I don't think most companies have done a good job with EX yet: Josh Bersin

I don't think most companies have done a good job with EX yet: Josh Bersin

“Only a few companies have a strategy for non-full-time or non-balance-sheet talent,” says Josh Bersin, Global Industry Analyst & Dean, Josh Bersin Academy. Take a look at this exclusive interview to know more about creating meaningful employee experiences and how organisations can decide between ‘building’ and ‘buying’ talent.

The pre-pandemic war for talent and the pandemic-triggered acceleration of digital transformation across organisations is further bound to enhance the scarcity of talent.  Do you believe that a blended workforce (full-time, part-time, contingent, bots, in-office, remote, etc.) can help organisations rise to this challenge of talent scarcity? Will the pandemic transform the manner in which talent is acquired and onboarded?


There is already evidence that this is happening. I conducted an extensive study in 2019 and found that only a few companies had a strategy for non-full-time or non-balance-sheet talent, but now almost every company is dealing with that. And technology vendors are building new tools for this. Talent marketplace platforms, which came out of career management, are turning into work management systems where people can say, “I’m only available Tuesdays and Wednesdays, does anybody have any work for me?” or “We have a project, and we need somebody who has these skills and is interested in these kinds of activities. Is anybody available?” Those kinds of tools are now becoming available for HR departments to buy, so it’s an exciting change.


Employee experience (EX) has been typically associated with full-time employees and often goes unaddressed for other workforce segments. With non-traditional talent becoming an increasingly important source of competitive advantage, how can organisations deliver optimal EX for them?


Non-traditional can mean many things. It could mean a truck driver, a retail worker who works part-time, or a contract employee who’s doing a project. Most companies have an EX group that’s primarily focused on the high value, highly expensive in-office type of people. However, I’ve talked to distribution, logistics, and manufacturing organisations with many “deskless workers”. These companies have now realised that employee experience is all about those deskless workers and how they are provided with access to information, systems and schedules. They may not have email addresses or mobile phones. Some of them might be very remote where they don’t have Wi-Fi or good internet. So there’s a pretty big market for extended HR systems designed for non-office, non-full-time people. I remember when I was leaving Deloitte in 2017/18, I talked to a couple of startups who were working on this but couldn’t get any traction. Today, they’re all over the place. Microsoft Viva, in a way, is a good tool for this.


However, I don’t think most companies have done a very good job with EX yet. In many companies, just asking for vacation means filling out a paper form and giving it to some HR manager who then puts it into some pile, believe it or not. That’s not a good employee experience.


What are the possible fallouts of a blended workforce on the culture of an organisation? How can they be addressed?


Every company with a blended or hybrid workforce knows that the people working part-time, remotely, and so on without access to good technology and the same services as everyone else are essentially forgotten. Many companies are now bending over backwards to ensure that they accommodate everyone and don’t have a second-class culture because if they do, they have high turnover, low productivity, and low performance, and nobody wants to work there. It’s similar to the Starbucks employee who now gets healthcare and education benefits, career coaching, and bonus and vacation time. Starbucks did all of this because, first of all, it is a good company, but it also realised that people were quitting due to a tight labour market. Retail hourly workers, truck drivers, manual labour are all in short supply. If you’re not making them feel like they’re a part of the company, they’re going to leave.


A company with a large chain of gas stations and retail stores in the United States told me that people accept a job and then not show up for work because they got a job somewhere else for 50 cents more per hour. So if you’re dealing with a labour force that is sensitive to culture, you need to make them feel like this is going to be a good place to work, so they come in every day.


How can HR and senior leadership ensure that the value created by a blended workforce is greater than the sum of its individual constituents?


Companies need to give people time, tools, and communication systems so that everybody feels like they’re part of something bigger. If I work as a gas attendant for a giant company in a small town and have no idea what the rest of the company is doing, don’t know many people, and only have one boss who treats me poorly, then I’m not really a part of the big company.


There are organisations that communicate with everybody in the company at all levels and give them access to information, tools, and coaching. For example, if there’s going to be a CEO town hall meeting, they broadcast it in all the plants and breakrooms so that people feel they’re part of something bigger. Big manufacturing companies like Dow Chemical have been doing this for years. They have workers in very remote areas, but they make them feel like they’re part of a big company.


To “buy” (hire externally) or “build” (develop from within) talent is a big dilemma that organisations face. What are some important considerations to keep in mind when deciding between building and buying talent?


In most companies, it’s up to individual managers to make these decisions because they’ve been delegated authority on budgets and how they want to spend their money. However, that’s problematic because sometimes, while it’s tough to hire people from the outside, somebody inside the company really wants that job.


Because we’re in an economic cycle where the labour market’s getting very competitive, much more energy needs to be put into strategies and tools for internal mobility. There’s a belief system in many organisations that if they find an expert out there who knows the job really well, then everything will be great. That may be so, but more likely, you’ll find somebody who has some of the skills you are looking for but doesn’t know much about your company and may not fit, leading to retention issues and wasting you three to six months.


So, there is a significant awareness now in companies that internal mobility is a strategic benefit. It makes companies healthier because people learn by moving around. They bring culture from one part of the organisation to another, making the company more integrated. They have lots of institutional knowledge that they can bring from place to place.


Bank of America has proven that in their retail banking division, the most important driver of financial performance is the tenure of people. The longer they can get people to stay, the better the company performs because there are many things to learn, and you don’t learn them all in the first, second, or third year. You learn over time.


Of course, there are times when you have to hire from the outside, and it’s good to do that because too much internal culture can also hurt companies. There are good reasons to hire externally, too, but generally, it’s letting every manager decide this on their own, one at a time without context, that’s problematic. So it’s good to have a framework around it.

Ankita Sharma is working as Senior Editor with Human Capital. With 6+ years of experience, she has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire.


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