Workforce Readiness: The Learning Metric that Leads to Real ROI (i4cp login required)

If it wasn’t obvious before, the COVID-19 pandemic
has reinforced the importance of organizational agility. 

Indeed, the ability to anticipate, adapt, and act on change
is no longer a nice-to-have. And as the Institute of Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp)
research has consistently revealed, an essential component of agility is
establishing and fostering a culture of continuous learning.  

This need for ongoing learning will continue to
accelerate. Consider these two findings revealed in the latest World Economic
Forum Future
of Jobs Report
  (published in October 2020). The report asserts that
by the year 2025:  

  • 44% of skills that employees will need to
    perform their roles effectively will change.
  • Companies hope to internally redeploy nearly 50%
    of workers displaced by technological automation/augmentation.

These findings further validate the workforce upskilling,
reskilling, and/or new-skilling efforts i4cp sees among so many of the high-performance
organizations with which we work. The need is real, accelerating, and requisite
for organizational sustainability and worker relevance.

Take, for example, i4cp member Accenture. With
nearly 500,000 employees globally, the firm is at the leading edge of ensuring
its global workforce is ready—in both skillset and mindset—to enable the
agility that will allow the firm to deliver on the ever-evolving needs of its

As shared during a recent meeting of the i4cp Chief Learning
and Talent Officer Board (an exclusive working group of senior-most organizational
learning and talent officers), every team member at Accenture is expected to
have a personal priority around skilling. In essence, this describes what each
person will be able to do in six months that they cannot do (or do so well) now.

To be promoted and to progress at Accenture, employees must
show progression and alignment with those skills. And people managers are now
expected to promote individuals who are aligned with those skills. The firm has developed a platform that
leverages artificial intelligence and other advanced automation to analyze Accenture’s
massive skills data and make recommendations to employees about skills they might
develop to take on more (and different) work that will be most relevant going

Time to move from efficiency to readiness

While the need for continuous learning cannot be more clear and
compelling, the traditional mindset related to measurement of learning and development
simply gets in the way. Want proof?
Answer these questions:

  • How much does your firm spend on training
    programs in a typical year?
  • What percentage of your workforce has completed a
    specific training program (e.g., compliance, ethics, bias)?
  • How many hours of training do your employees
    complete in a typical year?
  • It’s likely that your company tracks—or even discloses—this traditional
    learning data. Yet this merely reflects learning efficiency and does not
    suggest even a modicum of business value.
  • Now, ask yourself these questions:
  • What is your organization’s talent risk? In essence, what’s the gap between current
    technical and professional capacity and the capacity it will require in the
    next one-to-three years?
  • How will the jobs at your firm today be
    augmented or perhaps replaced by automation in the next three-to-five years?
  • What’s the specific inventory of skills,
    capabilities (including languages spoken, backgrounds, subject matter expertise),
    and relevant experiences among your entire workforce?

Those are a few of the questions that must be asked and

It’s time organizations redirect the resources they apply to
track learning activity, and instead focus on tracking and enabling workforce
readiness—the real driver toward sustainable organization success.

Just how agile and adaptable is an organization without the
knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to power—let alone keep pace with—an
ever-evolving business environment? Workforce readiness is critical and should
be viewed and managed as a key organizational success criterion.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), like Accenture, provides another
excellent example of leading-edge upskilling/reskilling/new skilling. Several
years ago, the firm saw the changes that digital technologies were bringing to
both business and individuals. While talent upskilling was already proceeding
in an organic way, company leaders understood that this approach alone would
not be enough to sustain desired business growth.

Accordingly, TCS
shifted focus to upskill the entire workforce, concentrating on its 300,000
technology consultants, with a goal that, on average, each would possess at
least six digital skills (such as cloud,
DevOps, visual analytics, AI, and machine learning skills).  

To measure the upskilling effort,
the TCS team developed a robust competency framework that included a large body
of knowledge as well as a taxonomy that defined each specific skill, with
proficiency levels from E0 (awareness) to E4 (a leading expert). Learning
accomplished both inside (including on-the-job) and outside the company was

TCS believes that the digital era needs neither
generalists nor specialists exclusively. The company develops its employees to
be well-versed in a broad range of digital technologies, with specific expertise
in one (or more) disciplines. TCS visualizes this approach in a T-shaped chart,
where general knowledge topics are outlined horizontally across the top of the
T and area(s) of deep expertise are represented by a longer vertical line. To confirm
whether an individual’s skillset has a true T shape, TCS developed a T-Factor
scale to gauge skills profiles. Click here to read the i4cp case study. 

Looking ahead, the importance of tracking workforce
readiness is undeniable

The ability to track and actively manage workforce readiness
for the future is powerful. It will also
be greatly appreciated by those whose job it is to lead and govern organizations.  

When i4cp queried chief executives and public company board
members about the workforce-related insights they’d find most valuable for
positioning their organizations in the next three-to-five years, their
responses were resounding. Overwhelmingly, they wanted more (and better)
insights into their firms’ risks and readiness, with particular emphasis on the
health of organizational culture. Leaders also wanted to monitor whether their organizations
had—or were positioned to have—the capabilities required to effectively execute
and compete in the future.  

Those business leaders recognize that talent risk equates to
business risk. Or put another way, talent advantage equals business advantage. This
exact sentiment is what has led so many influential stakeholder groups—including
the United States Securities and Exchange Commission—to require disclosure
of human capital metrics that are material to the business.

How ready is your firm to lead with workforce
readiness? Consider these actions:

  1. Walk
    before you run. At a minimum, align with the human capital metrics identified
    by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), which suggest
    tracking total development and training costs.
  2. Identify
    your organization’s talent risk—the gap between the current technical and
    professional capacity of your workforce and where it needs to be in
    one-to-three years. This article on How Cisco
    Uses a Data-Driven Approach to Strategic Workforce Planning
    offers a
    great corporate example.
  3. Prioritize new-skilling, reskilling, and/or
    upskilling efforts. Leading organizations (including Accenture and Tata
    Consulting Services) have made this a central component of their future of work
    and/or evolving business strategies.
    Want an important side benefit? i4cp research on workforce well-being
    clearly shows the strong connection between career health (i.e., one’s
    happiness with job advancement and/or development opportunities) and the level
    of workforce well-being.
  4. If it’s not already underway, start the dialogue
    with your executive leadership and board about the metrics and indicators (and
    related methodology) which denote workforce readiness. Also,
    make sure those leaders are not only proponents of continuous learning, but are
    regular participants in development opportunities.
  5. Heed the advice of these
    two leaders:
    1. Ellyn Shook, CHRO
      at Accenture, told i4cp: It’s not just about training people, it’s about training
      leaders and really making sure that you can immerse them in understanding what
      the real opportunities around these technologies are. HR people can really take
      the lead and do that.
    2. Janardhan Santhanam, head of digital talent development at TCS, told i4cp: Think scale and
      think two steps ahead. Technology is overtaking us faster than we can change
      ourselves. Leverage the rapidly growing ecosystem and focus on change
      management, otherwise you will be left far behind.

If you or
your team are spending energy and budget tracking simple learning activity, i4cp
suggests redirecting to measure workforce readiness. It will narrow your
attention to efforts that matter more in creating greater talent and business
advantage for the organization. Just as Dr. Patti Phillips, chair of i4cp’s
People Analytics Board and CEO of the ROI Institute, once told me: “Workforce
readiness leads to the ultimate ROI in learning; ongoing organizational growth
and sustainability.”


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