Friday 16 April 2021 2:00 pm

Hybrid work is here to stay: we need to learn how to nurture talent virtually

Rupert Morrison is an author, economist and CEO of orgvue

Last month Reach PLC announced the majority of its workforce will become remote-based. There has been a steady flow of businesses closing their head offices in order to build a hybrid-workforce and it is clear that virtual environments are here to stay. 

But how do we nurture talent in a virtual environment? And how will we know what gaps to fill within the workforce, if we stop seeing our teams day-to-day? It’s clear that most approaches to learning and development aren’t suited to tackling the challenges of virtual environments. 

Smart business leaders know that nurturing talent in any environment doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of having the right data, being deliberate and showing discipline. 

Having access to the right data to get a 360-degree view of your workforce is the first step to nurturing talent in a virtual environment. Data is often described as the new oil, but without analytics, it’s next to worthless.

Even with analytics, there has to be more information other than a name and a job description. There should be bespoke analysis outlining the target skills, behaviours and abilities needed for that role. This will give executives the blueprint they so desperately need to start nurturing talent on an individual and specific level. Most organisations stop at just putting a name to a job title and employees are left to fend for themselves. 

A technology company may want to upskill with new developers, but first, they need to identify which areas they want to upskill and how. Those with the right data know what competencies are required, where people are today and where they need to be in the future. They can then nurture talent towards that target and design a robust, proactive HR system. 

What’s more, managers and coaches can begin to understand the difference between skills, behaviours and technical qualifications. For instance, some training can be delivered relatively simply at home, but a skill such as client rapport building needs to be learnt through an almost apprenticeship style learning environment, where the individual sees first hand a skilled coach in action.

Armed with analysis, the onus is then on businesses to be deliberate about deploying the right blend of training and talent nurturing initiatives. This can be broken into three parts, skills based matching, technical training and on the job learning. 

Skills based matching is pairing those in need of skilling up, with those who are expert at those skills. Workforce data is central to finding the employees who have a real skill in this area, and can help train those needing support, rather than just relying on what’s in a person’s job description. 

There must be a deliberate effort to make sure people are being invited to situations to observe and learn. This must be factored in as a calculated decision, rather than a serendipitous in-person invitation. It’s these “riffing” moments that must be deliberate in remote environments. 

The final part of this equation is discipline. Executives must be disciplined about keeping a constant eye on their workforce data if this is ever going to be more than just a one off flash in the pan. It doesn’t stop after the initial gap is plugged. 

They must be dedicated to delivering the training and coaching promised, and also giving opportunities for everyone to provide 360 degree feedback on what they’ve learnt. Most importantly, they must be disciplined about adjusting the nurturing strategy to meet evolving needs throughout this process and into the future. And prepared to do so at a moment’s notice.

If businesses get this right, whether they’re in a virtual environment or not, nurturing talent will become part and parcel of day to day life. Get it wrong, and they’ll be out of date and blind to their problems with no way forward.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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