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Crafting a future-ready talent marketplace: think potential, not just skills

The world of work as we’ve known it is over. Once we worked. Now, we skill. AI, the Covid-19 pandemic, the gig economy and a pivot to agile working means more and more companies are looking to harness the skillsets of their internal talent rather than hiring new. Enter the rise of the talent marketplace, a tech solution which focuses on matching internal skills to the work to be done.

Embracing fluidity in the world of work

We’d say matching skills to jobs, but in the new world of work, the idea of having a career or a singly defined ‘job’ is old hat. The “Company Man” who works his way to the top, climbing a thirty-year linear career ladder no longer matches the experience of many. Instead, organisations are viewing work as a series of projects and initiatives that can be executed through assembling the talent with the necessary skills; a way of working that demands a flexible workforce able to pivot when necessary. At their best, talent marketplaces can be truly transformative. At their worst, they end up as little more than the miscellaneous ‘help wanted’ boards you see leaving the supermarket. 

If you’re contemplating or ushering in a talent marketplace, it’s important to keep the implications for people in mind.

Data and technology are just the beginning

Data classification is a starting point – how to classify skills company-wide under one taxonomy. Anyone who has ever reviewed a sample of CVs will know there are countless ways to describe a workplace skill or accomplishment. Presently, classifying your skills into one single lexicon is a challenge – either done manually or via automation. Embedding the classifications of your AI provider and matching them to the skills required in your company will require a change in thinking and in process, not just technology. Are managers and team leads equipped to be thinking about work in terms of the skills and people qualities they need?

People, not just process

When instituting a talent marketplace, a critical consideration is the emphasis on skills versus potential. Over-prioritising skills in the process can lead to a transactional relationship with the workforce. Skills may, as Gartner points out, be the new currency for talent, but that doesn’t mean everyone is thinking about themselves as a bundle of skills. A talent marketplace may presume that people are willing to be ripped from one project to the next and that might not suit all ways of working. On the flip side, we’ve seen examples of managers hoarding high performing talent, making it hard for them to move to other opportunities within the talent marketplace.

Look beyond the loudest voices

A key challenge is surfacing the genuinely right people; not those that shout the loudest. We faced this challenge with a single candidate filling out their marketplace talent profile with more than 130 unique skills – based on that they could do every job in the company. But could they? The system could not assess how they well they might function with a different team or in a very different role and environment. In order to find people who are willing – and will embrace – this new way of working you can’t hire solely on skills, which are premised on experience. You need to engineer a way of finding new people; the hidden gems, or else the system defaults to the same people again and again.

Towards a holistic approach

We leaned into this challenge when we developed the talent model for a global fintech provider. By supplementing skills and experience with data on personality, motivations, and behaviours, we were able to recommend a new candidate for COO; one that business leaders hadn’t even heard of, yet that according to the profile, scored highly (90% versus their two preferred candidates at 60-70%) for all the demands of a division which required a total turnaround. That she was a Latina woman, versus the other two candidates who were white males showed that a marketplace could offer up capable and diverse candidates based on their potential rather than their experience.  

Building on these learnings, we have begun to work in tandem with AI talent marketplace providers to ensure platforms are matching potential to opportunity, in addition to skills. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic we worked with a pharmaceutical company who felt left behind in the race to develop a vaccine; overhauling how it finds and activates unseen talent to apply it to business-critical projects. Using the talent profile we developed to reach out to candidates, 100% reported they found the outreach relevant and one quarter of the roles were filled without going to a wider search. These cross-functional squads agreed unanimously that they had developed and embedded better ways of working in newly formed teams.

Beyond skills – a culture of potential and opportunity

Throughout this process we remind ourselves: people aren’t inventory to be moved around like stock in a warehouse. An effective talent marketplace demands an authentic connection to what work looks like and requires in your organisation. The people doing the work need to be part of the journey by understanding how the opportunities afforded them align to their desires and goals, and managers need to be bought in to a dynamic approach to allocating opportunities, lest they try to hoard the talent they have. Skills alone are not sufficient to predict performance; you need to be able to assess and measure potential too. So before you embark, think: are you creating a talent marketplace that promotes potential, or trades solely in skills?

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