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To attract and retain a diverse workforce, organizations need to develop a new career model that is relevant and personalized to individual workers and their needs. The key to this personalized employee experience is data. Just as consumer-focused businesses have created personalized experiences based on customer data, organizations must shift to data-driven talent management processes, creating career paths for individuals, not archetypes.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic brings new attention to the importance of agility and flexibility where the workforce is concerned. Forced to allow employees far greater latitude to work at home, employers from all industries face new challenges around hiring, supervision, data security, parental and sick leave, and myriad other issues. While COVID-19 is a worldwide tragedy, it may also serve as a sort of tipping point in the mainstreaming of employment diversity.

This new model isn’t just about attracting and retaining a diverse workforce; it’s about getting the very best out of the whole workforce. The traditional model encourages a rather stale approach to work – repetitive tasks result in repetitive cycles of work that seldom inspire innovation or ingenuity. By rethinking how we work, organizations can effect the more energetic attitude that’s necessary in the modern economy. (For more on this topic, see our white paper, “Mismatch: Adapting Old-World Career Models to the New-World Workforce.”)

The figure below illustrates the old-school career model that organizations must topple. What’s needed is a more conscientious approach to these five key aspects to enable an inclusive, data-driven career model that can help break entrenched behaviors and thought patterns. By following updates to this model, businesses will start to promote people based on their unique perspective and contribution and will enable people from different backgrounds to bring their authentic selves to work.

    Embedded flexibility

Instead of the age-old model of clocking in at 9 a.m. and clocking out at 5 p.m., a far more relevant approach to work is to understand that we all have lives outside the office, with commitments, responsibilities and setbacks that don’t obey the confines of an eight-hour workday. Most organizations today allow for case-by-case flexibility (an extended lunch for a doctor’s appointment, for example), but long-term embedded flexibility is still met with skepticism.

This isn’t just about working parents but anyone with needs outside the workplace that demand attention — those managing chronic illness or aging parents, for example. Ultimately, flexible working options need to be personalized to individuals and their needs. Here are three ways businesses can embed flexibility:

  • End the days of “can everyone go on mute?” Businesses should invest in infrastructure that makes remote work viable for everyone (a videoconferencing platform that doesn’t cause more trouble than it’s worth, for example). Some companies, such as software developer Articulate, offer a stipend for employees to set up a home working environment.
  • Advertise. Even though 63% of full-time employees have the option to work flexibly, fewer than 10% of jobs are advertised as “flexible.” Don’t miss out on attracting top talent by failing to broadcast something you already offer.
  • Build trust. Encourage open conversations about non-traditional work arrangements. Institute a campaign showing that remote workers are just as dedicated and hard-working. The more people see others trusting each other to work outside the office, the more likely the organization will build a culture of respect and empathy, which make up the foundation of an inclusive culture.
2    New ways to measure performance

It makes little sense anymore to measure productivity in hours, given that work is increasingly knowledge-based, always-on and variable. Yet many organizations remain wedded to this approach even as intelligent machines take on the rote, repetitive tasks that filled an eight-hour workday 100 years ago.

Likewise, collaboration is the cornerstone of knowledge work — the exchange of ideas leading to innovation and diverse networks sparking inventive ways to tackle challenges that keep organizations on the cutting edge. Collaboration has been notoriously difficult to measure, but that’s changing; see our report, “Talent Intelligence: Unlocking People Data to Redefine How Humans Need to Work.” New ways to measure performance include the following:

  • Invest in new measuring tools. Tools like organizational network analysis (ONA) systems can provide deep insight into how the workforce actually collaborates, instead of relying on the static (and often irrelevant) org chart.
  • Use data to drive diversity. Insights from ONA tools are being used to reveal differences among workforce populations, such as how male and female networks differ. Such insights can be used to identify potential promotion blockers or uncover generational biases. Data like this can help promote reverse mentoring programs or sponsorship relationships.
  • Be transparent. Clearly communicate with employees what data is being collected and why. Doing so will encourage data sharing, as it establishes a basis for ethics and privacy.
  Career growth in any direction

Rather than inhibiting career progression via a linear hierarchy, organizations should facilitate fluid movement across job roles. And rather than viewing careers within the silo of one job function or role, employers should think of them as a collection of roles that evolve over time. Businesses should encourage career changes, not view them as difficult, uncommon and risky moves.

Shifting to a new environment of fluid movement encourages “creative abrasion,” a concept that describes the productivity benefits of taking on new challenges and interacting with people from different backgrounds. By facilitating such movement, organizations can ensure that innovation is the cornerstone of their business.

Businesses can promote fluid career growth in the following ways:

  • Shift the mindset from “jobs” to “tasks.” We need to change the language of work. HR should focus on reinventing the nomenclature, breaking down job roles into tasks and skills. Workers could then pivot from task to task without being stuck in outdated notional confines of a job.
  • Encourage internal mobility. Fluid movement across tasks requires a much broader breakdown of the organizational structure, where internal mobility across projects, teams and departments is facilitated. Not only does this offer individuals the chance to find work that is more meaningful and better suited for them, but it also makes great business sense.
4    Matchmaking isn’t just for Tinder

Central to a fluid and inclusive career model is the democratization of opportunity. Instead of relying on human decision-making (and the bias it naturally entails) for promotion, organizations should focus on using data to align people with work that best suits their ambitions, goals and personal purpose. This more objective approach to progression creates a superior employee experience, making it easier for organizations to attract and retain diverse talent.

To take one example, Gloat offers personalized dashboards for each employee and surfaces relevant job opportunities based on the individual’s current skill set and aspirations. In a case study, Gloat says Unilever has rolled out the system to 30,000 employees in 90 countries. The company has seen a measurable increase in employees working in collaborative, empowered networks; higher employee development, engagement and satisfaction; and increased workforce capacity and productivity, with 30,000-plus hours unlocked each month.

Businesses can adopt a data-driven approach to matching workers with job roles by doing the following:

  • Invest in data-driven HR. Talent management needs the right measurement tools in place to understand the inventory of skills and job opportunities across the organization.
  • Provide transparency through communication. Make sure every employee has access to information regarding internal mobility opportunities. It’s no good having the process in place if no one knows to take advantage of it.
  • Make it stick. Working with business leaders, HR must inculcate a culture of fluidity and flexibility, ensuring that movement in any direction (not just vertical) is celebrated and rewarded.
5    Let purpose be the anchor of culture

“Purpose” means having something more than just dollar signs to drive business performance, worker productivity and employee engagement. It’s about providing employees with a deeper reason to wake up every morning, switch on their devices and get to work. According to a recent Korn Ferry study, companies with teams focused on their organization’s purpose realized annual growth rates nearly three times higher than competitors.

But even as modern workers seek alignment between their personal purpose and that of the organization, hiring biases based on “cultural fit” often lead to homogeneity. This further reinforces outdated, exclusive cultural norms. Without a defined purpose, the workforce will struggle to find the motivation needed to adopt more agile and productive approaches to work. Here are three steps for embedding purpose in the organization:

  • Define organizational purpose. Although 89% of executives in a Harvard Business Review study said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction, only 46% of businesses have one.
  • Reduce biased hiring practices. Clarify objective criteria for any open role against a defined organizational purpose, and rate all applicants using the same rubric.
  • Dedicate roles to driving a better culture. Companies like Roche Pharma India and Salesforce are employing a chief purpose officer and chief equality officer, which speaks to these companies’ commitment to an inclusive and purpose-driven culture.

As life expectancies continue to rise, people entering the workforce today may be looking at careers lasting 60 or even 70 years. Over that time, the workforce will grow even more diverse. These inexorable trends make it more important than ever that organizations overwrite the mismatch between old-world career models and the new-world workforce.

Data is at the heart of this new approach. Driven by data, consumer experiences today are highly tailored and personalized; employees’ day-to-day work and career experience need to catch up, and fast.

With a focus on creating career structures that are data-driven, fluid, less hierarchical, objective and personalized, businesses can supercharge efforts to promote diversity, inclusion and belonging at all levels of the organization.

To learn more, visit our Center for the Future of Work, read our white paper, or contact us.