Kasey Hickey

Head of Content at BetterUp

Posted in: Organizational Learning


Josh Bersin on the Importance of Talent Management in the Modern Workplace

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Josh Bersin: The Importance of Talent Management in the Modern Workplace

Josh Bersin, Founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, recently spoke at BetterUp Shift 2018, an event which brought together the most innovative leaders and thinkers in HR and people development to discuss how to infuse greater meaning into the employee experience. In this exclusive recap of his presentation, Bersin shares his insights on how the world of work is changing, as well as where HR will fit in.

You can access the recording for this session by registering for the Shift 2018 Digital Conference Experience.


In today’s world, we’re pummeled with statistics about how the workforce is changing. According to Oxford Economics, 47% of today’s jobs will be gone in 10 years. Not only that, but 41% of of the US workforce participates in the gig economy, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

There are many factors at play, as political, social, and economic forces work together to bring change in the labor market. But many worry about how technology, in particular, will change the workforce, replacing jobs with robots, machines, and algorithms.

The future of work actually has little to do with technology, AI, or algorithms. It’s all about people, organizations, and how we manage people within these organizations.  — Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin, Founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, which provides research and advisory services focused on corporate learning, sees things differently. “The future of work actually has little to do with technology, AI, or algorithms,” he said. “It’s all about people, organizations, and how we manage people within these organizations.”

Josh is no stranger to technology; he studied engineering at Stanford, has been fascinated by how technology relates to the labor market, and is one of the most prominent and well-versed figures in the world of talent development. “I am amazed at how quickly we are adapting to new technologies,” he said. “Today, 75-80% of CEOs say there will be massive amounts of technology in their organizations in the future.”

Businesses are adapting quickly, but where is HR?

Leaders know that technology is changing how work gets done, and that it offers potential solutions to many long-standing organizational challenges. Companies are quickly adapting their strategies to accommodate this revolution, and despite the frequent news stories about robots taking over jobs, the forecast is positive.

According to Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2017:

  • 41% of companies have fully implemented or have made significant progress in adopting cognitive, AI, and robotics.
  • 77% of these companies believe technology is creating “better jobs” and only 20% see job reductions.
  • 50% are retraining people to work side by side with machines.
  • 67% of employees believe they must continuously reskill themselves to stay in their career, and 58% believe they will have a new career within 5 years.

Despite the fact that companies are well aware of the changes brought by technology, and are rising to the occasion to redesign how work gets done, in 65% of companies, HR is not involved in the work redesign at all.

“All of the changes taking place are about people, not technology,” says Josh. “So how can HR get involved in the redesign?”

Talent is hard to find, but soft skills continue to matter

In-demand job skills are changing rapidly, and the jobs of today and tomorrow didn’t exist just a few years ago.

“Unemployment is at a twenty year low,” said Josh. While this is good for the workforce, it’s tough for companies. “It’s going to get harder to find talent before it gets easier. In the coming years, employee engagement, retention, sourcing, as well as brand, will be hot topics for HR projects.”

In-demand job skills are changing rapidly, and the jobs of today and tomorrow didn’t exist just a few years ago. “According to LinkedIn, ‘machine learning engineer’ is 9.8 times more in demand than the average engineer, but I don’t think that job title even existed two years ago,” said Josh. “Last year, or the year before that, ‘data scientist’ was in the top spot.”

Renaissance skills are the jobs of the future Click To Tweet

Bersin reminds us that, even though the top, hot job of the moment may be technical, there are are plenty of non-technical jobs that are growing in demand, too.

“Soft skills are just as in demand as hard skills. There will be an increased need for social, integrative, and hybrid skills. Empathy, communication, speaking, judgement… these renaissance skills are the jobs of the future,” said Josh. “Even the job of data scientist now requires persuasion, interpretation, not just looking at data.”

People can transition to new jobs quickly, if given the opportunity

Although many worry that technology will render some workers obsolete, this appears to be far from the case. Many of these workers can easily transition into new roles that leverage their skills, and these new roles are good for the workers, too. In fact, 96% of all transitions have “good-fit” options and 65% of transitions will increase wages.

What does this look like in practice? In the new world of work…

  • …an office clerk can be trained to be a customer service representative.
  • …An executive secretary can be trained to become a paralegal or training specialist.
  • ….An assembly line worker can be trained to become a construction laborer.

For example, AT&T has a system that allows workers to assess their skills. “The system tells employees which skills are appreciating in value within AT&T, and which skills are depreciating,” explained Josh. “Based on the jobs and perspective that AT&T is building, it gives every employee at AT&T an opportunity to decide what they want to learn, and the company provides them with learning opportunities to help them on their way.”

Organizations should want to help people move through these transitions, and should figure out ways to offer support.

According to Josh, organizations should want to help people move through these transitions, and should figure out ways to offer support. At BetterUp, we get really excited to support these transitions, as we can offer support to both companies and employees.

The new role of HR in talent management

Employees are working more hours than ever before, and they’re not taking as much vacation as they did in the past. Even so, productivity is not increasing.  “All the economists are studying this and trying to figure out why this is — some say it’s infrastructure, some say it’s debt, some say it’s lack of investment in capital, but I think that the work environment has not been re-engineered yet,” said Josh.

He believes that workplaces have not caught up with the technology that’s flooding our world. Because of this, workers are facing burnout.

Why do we talk so much about workplace well-being, meaning and purpose, and getting into flow? It’s because we’re fried out. It’s nobody’s fault, but when new technology comes into the workplace, it takes about a decade for it to be fully absorbed. Some say it takes two decades.

There’s research that shows that when a technology enters the workforce, management doesn’t know how to use it or leverage it, and they respond by applying that technology to the same work as before, but faster. This doesn’t actually make people more productive.

For example, when electricity first hit manufacturing, nobody thought about redesigning factories around the new technology. All anyone thought about was how they could run their machines faster, believing that this would increase their output. The result was actually broken machines, and people were not actually more productive.

Ultimately, we’re in a similar stage now with digital. We haven’t completely reorganized or figured out how to reorganize our companies to integrate, accommodate, and really get the benefits from mobile.”

Josh has conducted a lot of research, and one of the trends he’s seen is the growth of well-being programs in organizations. These programs address mental, physical, and financial well-being. According to Josh, organizations are focusing on these areas because employees are saying that the work environment is difficult for them, and that they need it.

5 potential solutions for the modern workplace

1. Networks of teams

A couple of years ago, Josh sifted through survey data and saw that the number one trend was that people wanted to redesign their organizations. “We weren’t expecting anything close to that,” said Josh. “But many companies said they weren’t organized well enough to adapt to new technologies.”

Hierarchy is getting in the way Click To Tweet

“Everything is designed around a hierarchy, but we actually get work done in teams,” said Josh. “The most exciting and engaging teams are those that are part of a mission-driven, multi-functional team that is solving something that is easily understood.”

Companies are recognizing that the hierarchy is getting in the way, and are reorganizing their firms around teams. When you operate in teams, you reward people for connections, for being transparent, for creating fellowship.

2. Focus on culture, citizenship, and employee experience

Culture is a business strategy. “Companies with mission-driven strategies, rather than financial ones, actually outperform others eight fold over time,” said Josh. “In the short term, you can do a lot of bad things and get away with it, but in the long term, you’ll get hurt.”

According to the World Happiness Report, in the past 10 years, happiness in the U.S. has gone up by half a percent, while in the Nordic countries, it’s gone up by 11%. The U.S. is making 10-11% more money, but in social connections between our family, friends, and neighbors, we’ve dropped by 11-12%. When it comes to trust in institutions, we’ve dropped by 47%.

“This says something about the society we live in, but it also says something about companies,” said Josh. “We come to work for the people, the connections, and the social time. Thinking about the role of connections and role of social capital in your company is part of the goal.”

Feedback is also crucial. We need to create enterprise feedback architecture so that we can learn what employees want and need. They know. We need to give them the opportunity to share.

3. Learning and personal reinvention

Most HR teams want to spend their money on learning and development programs.

The ability to learn new things, as well as move within an organization, is a way to increase retention, and improve overall culture. “The learning and development industry is really having a renaissance,” said Josh. “It’s the fastest growing area of HR technology.”

We’ve been through a lot of change in the past ten years. We have YouTube and video on our phone. We take all these things for granted, but they didn’t exist ten years ago. It takes a long time for people to build and deploy learning solutions.

Most HR teams want to spend their money on learning and development programs. You can now provide micro-learning experiences that fit into the flow of work, and you can also provide macro-experiences, which help employees learn something completely new. These micro experiences will complement macro experiences.

4. Redefining “career”

As people are living longer, many older workers will increasingly not want to retire, and companies will be incentivized to retrain and reorganize people at senior levels of their careers.

“People want to live, work, and learn all of the time, as opposed to going to school, going to work, and then spending their retirement in leisure,” said Josh. “People at 50 and 60 want to reinvent their careers within their companies.”

Companies are now trying to figure out how to build career portals, incentivize people to hire internally, and get over generational bias. This isn’t so easy, and there are lots of things in the way, but we can work towards it and make things better. This is an area ripe for innovation.

5. Design thinking in jobs and work

We’ve thought of jobs in the same way for a long time. Jobs have titles – and we work to fill them accordingly. Once someone is in a job, we work to make sure they can do their job well. But we should be reorganizing and reinventing jobs and work with design thinking.

Most organizations focus on redesigning the customer experience. We want to give them an app, and make sure we’re meeting them where they are. The same thing is going on with employees. We want to make their experience just as personalized as it is for our customers.

That may mean thinking differently about how we label and talk about the jobs that need to be done within an organization. It may mean implementing new technologies to accommodate what the workforce is used to.

Adapting your approach

The world of work is changing, but this change isn’t something we should fear. Instead, we can take a hint from Josh Bersin, who’s immersed himself in the research around the future of work.

According to Josh, it’s time to think of our organizations in terms of teams, focus on improving culture and engagement, give opportunities for our employees to learn, and redefine “career” within our organizations. If we do, our organizations will be set to stand the test of time.

Want to learn more about Josh Bersin and his approach to the new world of work? You can find more of Josh’s insights at at the Bersin by Deloitte website, Bersin’s LinkedIn Influencer site, and on Forbes.com.

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