Interview with Josh Bersin - A Thoughtful Architect Catalyzing Global HR Innovations

Josh Bersin is a rare combination of visionary and analyst. With a splendid ability to understand and analyse data, Josh powerfully weaves forward-looking insights that are actionable and generate business value. He is the Founder of Bersin by Deloitte and the Josh Bersin Academy. Lauded as one of the leading HR and industry experts, Josh radiates charisma and has an infectious optimism. As for influence, his novel solutions to seemingly intractable workplace problems are considered 'gold standard' and the world looks to him for guidance. Josh is vividly and convincingly sparking transformative improvements in the HR landscape. Open your heart and prepare to be inspired as the prolific influencer shares exclusive insights into the world of HR and gives us a scoop on his leadership style, core beliefs, and much more!


The Josh Bersin Academy is the world's first global development academy for HR and talent professionals at all levels and across all industries. With what vision was it founded? Also, what are some of the unique programs you offer?


In my meetings with hundreds of HR organizations, I’ve seen a tremendous need to transform “from the inside out.” In other words, we as a profession need to reinvent our roles, capabilities, and skill, and that’s the problem I’m trying to solve. Many companies have “HR for HR” programs, but they’re very limited and can’t keep up with all the innovation going on in the profession. Our goal with the Josh Bersin Academy is to be the world’s professional development academy for HR and talent professionals at all levels across industry segments.


We already have a wide range of programs: People as Competitive Advantage, HR in the Age of AI, 21st Century Performance Management, Agile Learning and Development, and Wellbeing at Work. Three more are planned for this year, covering strategic business partner capabilities, the secrets to employee engagement, and people analytics.

 

A recent ‘Global Human Capital Trends’ report by Deloitte states: “Rather than an orderly, sequential progression from job to job, 21st century careers can be viewed as a series of developmental experiences”. You were one of the co-authors of this study. What does this evolving career model mean for organizations?

 

Yes, I actually wrote most of that report. This is a massive shift in HR, but one we all have likely experienced in our personal careers. We don’t learn from development alone; we also learn from experience. So people today want more exposure to different jobs and business units, more project experience, and more opportunities to learn on the job. I call this “learning in the flow of work”, but a lot of this means building an internal talent marketplace in your company so people can move from project to project and role to role, while they are advancing their careers. Rotational assignments, stretch assignments, and even external assignments are part of this, as is reverse mentoring.

 

It is undisputed that AI and machine learning are calling for new business models. How can HR professionals navigate the new agendas that technology is triggering? 

 

As we describe in the program ‘HR in the Age of AI’, the role of HR is going to change. You will not just be designing programs to roll out to employees – you will also be monitoring and training chatbots, analyzing data on employee sentiment, and delivering actionable data, recommendations and nudges to employees and leaders.  We in HR will have to learn about bias, data quality, and natural language processing so that we select validated and high-quality tools. Most companies now need people analytics and AI expert or team to make this happen.

 

In a world undergoing continuous and multifaceted change, disruptions are sweeping businesses. In the very context, the term ‘agile’ is thrown around a lot these days. According to you, what might be a few trademarks of an agile enterprise?

 

Agile is a mindset and culture, not merely a set of tools. Agile companies move people from project to project; have flatter management models where leaders are hands-on project owners; and empower and reward people for expertise, not just for tenure. They also have leaders who think about employee growth, customer listening, continuous development and reflect on the lessons that can be learned from failure. Leaders in such companies are also curious and willing to tolerate uncertainty as products start small and grow.

 

Human Resource Management is somewhat unique and different in every country. In terms of adapting to HR technology, how does an emerging country like India compare with developed economies?

 

I love coming to India because the HR profession in India is particularly focused on internal development, academic and professional expertise, and collaboration. I think India, perhaps because its Hindu history, is strongly focused on employees as individuals, and companies invest very heavily in training, development, and career growth. Many of the organizations are conglomerates in many industries, so the HR and job models are very challenging – but there is an incredible passion for learning and trying new ideas. Companies in India are very comfortable with technology, data, and new innovative tools. I see India as one of the most powerful growing economies in the world.


Up Close and Personal 


As a global industry analyst, author, educator, and thought leader you are an inspiration for many. Who inspires you? 

 

My role models are the economists, business thinkers, and serious HR practitioners I meet all over the world. I believe the connection between our economic and business lives and our personal lives is more important than ever, so I am particularly drawn to people like Fareed Zakharia from CNN and many other global economists who are trying to piece together this big transition from ‘jobs of the past’ to ‘jobs and careers of the future’. I also greatly admire the CHROs and other HR domain experts I meet every day, as well as the incredibly innovative HR tech entrepreneurs our industry is lucky to have. 


Is there something that people consistently ask for your advice on? What is it? 


Many things, but perhaps the most prominent topics are how do we transform the HR function and tackle talent issues such as career, skills development, and rewards to grow our company and better engage our people in positive ways. The big problem we have right now is that our work lives and personal lives are going in different directions, and we need them to come back together. I see ‘wellbeing’ as a new concept that is trying to bridge the gap between continuous business execution and holistic human and family lives.

 

When was the last time you astonished yourself? 

 

I’m astonishing myself right now with the amount of fun and excitement I’m having building the Josh Bersin Academy.  We are seeing interest from all over the world.  It is perhaps becoming the most exciting time in my career.

 

How do you like spending your free time? 

 

My number one priority at home is to be with my family. I have two grown children who live nearby and my wife, and I love having them around as much as possible. I also love to walk, bicycle, exercise, and spend time outside. The more I travel, the more I crave time with physical activity and being outdoors. I spend a lot of time writing, so I often need these focused times to get my thoughts together.


What would we be surprised to learn about you?

 

Maybe the fact that I’m an engineer and love to figure out how things work. It’s the part of my personality that’s never gone away.  I drive my wife crazy asking her “why do you think this is happening” all the time because I’m always trying to piece things together and make sense of the world.


Rapid Fire    


Favourite quote:  “The best organizations find a way to let every employee fulfill their own personal and professional aspirations at work.”

 

Leadership style:   “Listening, thinking, and innovating as a team.”

 

Favourite book:  I read too many to have a favorite.

 

Favourite movie:  I just watched “Bullit” with Steve McQueen. I also love all the John Candy comedy movies.

 

Life is…‎  “A wonderful adventure.”

 

Family is…  “My support system and what gives me the strength to do what I do.”

 

I strongly believe in… “Making sense of the world and helping others bring context and value to their own careers and jobs.”

 

The most important thing I do on Sunday… “Go for a long walk with my wife.”

 

I deal with setbacks by… “Trying to get some sleep and get up the next day for a fresh perspective.”
 

Ankita Sharma is Deputy Editor at Human Capital.

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