How Deloitte and Nationwide built skills-based strategies

Deloitte’s Workforce Development Practice Lead and Nationwide’s Strategic Workforce Planning Specialist share their insights on implementing workforce agility.

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By Austen Gregerson, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

June 7, 2022

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One year into the Great Resignation, businesses are coming to the same conclusion they did at the onset of the pandemic: Agility, adaptability, and understanding of market dynamics are what separates organizations that thrive from those at the mercy of whatever challenge is coming next. They shifted out of necessity, but turning that shift into a new blueprint for work requires thoughtful reflection. 

Michael Griffiths, Workforce Development Practice Lead at Deloitte, framed it during Gloat Learn’s conversation on Creating the blueprint for a skills-based organization as the following:

“There is something somewhat broken that the pandemic and war for talent has shown, in that the speed and agility of HR isn’t there.” 

Agile companies saw their employees respond to unprecedented challenges. Teamwork and communication became paramount, and the importance of skills shone through. 

TATA Steel, Unilever, and Seagate all found success through breaking down department silos, meeting unprecedented challenges through innovative teamwork strategies. Despite occupying vastly different industries with diverse and specialized workforces, each company took disruptions as a chance to rearchitect how they aligned talent with evolving business needs.

But while structures evolved, rebuilding jobs from the ground up isn’t happening at the same rate. And this, in part, has to do with stakeholder support. Leaders must fully buy into the change to create a new blueprint for a skills-based organization. 

As Michael Griffiths, Workforce Development Practice Lead at Deloitte, and Nationwide’s Strategic Workforce Planning Specialist Mark Jackson shared, sometimes the hardest step is the first one: knowing where to start.

What is a skills-based organization?

A skills-based organization prioritizes the skills and abilities of its employees over the strict hierarchies that traditionally determined work structures. Instead of organizing work through job descriptions, companies are beginning to see the vital importance of workforce agility. Rather than being trapped into strict job roles, jobs are broken down into tasks, gigs, and projects to fuel more dynamic ways of working.

The greatest fear from leaders when transitioning to this model is usually a lack of control. Part of that fear is misplaced: managers sharing their employees allows for greater access to talent throughout the organization. Instead of having just the roles in your department to choose from, managers can now create task teams that fit the specific needs of the project at hand.

The risk is not in workforce agility itself but in uncontrolled systems. Creating a blueprint to guide this restructuring of work allows for a greater understanding of the systems for everyone involved, from leadership through the workforce.

One of the more increasingly common terms used to describe a skills-based organization is a “pixelization” of the workforce. Just as a digital image is made up of individual pictures, most traditional work can be broken up into smaller parts—tasks, projects, and gigs that make up the larger whole of the business objective.

There is something somewhat broken that the pandemic and war for talent has shown, in that the speed and agility of HR isn’t there.

Michael Griffiths, Workforce Development Practice Lead, Deloitte

Designing a skills-based organization to unlock access to passion

The benefits of restructuring may seem practical on the surface: more flexibility, more adaptability, and greater access to talent throughout the company. But more than that, companies instituting a skills-based workforce strategy are seeing the positive mental and emotional impact it has on their people.

At Deloitte, the shift to a skills-based strategy paved the way for an uptick in employee engagement levels:

“You don’t want to be known as just a piece of paper,” Griffiths said. “You want no bias to affect your potential.”

By implementing a talent marketplace, Nationwide’s employee engagement dramatically increased. Enabling your people to let their actual skills—and not just their job titles—define them creates engagement and ownership in the work they do. It’s a simple concept: Being seen for who you are is more fulfilling than being seen as a role filled. 

The four foundational elements of skills planning

To get started on creating a skills-based organization, Michael Griffiths points out four key elements:

Update your talent philosophy

From talent acquisition and retention to the foundational design of your organization, rethinking the way your company factors talent agility into business objectives is key. To get the most out of a skills-based workforce, the mindset shift must be made across the board.

Refine your skills ontology

An updated skills ontology makes the connections between skills and tasks clearer through a common language of skills that reflects industry needs. Understanding the context between relevant skills allows for organizations to swiftly move talent where it’s needed within the organization.

Clarify your skills taxonomy

Understanding your workforce’s skills requires knowing what to call those skills. Taxonomies list relevant skills found within an organization or industry used to classify or describe skills across the organization. This is a key step in enabling work pixelization (or “composability”), as having a standardized language allows you to know what skills are relevant for specific projects.

Implement governance and change

Often the most difficult part of making this change is ensuring that leadership and managers are fully bought into the process. As leaders are empowered to make decisions to improve skills frameworks, they are actively participating in a composable workforce and setting the proper standard for employees throughout the company.

Set the foundation for a skills-based future

Building a blueprint for a skills-based organization takes one thing above all else: time. The transition is a foundational shift in the way companies envision their talent strategies in nearly all facets, from internal promotions to external hiring and third-party contractors. And to make it successful, we must accept that the old ways of work most often won’t apply in the future. 

To see how Nationwide and Deloitte built the framework of a skills-based organization, watch the full session here.

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