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Swan Mara Manpower

Conversation: Mara Swan, EVP, global strategy and talent, ManpowerGroup

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With the Conference for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices by Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) just around the corner, Human Resources caught up with Mara Swan, EVP, global strategy and talent, from ManpowerGroup who will be speaking at the event.

In this exclusive, she shares her expert opinion on future-proofing your workforce and leading through the digital transformation.

Q: Considering the different experience levels, and skill sets, how can HR leaders strike a balance to develop the skills and capabilities of existing leaders and yet nurture the millennial leaders?

We need to be careful of looking at this as an either-or decision. Employers cannot afford to only focus on their digital-savvy younger workers just like they can’t afford to focus only on existing leaders. The good news about digital leadership is that it is not a complete redo of leadership – instead the 80/20 rule applies. 80% of the competencies that have always made leaders effective remain the same, traits like brightness, adaptability, endurance and drive.

The other 20% are made of capabilities that weren’t so necessary before but are critical now for the digital age – curiosity, digital expertise and the ability to unleash talent. Your development strategy needs to focus on giving the existing leaders the 20% and developing the 80% in millennial leaders.

Q: What do you think are some of the key skills that HR leaders need to future-proof themselves in the digital age?

HR leaders have a critical role in helping organisations manage their digital transformation. We increasingly need to be systems thinkers, moving from administrative responsibilities like managing pay, performance reviews, etc. – much of which will be automated – to a more strategic and consultative role backed by data analytics. That means thinking ahead about how business models operate in the digital world and the impact that has on the capabilities, culture and mindsets needed to be successful.

We also need to start thinking of our top talent more as consumers; as people with a high degree of choice in where they do business. That requires a better understanding of what motivates them – their needs, wants and desires – and how we engage talent both inside and outside the organisation. This is the new HR skillset for the digital age.

Q: Where do you think are the gaps in an organisation when it comes to digital transformation?

At the top of the organisation, we need the c-suite to become the digital suite. This means we need leaders who are able to understand fast-changing technology and set a clear strategy that enables their organisation to win in the digital age. They also need to be able to lead in a more transparent business environment – internally and externally – where their decisions are on display and can easily be challenged. And most importantly they need to create a culture of innovation and learning that will encourage upskilling throughout the organisation.

The success or failure of your digital transformation is down to engaging middle management. This group of leaders are the translators and information providers for the broad workforce. HR must consider how we redefine the role of middle management for the digital age. This will differ from company to company due to business models and workforce composition.

One thing is certain – this role will need to change in all organisations as digitisation takes hold. Similarly, front-line positions are being redefined and we need to work to integrate human and machine interaction. In the digital age when many tasks will be automated human connection and soft skills like collaboration and communication will become more, not less, important.

Q: On that note, what must HR leaders do to get their organisations digital-ready?

HR leaders should start by analysing barriers around culture, capabilities and mindsets. Ask yourself, what capability gaps do our leaders have for a digital age? How do our mindsets and culture need to shift for a successful transformation?

Leadership drives the culture and sets the tone, so we need to make sure our leaders are up to scratch until we place more complexity on top of a shaky base.

We also need to expand our definition of leadership from one of hierarchy to one of a leadership community of digital-ready, analytically-minded and connected leaders, dedicated to creating the necessary capabilities within the organisation to unlock opportunities and drive successful transformation.

Q: What is the role of HR in the digital age, and what shift do you expect to see over the next five years?

We need to become cultivators of a community of workers. This means we need a broader view of talent, not just focussing on permanent employees. People want to work and interact with companies in different ways, part-time, contingent, and contract or on a temporary basis.

We need to view them as the ecosystem of talent that provides value to the company. We need to be experts in marketing to, motivating and inspiring this wider ecosystem. Now is the time to become builders of talent not consumers of work.

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