Rise of Super Apps

Most of us could not live without our smartphones.  It helps us stay connected, find directions, remember the lengthy lists of duties and responsibilities, and entertain ourselves throughout our day. About half of the world has made the transition and more will surely follow.  According to the Mary Meeker internet trends report, 51 percent of the world or 3.8 billion people are using the internet in 2018.

For most of us, we use single apps when on our smartphone.  We select one at a time to address whatever need we might have or amusement we desire.  Over the last 20 years, the prevailing model has been to develop single purpose apps that focus on one issue and make it is easy and intuitive as possible.  This design characteristic not only made the apps small and easy to use, but also made them scalable to larger markets over time.

A counter-trend arising in China and other developing regions is the super app.  Mike Lazaridis, the founder of Blackberry, described a super app as “…representing a new class of mobile applications that make you wonder how you ever lived without them.” More specifically, it is a closed ecosystem of “many apps” that people would use everyday “…because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience.”  So, the super app combines the major functionality that one might use on a regular basis, such as logistics, local delivery, commerce, payments, and social interaction and concentrates those functions into a single application. For advertisers, it keeps users within the same app longer and for users it brings their major needs together in a streamlined, integrated, and easy-to-use package.

As human resource professionals, what can we learn from super apps?

One of the most important lessons pertains to the need for multiple skills within the same package.  While there are still some occupations that the most important worker parallels the single app by having one key strength the organization relies upon regardless of the presence or absence other capabilities, most workplaces demand employees align more with super apps by meeting a number of workplace needs.  For example, a recent ARG survey of 250 talent executives inquired to which skills are needed at your organization regardless of the level and role of employee (see Figure 1).  Willing to learn new knowledge, skills, and abilities received the most support with almost 80 percent of executives indicating that this was the number one area of need. Communication scored a close second place with 72 percent of talent executives expressing concerns over internal communication skills. It is interesting to note that technical or job-specific knowledge fell in the middle at around 55 percent and leadership potential appeared in the bottom third.   

Figure 1: Skills in Demand by Talent Executives
Figure 1: Skills in Demand

Another strong similarity pertains to importance of hard and soft skills.  Just as most jobs have multiple skill-based needs, a strong contributor will possess both, hard and soft skills. While hard skills were thought to be more important than soft skills in the past, thinking has transformed.  In most workplaces, hard and soft skills are equally important.  However, both are not in equal supply.  A 2016 LinkedIn survey of 291 hiring managers in the U.S. revealed that 59 percent believe that soft skills are difficult to find.

Finally, with the complexity of the modern workplace and challenges in the labor market, job expectations are only going to be more diverse and complex in the future.  As more automation and robotics can be used to address workplace needs, employees will have to offer broader capabilities. In some ways, possessing the skills necessary to be able to address complex and changing needs will give human employees an advantage over their machine competitors.

The Perfect Album, Employee, and Other Anomalies


Figure 1: Percent of Hires with Desired Skills
Figure 1: Percent of Hires with Desired Skills

For those of us that love music, a favorite album distinguishes itself by the number of loved songs beyond the one or two songs that become radio or video singles. If you think back, which albums did you play repeatedly in their entirety? Which albums define certain phases of your life? Think about those albums that you knew the next song before it played.

The albums that we consider truly exceptional stay with us since they provide a rare level of completeness, even perfection. Growing up, I remember that I would assume that an album contained songs just like the one or two that I heard and loved from the radio. After saving money for the purchase, my logic would be that if a band that could produce such an incredible single, it must possess many more just waiting on the album. Only after purchasing the album, I would realize that many times the good songs cohabitated with “filler” songs. On those rare occasions that that album proved me wrong, I was delighted.

When we hire, we face a dilemma similar to buying an album when all we have heard is a single or two. Candidates come to interviews with their best “singles” ready to go and make their “song” as close to our tastes as possible. As a result, we tend to “get our hopes up” regarding the candidate and all of their “songs” and assume that the candidate offers the complete package. Later, after the person joins our team, we realize that the “album” mixes great songs with some less desirable.

As an example, a 2014 survey by HCS found that among 400 responding organizations in a variety of industries only two and a half percent of hired candidates possessed all of the skills and traits desired by the employer (see Figure 1). In other words, not every song was a hit. Moreover, although all respondents utilized a formal hiring process, five percent indicated that the hired candidate possessed none of the desired traits and skills. The most frequent result falls at around 60 percent of the desired characteristics with 30 and 40 percent being close seconds. Assuming that the average organization in 2014 brought in candidates with between 30 and 60 percent of skills and traits desired, what does this mean for us as human resource professionals?


  • The economic downturn did not flood the market with highly qualified people to the extent one might suppose.
  • Temporary to permanent or flexible hiring methods should rise as well as other non-traditional employment arrangements.
  • Investment in training and development should grow as new resources enter an organization.
  • As the market improves, our talent management strategy will become a larger factor in strategic differentiation.