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 Marriage of Technology and Learning

elearningAs human resource and development experts, we recognize the value of technology in meeting our workforce needs. As a tool, it enhances the flexibility, interactivity, customization, and accessibility to key information and content. It grants us data necessary to assess our success and enhance our value proposition. Moreover, technology grants us the ability to move from being a transactional to a strategic resource by allowing us to redeploy our expertise and resources.
Without a doubt, organizational learning programs continue to gain in efficiency and effectiveness as traditional processes evolve into more automated ones. Not only has learning technology enabled us to reach employees in a more convenient and cost effective manner, but also technology permits us to customize content to meet the needs of individual learners. In our current environment of increasing competition, successful organizations must possess the ability to deploy critical knowledge to employees on a short time frame in different sites and on different schedules while managing costs.

Recent research indicates that e-learning will shortly surpass instructor-led training as the most often utilized method of employee education (Chief Learning Officer, Learning Technology Report 2014). While most organizations still offer instructor-led training, the majority continue to grow their e-learning offerings each year. In addition, among the more than 75 percent of organizations that currently utilize e-learning tools, almost a third of organizations plan to invest in new learning systems in the coming year (docebo.com).

Clearly, the marriage of technology and learning continues to flourish.

For those of us involved in insuring the success of learners, what do we need to know about the trends in technology-enabled learning?

Cost Savings: Cost savings remain the primary business driver for change from instructor-based to e-learning. Estimates place delivering the content (instructor time, travel, materials) at 85 percent of every dollar spent on classroom training. Average cost savings by transition to e-learning ranges between 50 and 70 percent (IBM). Similarly, HCS estimates that e-learning reduces instruction time by as much as 60 percent, thus reducing the participant opportunity cost. E-learning provide courses in shorter sessions and across different days reducing the need for an employee to miss an entire day or work and remain in the office.

Impact on Productivity: IBM estimates that organizations that utilize e-learning tools and strategies have the potential to boost productivity by up to 50%. In other words, for every dollar that a company spends on e-learning, productivity increases by up to $30.

Competitive Advantage: According to 2011 Towards Maturity Benchmark Survey, 72 percent of the 600 companies surveyed indicated that e-learning and mobile learning helped their business adapt more quickly to change and be more competitive. Another way that e-learning helps improve the competitive advantage of an organization is by retaining its key team members. According to the National Research Business Institute, 23 percent of employees leave for lack of development opportunities and training. In those organizations adopting an e-learning approach, satisfaction with access to training goes up by more than 25 percent (HCS, 2013).

Convergence of Access and Mobility: Mobile learning offerings appear in the arsenals of more than 25 percent of organizations (Learning Technology Report, 2014). This trend coincides with the reduction of desktop-based computing and more mobility. According to IDC, the number of PCs will fall from 28.7 percent of the device market in 2013 to 13 percent in 2017. Tablets will increase from 11.8 percent in 2013 to 16.5 percent by 2017, and smartphones will increase from 59.5 percent to 70.5 percent. The next step in the migration of delivery will be to individual devices.

Talent Building: How is Your House?

Talent2We all recognize that talent matters.  The difference between a great organization and one that just gets by comes down to the quality of the people.  Almost every week, I interact with an organization that discusses their recognition of the importance of talent, but laments their failure of execution.  The typical complaints relate to three core concerns: the inability to hire highly effective workers, build on the strengths of their current employees, or retain star workers once they become disengaged.  In looking back over the course of my own career, it is easy to recognize a few stars that left would be sufficient to create a world-class team.

In the simplest sense, talent building involves assembling the right people, developing those people, and keeping those people.  As an analogy, if we think of building a talent “house,” we need to assemble the right materials, build a solid and functional structure, and maintain our house.  A less than ideal “house” can result from a failure in any of the three areas.

If we want to assess our talent building efforts, what do we need to know?

Analyze the internal and external talent pool

An organization needs to know the capabilities and performance levels of its staff as well as the distribution present in the relative labor market place.  Every organization should be able to place the quality of their staff compared to the market.  In addition, predicted potential of each team member should be determined.  For succession planning as well as performance management, an organization needs to know who is “in the pipeline” from a growth standpoint.

Assess gaps between available and needed

Based on an organization’s business goals and performance level, the talent needed for the desired level of attainment should be compared to current labor pool.  The gaps between desired and actual account for where you need to invest, improve, and develop.  Any organization has two choices: buy or grow.  The desired talent can be purchased in the market place or current staff can be developed.  In most cases, the ideal approach is a mix of both.

Develop plan

A living talent plan needs to outline for individuals as well as the organization future strategies.  The plan should clearly document the current and desired state, strategies for closing the gap, and the necessary action items or steps.  Individual plans provide the most value when customized steps specifically identify those actions most likely to lead to success.

Execute and Revise

Although developing the plan puts an organization ahead of its peers, execution and maintaining the plan determines the real degree of success.  As we all have seen, influencing human behavior holds its own challenges.  How many times have you been asked to deviate from any type of plan or procedure? A client once summed it up well: “exceptions are actually the rule.”  However, if the plan is well developed, the best possible outcomes will typically come from following it.

Happy building!

Is the Talent War a Trait War?


Almost every week an article appears that discusses how most of us trained for jobs that will not exist in the future.  Some estimates indicate that new or “yet to be defined” jobs will make up as much as 80 percent of the occupations ten years from now.  If the past ten years provides a snapshot of the future, then we are well on our way to realizing those estimates.  The top ten “in demand” jobs in 2010 did not even exist in 2004.  Karl Fisch summed it up best: “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technologies that haven’t been invented … in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”  In other words, economic and technological change is so dramatic now that many skill needs are not even known.  Moreover, most would agree we possess a public education system focused on teaching skills and behaviors that are progressively less relevant to the real world.  Put simply, our education system excels at preparing people to work in the early or middle 20th century.

Given the nature of current environment and the state of our educational system, what can we do as employers to ensure that we have people that will keep us competitive in the global economy? It starts with “having the right people on the bus.” Research pinpoints three abilities that are vital to the future regardless of occupation and how it might change:

  • Communication – Almost every vocation requires active listening and the ability of share ideas effectively.
  • Adaptability – Successful employees must have the ability to recognize the direction of change and have the flexibility and initiative to adapt to it.
  • Problem solving skills – Problems and issues change over time, but tools provide a common method of addressing new challenges.

IBM completed an example of this research last year. They conducted interviews with 1,709 CEOs around the world to prepare a white paper entitled Leading Through Connections.  The report is available at http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/en/c-suite/ceostudy2012/.  While the report found that human capital occupies a position of preeminence in the minds of CEOs, the more interesting finding relates to what CEOs feel that they need from employees in the future.  Instead of particular skills, most identified traits that would help employees adapt to an environment of constant change and renewal.  The top four traits include:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Flexibility

Not surprising, the findings correspond with the results of other research.  As we attract and retain talent, what people are capable of is likely to be more important than what they have.  Consequently, assessing traits may be more critical than ever.

Valuing Talent

Most of us readily agree that our organizations perform as well as the quality of our investment in talent.  Clearly, the last two decades raised awareness among executives regarding the importance of employing the “right” people with the right skills.  While more recently, leaders transitioned from simply recognizing that the quality of employees matter to acknowledging that proper alignment of talent accomplishes even more.  Jim Collins in Good to Great summed it up best:

Most people assume that great business leaders begin change initiatives by setting a new direction and articulating a fresh corporate vision. In fact, leaders of companies that go from good-to-great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”

His bus analogy has become a key part of the business vernacular.   It captures the essence and importance of managing talent: having the right people in the right seats.  Nevertheless, realization does not equate to reality.

A recent KPMG survey of 400 senior executives found that only 17 percent felt that their talent management function does a good job demonstrating its value while only 15 percent felt that the same function produced something insightful or predictive on a regular basis. The findings indicate we recognize the importance of talent management, but most of us feel we are not maximizing its value.

Among US respondents, more than 34 percent indicated that data analytics and cloud computing technology would comprise their next big human resource investment.  What do they hope to gain from investing more in analytics and great computing capacity? Determining how best to close the talent gap.    Respondents emphasized that the most important role for the human resource function is to retain “crucial skills and experience.”

What might shock some readers is the approach that a large portion of respondents intends to adopt in near future to address their talent needs. As we have discussed before, the age of traditional employment seems to be waning with many organizations utilizing a hybrid approach to talent acquisition that minimizes cost while maximizing value.  In other words, organizations are opting for multiple employment arrangements that mix traditional, temporary, and contract employees.

The real value of your talent relates directly realization of your organization’s desired business outcomes. It is nice to be the bastion of exception people, but most of us would rather be the exemplar of results.  A sound talent management strategy and method of analysis provides that interactive tool set for attracting, retaining, and maximizing exceptional talent through creativity, flexibility, innovation, and responsiveness.


Mastery and Performance

I recently read a biographic summary of the development of various sports stars from their childhood until their retirement.  There were more than a few inspirational stories of athletes who came from humble beginnings to attain greatness.  About half way through the article, the author discussed Malchom Gladwell’s conclusion from his book Outliers that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of doing something in order to master it (see http://www.gladwell.com/ for more on Gladwell’s work).  The article did a nice job of describing how each athlete had incredible commitment to becoming great early in life.  Friends and family recounted stories of throwing balls around, going to numerous games, and an unquenchable desire to play every day that turned into a more disciplined program during teenage years and mastery in early adulthood.  One interesting profile mentioned that one star player only played, watched television, and slept.  He considered sleeping his only hobby.

As I read the article, two things came to mind: mastery takes a lot of time and requires considerable specialization.  Assuming that you possessed the necessary skills and could work at your desired area of mastery for four hours a day for 365 days a year, it would take you 6.8 years to accumulate 10,000 hours.  If you are like me, it is a struggle to make it to the gym for one hour a day.  At my current rate of one hour per day, I am excited to say that I will master push-ups after a little more than 27 years.  The other idea that struck me was that if I could commit this type of time to mastering something, I would become a relatively one dimensional person.  I would not have time to develop other interests.  Basically, mastery requires a considerable commitment and cost that few are willing to make sacrifice to obtain.

There are several lessons that I think benefit us as leaders and human resource professionals when we consider the complexity of mastery:

  • Mastery is quicker at work today
  • Mastery is not the same as performance
  • Mastery does not guarantee uniform performance

Mastery is Quicker at Work Today

A common concern of organizations today is how long it takes to reach mastery or full competence.  As organizations invest thousands of dollars to hire and develop employees, they want to know at what point the employee will reach full capability and the investment will start to generate the expected return.  Based on the 10,000 hour rule and assuming we work 2,000 hours a year, it would take five years of engaging work to reach full competence in a typical job.  Today, in most organizations, that is the accepted norm.  This is good news since the generally accepted number in the past was greater than five years.  It has diminished over time as new methods of knowledge transfer, convergence of skills, migration to the service economy, and technology utilization have reduced the time necessary to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to be fully competent.  In the past, it was assumed that ten years or 20,000 hours was necessary to reach full competence in a factory setting.  Compensation, training investments, as well as succession management were all planned around this benchmark.   Over the last several decades, we moved to five to seven years and now generally accept five years as the average benchmark.

Mastery is Not the Same as Performance

Most of us have experienced the shock of managing someone very qualified and capable that was not meeting performance expectations.  In many cases, the person has the ability, but little motivation to succeed.  When I was a teacher, I regularly encountered this with students.  Almost every semester, there would be one or two extremely talented students that barely made it to class, missed assignments, and made simple mistakes.  However, the same students could intelligently and eloquently describe the material and clearly possessed a level of mastery beyond their peers.  When I left teaching to become a consultant, I encountered a similar phenomenon.  There were more than a few exceptionally capable and motivated employees that never seemed to combine their abilities in a successful manner.  Some never integrated into the team while others never adjusted to the flow of work typical of the industry.  Consequently, mastery is necessary, but not sufficient to be a high performer.

Mastery does not Guarantee Uniform Performance

Like the athletes in the article, we all have “off” days.  Almost every profile included a synopsis of a period where the sports star did not score as much, defend as well, or maintain the same level of success.  Sadly, in almost every case, fans and even coaches became concerned that the star had simply “lost” his or her ability.  In a few cases, the star even wondered if that was the case.  All high performers have periods where they do not produce at the level that they are capable of even when they are motivated.  Based on the law of averages, we perform above and below our typical average on a day-to-day basis and the variations is just part of the nature of things.

Organizational Effectiveness: Talent Management

Figure 1: Talent Management Elements

We are all in the people business.  Several years ago I worked with a group of managers to develop new methods of managing their talent.  After a few minutes of discussion, a high level manager raised his hand and said that he thought he really did not need to be there.  He briefly summarized all the important things that he did before concluding that he really is “not in the people part of the business.”  More than a few heads nodded after his comment and a few shut their notebooks.  All I asked was who thought they “could have a few more stars on their team?”  Several attendees looked at each other and then started to raise their hands.  Although they felt the team that works for them is very good, they were interested in improving it further.  Why? Talent as the building block of our productivity and performance, like other factors of success almost always can be improved.

Talent management like all of the concepts we have discussed as part of this series on organization effectiveness possesses more than one definition.  Most commonly, it includes recruiting employees, onboarding, providing professional development, improving performance, creating career path advancement opportunities, and planning for succession.  Literally, talent management pertains to how talent as a resource is managed from the time it enters an organization until it departs.

Based on a 2011 survey of 400 executives by HCS, the conceptual areas most important to success with talent management appear Figure 1.  The factors most mentioned or with the highest level of consensus relate to recruitment, retention, and development.  Recruitment ensures that the right people join the organization, retention ensures that they remain, and development pertains to growing the skills and abilities of those that are par to the organization.   Leadership development and performance management follow closely behind and encompass the efforts on the part of the organization to develop highly competent leaders and measure and improve individual, team, and organizational performance.  Less highly rated, but still important to more than 60 percent of executives is workforce planning and cultural management.  While workforce planning deals with responding to changes in the workforce and the organization’s operating environment, culture management incorporates the actions taken by an organization to ensure that employees feel engaged and motivated to work with a high level of commitment and performance.

Although there is a lot of discussion of what organizations as a whole should do manage talent effectively, it is important to understand what we can do as individual leaders.

Three critical ways we all can support talent management includes:

  • Commit to continuous learning
  • Link professional and organizational goals
  • Provide encouragement

Commit to Continuous Learning

As a leader, we have to plan for and follow through on opportunities for learning.  Although it is tempting to focus on the tasks at hand and corresponding immediate deadlines, it is important to invest in the future for ourselves and others.  Every project or assignment creates an opportunity to learn something new.  However, it is important to supplement our experiences with activities that provide the building blocks for future roles or skills.

Link Professional and Organizational Goals

Although older generations might have been more tolerant of organization only efforts, younger workers are looking for how organizational and personal interests can be more aligned to meet the organization’s needs while simultaneously supporting personal career expectations.  At times, a leader needs to be explicit so that there is no ambiguity in the dual value.  This is accomplished by engaged the employee and explaining the importance of the duty or assignment for accomplishing both types of goals.

Provide Encouragement

We all have a lot to balance in our lives.  Between work, family, and limited personal time, most of us are tired, frazzled, and ready to drop.  I have always admired employees that worked all day, took care of a family, and went to school.  As leaders, we underestimate the influence we can have on encouraging employees to gain additional formal or informal development.  By telling someone we know they can do, can all the difference in the world to them.