Experience vs expertise: How technology is changing who gets hired

“We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.” These marked Stephen Elop’s final words as the CEO of Nokia, when he announced the sale of the ubiquitous Finnish mobile giant to Microsoft. 
OCTOBER 31, 2019 - 4:24 PM

“WE didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.” These marked Stephen Elop’s final words as the CEO of Nokia, when he announced the sale of the ubiquitous Finnish mobile giant to Microsoft. 

It’s not difficult to think of other large iconic businesses of the past that have struggled to adapt to the rapid pace of technology advancement — think Kodak and Toys “R” Us. At the same time, we are seeing billion-dollar start-ups being created by 20-something year olds with nothing more than an internet connection and an idea.

Gone are the days when experience was king. At the very top, leaders are dealing with an unprecedented degree of volatility in the market. So much so that they cannot make decisions based on experience, because there simply isn’t any precedence for this degree of volatility.

There is an inevitable shift in the type of people ASEAN businesses will need to hire if they are to extend their success into the foreseeable future. Roles like Big Data analysts, app developers and digital marketing consultants are all roles that did not exist five to ten years ago. In fact, 85 per cent of the jobs you’ll see in the next decade have not even been invented yet. Simply put, firms across ASEAN “can no longer afford to hire only when roles open up”.

With new roles being created as quickly as long-standing roles are being made redundant, how can today’s employers go about identifying and developing talent for jobs that do not yet exist? Indeed, the region is expected to be the hardest hit by talent shortages, with 75 per cent of leaders in Singapore expecting a dearth in talent to negatively impact their business prospects – as compared to 61 per cent in the region.

Looking ahead, there needs to be a much bigger focus on predicting a leader’s potential by assessing their skills and capabilities, and how they can be applied to both their current and future job roles. 

Giving the pink slip on how performance is measured

There is a longstanding debate about whether organizations should shift away from managing performance to identifying potential. The difference is that the former tends to be dependent on context and retrospective, whereas the latter is independent of context and focused on the future.

Moreover, when you consider the top emerging jobs in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia — data scientists, cyber security specialists, user experience designers, head of digital, and content specialists — traditional businesses and employees alike are only starting to get a sense of integrating these roles into their organisations, let alone effectively measure the ROI of managing these talents.

Many technology and professional service firms have ditched the annual review cycle in recognition of a growing belief that its focus on the past and often administrative-heavy, arduous processes leave little space or energy for identifying and developing talent for the future.

Unlike performance, evaluating an individual’s leadership potential is about predicting the likelihood of future success after controlling for contextual factors. In a situation where context is unknown or evolving, employers need to understand how individuals are likely to respond to and grow within changing environments, which can only be achieved through the lens of potential. 

Great Eastern, a Singapore-based insurance company, is a leading example in this regard. They have embarked on transforming their organisational culture to embrace digital transformation from the inside out, getting employees across departments to form teams to collaborate on digital projects. Great Eastern trusts in the talent they hire, and give them opportunities to maximise their potential, outside of their daily roles. They have also taken a rather unique approach to source for talent skilled in data analytics — focusing their efforts on hiring good people, without necessarily having any open positions.

It is in a similar vein that companies must look to change their mindsets and embrace advancements in technology to attract and cultivate the skills and capabilities needed for the future. Ensuring that leaders can comprehend and capitalise on the changes that technology demands, alongside agility and openness to experience form key traits for thriving in a digital environment.

Using technology to build up our talent

While our diverse workforce is being forced to evolve in line with the adoption of emerging technologies, technology is also transforming how leaders themselves are identified and hired. Indeed, there are a growing number of tools allowing companies to make more insightful, strategic talent management decisions.

Over the recent decade, we have seen moves towards gamified predictive psychometrics — which leverages innovative puzzles to accurately assess cognitive ability and predict job performance — and video-based interviewing drawing on techniques such as facial recognition.

The movement towards linking data across various technologies to make better people decisions, however, is a trend that we are continuing to see develop — with an increasing number of organisations employing people analytics to uncover the unique factors that influence organisation-wide performance. CBRE, the commercial real estate services company, runs its high-potential leaders from Asia Pacific through annual programs where their judgment, drive and influencing abilities are studied and compared to external benchmarks to give them insights into their effectiveness as a leader, and the gaps they will need to bridge in order to assume leadership roles in
the future.

Another noticeable trend is augmented analytics — an approach to data that automates insights using machine learning and natural language generation. Such platforms leverage artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to analyse large volumes of workforce data and deliver prioritised findings in a conversational form.

For example, a company suffering from high attrition can utilise augmented analytics software to assist leaders in understanding patterns in the turnover of employees — and subsequently identify the cause. Bearing in mind that the best technology in the world is only so if it is used universally and consistently, technologies such as augmented analytics work best when data across recruitment, onboarding, learning and development, employee lifecycle management and performance management is included as part of the process.

Cultivating expert leaders of the future generation

The challenge that ever-changing technology presents to ASEAN organisations is that companies and leaders will now need to think about talent management strategy in a very different way whilst simultaneously learning how to embrace and capitalise on the opportunities provided by technology. To that end, it’s heartening to see a vast majority of ASEAN businesses (80.7 per cent) willing to increase their investments in transformative technologies — AI, machine learning and robotics process automation (RPA) — in the next few years.

If talent management is to become a true strategic asset to the business and help navigate the constant change, companies need to ensure that they can identify the leadership skills required to lead the business into the future and coach their leaders to do the same. In turn, leaders who can effectively use data to substantiate insight whilst being technologically savvy, resilient and comfortable with ambiguity are likely to transform companies of the future.

The writers are Carly Lund, Global Head of Organisational Leadership, YSC and Ambica Saxena, Head of Singapore and Hong Kong, YSC.