To quote Josh Bersin at Deloitte, “some of the biggest challenges organisations face today, such as driving innovation, expanding globally, and attracting and retaining employees with critical skills, are not just talent management challenges—they are also diversity and inclusion challenges”.
Environmental factors (such as the ageing workforce, the introduction of new generations of workers and the increased international mobility of talent) have had a profound effect on the composition and profile of an organisational workforce. However, many companies are still not doing enough to reap the business and commercial benefits attributable to embracing diversity & inclusion (D&I).
We know this because many HR approaches to talent management are still operating on outmoded career assumptions and models, which must be modernised to enhance workforce potential. It stands to reason that if you always recruit in the same mould you will add little new thinking to the organisation and run the risk of operating a static business which does not adapt to market and societal change. If you take a one-size fits all approach to managing the people you have you will satisfy some of your staff but risk alienating others.
However, there does seem to be a revolution in the wind (ok – maybe it’s a more an evolution that’s picking up a little pace…).
Gone (or perhaps… going) are the days when organisations established ‘equality strategies’ because it was ‘the right thing to do’. We are now entering a new era where the smart organisations are embracing the wider remit of D&I because their business performs better as a result. This is real progress. There is now increasing evidence to suggest that the ‘early majority’ are starting to tackle some of the biggest business challenges by finding, attracting, engaging and deploying, and empowering (leveraging) individuals with diverse and deep skill sets and backgrounds, therefore enabling them to contribute and collaborate effectively.
Leveraging business benefits from a diverse workforce is a complex goal to realise in practice. ‘Leveraging’ implies the need for a degree of influence (or some might say ‘control’) in a way that engages and binds individuals – not just to the organisation, but also to its cultures, values and ethos.
Despite many attempts to achieve this, we are continually bombarded with alarming statistics concerning the lack of employee engagement in even the most powerful and respected organisations. Many employees in organisations around the world are not actively engaged at work. Furthermore workers today are increasingly demanding something more as well as something different from their employers. We are now dealing with five different generations in the workplace – working together and working through their different perspectives about what work means to them and what they expect from their employer.
If that isn’t enough for HR to contend with, we now have the rise of the portfolio career worker or the ‘career consumer’. This breed of talent sees itself in a position of power and choice as a consequence of an increase in demand for certain skills in short supply allied to changing preferences about the way ‘talent’ thinks about careers.
In comparison to the older generation of workers, Generation Y and Generation Z have grown up in a completely different social and economic environment. Many agree that Generation Y employees rate achieving a work-life balance and being fulfilled and happy in their work as more important drivers than traditional desires such as leading a team and experiencing lots of different jobs and sectors (which their managers often assume are the factors that motivated them). This disconnect must be addressed to ensure improved levels of employee engagement and thus retention.
Unfortunately, some organisations are failing to review their workforce career pathways and reward systems in line with this new look workforce. As a consequence, they are not actively preparing the leaders of tomorrow. In this new world order, outdated and standardised approaches to HR will simply drive top talent away. A personalised approach to suit individual needs, irrelevant of age, gender, nationality or culture, is the only way forward.
Businesses need to encourage engagement across the complete employee life cycle – and its here that robust and effective approaches to D&I have a central and crucial role to play. For example, an established, personalised programme for each employee to flex their working practices according to the elements that make up their own personal and psychological contract is becoming increasingly important.
Nowadays many people talk about the importance of ‘holistic career development’ and of establishing ‘pathways of development’ that allow a person to enter and progress in a structured way through the organisation. This means offering careers rather than jobs and having the capacity and foresight to develop and move individuals in line with the business changes.
The big question to ask is – are we, HR professionals, up to the challenge? It is clear that if we fail to take heed of Josh Bersin’s advice that we should place diversity and inclusion at the centre of our policies and strategies we are likely to fail in our ambitions. And we haven’t even mentioned the role of technology and big data in supporting collaborative, flexible working practices or personalising talent management – maybe that’s for next time…