance than other companies of outperforming competitors and, among publicly owned companies, are likelier to outpace their peers’ returns to shareholders,” write McKinsey’s Svetlana Andrianova, Dana Maor, and Bill Schaninger.

Companies that optimize their use of talent intelligence treat talent acquisition as merely the first step in a long process of cultivating skills, illuminating career paths, and supporting growth within the organization. Through the use of predictive analytics, these companies can focus on each employee’s growth, providing personalized advice based on patterns that reveal new ways to think about and use individual skill sets. 

Talent intelligence tools can help companies understand their workforce in terms of the individuals who comprise it: Their skills, backgrounds, and career plans. “New AI-based technologies make it possible to assess workforce scenarios down to the individual skill level,” allowing human resources to make better decisions about hiring, reskilling, and career pathing, write Rainer Stack and fellow researchers at BCG.

“Senior leaders, CEOs, CHROs, business leaders, they have to own talent,” Andrea Shiah, former global talent-acquisition leader at American Express says. “They have to champion this from the top. They need to get everyone in the organization to understand that talent is a top priority.” Choosing the right talent intelligence tools allows a company to find the right talent, engage workers’ skills anywhere in the world, and build long-lasting careers, relationships, and company norms that drive success. 

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