Three lessons from ProcureCon HR

Speakers shared their expertise on strategic workforce planning, upskilling managers and cross-functional collaboration for L&D

HR magazine attended ProcureCon HR in Amsterdam as media partner of the two-day conference. Here’s some of the key lessons we learnt from HR and HR procurement professionals:

Focus on your critical and core talent

“In the simplest terms, the reason you do strategic workforce planning is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the business,” said Ali Gilani, talent and resourcing director, marine and technology at Babcock International Group.

This means strategic workforce management is the responsibility of everyone in the business, particularly the C-suite because “the C-suite only has one job: to maintain the long-term sustainability of the business”, he explained. “HR is the custodian of the process but it’s a business activity.”

Gilani explained how Babcock was facing a shortfall in engineering talent and so needed a new approach.

“We can’t do what we’ve always done,” he said. “The problem is HR’s approach has always been to recruit in the good times and fire in the bad times. Hiring and firing is the worst way to manage your business,” he said, adding that there are “other tools than the hammer”.

Instead, Gilani suggested HR focuses on the skillsets needed to deliver on the strategy and then take a snapshot of the skills in the current workforce to identify any gaps that need filling.

All roles and skills can be classed under three areas of critical, core and on a learning curve, Gilani continued.

“Critical is any skill that would bring the organisation to a standstill in the next few months if not in the business,” he said, adding for example that “in HR the only critical role is payroll”.

Next is core, he continued, which is “any role that you cannot or are not prepared to outsource”. The learning curve is “how long will it take to get someone to be proficient” on the skills, and is broken into low, medium and high, with low meaning it takes little time for someone new to learn these skills.

“HR should look after the critical or core roles that have a high learning curve,” he said, noting that individuals who are low on the learning curve you “can pick up anywhere”. When building a workforce plan organisations should focus first on the critical and core roles rather than the whole workforce at once, he advised.

However, Gilani conceded that one of the biggest challenges is that, not only do different functions not talk to each other, but sometimes different parts of HR don’t talk to each other. “Strategic workforce planning is like a music sheet for an orchestra – the conductor doesn’t ask each instrument what they want to play. There’s a music sheet that tells you what to play when,” he explained.

“You also don’t all play at the same time… that solves the issue of how [different teams] talk to each other. They don’t talk to each other, they deliver on the plan.”

Organisations must up skill managers to engage their people

“If we don’t upskill we will be obsolete in this market in two years. That’s the reality,” said Capgemini chief talent officer Stephan Paolini.

With 210,000 people in 40 countries, Capgemini is a “people business” so “no people means no business”, Paolini explained. Because the firm's only asset is its people and because it faces huge technological change, it’s important to maintain a human side, he added.

“The risk of technology as a main driver is that it can be very cold so we’re trying to make sure we put the human touch and a human side in all we do,” he said, adding that “tech comes from and through people”.

Paolini emphasised that this shows HR’s crucial role in business success: “HR should become a true – not partner – but co-creator of the business.”

Employees stay at Capgemini for three years on average, he explained, pointing out that the balance of power is shifting to the workers and that to keep talent the business must engage them.

“An engaged workforce is about experience,” he said, adding that there’s a need to “renew employee engagement to sustain performance”.

However, to engage the workforce there are a number of leadership challenges that need addressing. “Managers are people who were good at what they were doing so they were told ‘now you become a manager’,” said Paolini, pointing out that many managers neither want to become managers or have the skills or training for the role.

“So managers are ill-equipped, not always happy to take the job, and are focusing on landing performance. When today [managing] is really about engaging people.”

Paolini went on to outline how HR is equipping managers with the 'three Ps' of management so they can better engage their workforce: proximity (how to create proximity to their people so they are approachable and connect with them), performance (contributing and improving their own performance capacities), and perspective (showing that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere but that there are opportunities in the group).

We need to move away from the “solo hero” manager who was “someone who was best in class, competitive and a challenger” towards Agile leaders, he said: “The reality is we want leaders who can be educators, pushers and developers – that’s a new era."

However, it is unlikely that managers will be able to engage their contingent workforce in the same way that they engage in-house talent, mused Paolini. “How can you incentivise them in the same manner when there is no career plan for them?” he asked.

L&D should be more Agile

“L&D as an industry is going through a lot of change right now,” said Laura Cochran, global head of learning services at Pearson. “Gone are the days where you can design a programme over one year and then roll it out over the next three years.

“We need to move to Agile L&D and be able to change as the business changes.”

Cochran and Pearson’s global head of HR procurement Lisa Egan shared how cross-functional collaboration between L&D and procurement has been key to delivering learning programmes that equip the organisation’s workforce with the skills it needs as the business undergoes digital transformation.

They recommended some key steps to making this collaboration a success: early partnership, providing insight to stakeholders, being trusted partners, being flexible in the approach, bringing connection to the wider business, and being credible.

“Make sure you talk the [right] language,” said Egan. “Prove the concept and spend the time and then you’ll be able to go do the fun stuff.”

“We knew we had to be very open on the design and delivery on it,” added Cochran, advising that both partners must be “open and transparent”.

Working in this way meant both sides learnt a lot from each other, they agreed.

Egan explained that, with Pearson's a learning company, its employees are experts in L&D, making them a tough crowd to please. “The disadvantage of being a learning company is the information overload, but it’s a nice problem to have,” she said. “People have a critical eye on what you put in place… so L&D programmes need to be credible.”

Part of being credible involved designing a leadership development programme that would work for different people, she added: “Someone in a developing country won’t have the same challenges as those in a more developed country… it’s not a one and done.”

Measuring the success of L&D is also important, with Pearson inviting feedback along the way. Cochran pointed to promising results, with 50% of the leadership development cohort reporting that they'd applied this knowledge back into their jobs.