Total Talent Industry Influencers | Alistair Antoine

The latest in Adepto’s Total Talent industry influencer series sees Alistair Antoine, HR Technology Manager – Team Success at Cisco, sit down to discuss how the workforce has changed, how Cisco is embracing this evolution and pitfalls that HR leaders must avoid.

First of all, what led you to your current role?

I have been at Cisco for almost 11 years, most of which were spent in the IT organisation, where I was responsible for a number of internal enterprise deployments of our social collaboration platforms.

Two years ago, I started looking for my next role, both internal and external to Cisco but within the IT domain. I felt it was the right time to take on a new challenge that would energise me more.

It was at this time that I also had several conversations with Ian Baillie (Snr Director, Talent Acquisition and People Planning Operations in Cisco HR at the time). He was looking for someone with a specific skill set to deploy a new Talent management application across the enterprise. The vision Ian had with this new approach and technology, sparked my interest in the HR domain, more specifically in the area of skills and the opportunities it could offer the enterprise.

The fact that I had no previous HR-specific experience myself did not phase Ian, as he was certainly more interested in the match between my skill set and experience and the skill set required for the role he was recruiting for. This approach intrigued me even more as it highlighted the opportunities that exist in areas which at first you would not necessarily know about or think you could be a match for if you do not have the domain experience.

So here I am today, in a role where I am leveraging my technology experience, but also learning a new domain, pushing the boundaries and innovating in this space, which is such an exciting area for many organisations today.

What opportunities and challenges do you see in talent management today – especially in regards to technology?

One of the biggest opportunities I see in talent management today is, first and foremost, being able to capture individuals’ skills and strengths data and, secondly, to be able to match this with skills required to do work.

This has tremendous value for individuals in that it opens up access to opportunities that support inclusion, movement and growth across the enterprise. It enables individuals to look into opportunities that they may not have thought about previously or may have dismissed at the outset because they did not have the specific domain experience.

I look back at my own story and recall how I would have never envisioned myself working in the HR domain simply because it is an area that I did not have any prior experience in and so would not have even thought to start searching for opportunities in this area.

Two years on, however, I am thoroughly energised by what I am doing and I really want to be able to provide similar opportunities to others who may be looking for their next move, by enabling cross-organisational mobility.

Not only does this add value for individuals, but for Team Leaders, and organisational leaders alike.

By having visibility of the skills and strengths across their teams, leaders are supported in aligning the right work to the right individuals on their teams. At an organisational level, leaders can leverage skill data at a Job Role level to help inform and support workforce planning and investment strategy, through a data-driven approach.

One of the biggest challenges, especially in regards to technology, is that I do not believe there is one single application or technology on the market today that will address all the areas needed in order to be able to provide that holistic experience for the employee. Enterprises may need to consider a best of breed approach to satisfy various aspects of the employee experience and more importantly, ensure that the underlying data architecture is consistent across the application architecture.

Failing to do so will leave you with data siloes, which give you an insight into the specific area of the overall experience, but prevents you from getting an enterprise level view if the data architecture is not integrated.

Another challenge, prevalent particularly in larger enterprises, is that there may be existing legacy applications in place which are extremely time and cost intensive to consider moving away from, especially where they are embedded into many existing workflows and processes. This may prevent many enterprises from being able to rethink the overall experience and architecture.

How have you seen the workforce change over your career? And how can business leaders take advantage of this?

One of the biggest changes I have seen in the workforce over my career is the shift from a traditional job to gigs/work.

As we see more millennials and post-millennials entering the workforce, they are typically more energised by getting involved in exciting projects and defined pieces of work as opposed to fulfilling a traditional job for many years.

This shift means that these generations are more likely to move from project to project, with more frequency than would normally be seen in traditional job mobility.

I believe business leaders can take advantage of this by ensuring their enterprises are ably equipped to accurately identify the skills and strengths of individuals and match them to opportunities (work) which requires the same skillset, or indeed where individuals have adjacent skills which they can leverage, to develop new skills in these areas.

Also important is the ability to push recommendations for work that may be of interest to individuals instead of relying only on individuals having to seek out opportunities. This does, however, require a shift in mindset, so leaders will need to support and encourage internal mobility of talent rather than hold on to them because they may be top performers.

It is much more important for leaders to support internal mobility and provide the opportunities their team members are seeking, as opposed to running the risk of losing them to other competitor companies altogether.

What’s Cisco doing to prepare for the changing workforce?

Cisco has recognised the importance of being able to accurately identify an individual employee’s skills and strengths and one of the areas we are currently investing in is ensuring that we leverage a consistent skills ontology which is consumed across multiple applications within the enterprise.

This ontology is also consistent when identifying the core set of skills required at a Job Role level to ensure that we can easily match talent to work,  as well as provide visibility to opportunities for development and talent mobility for our employees. While investing in a data-driven approach, one of the key considerations we have looked at is the reliability and consistency of the data. Without reliable and consistent data, however much you analyse it, the results can be worthless. 

By moving towards a consistent skills ontology which is consumed across multiple applications, it starts to provide that integrated experience for the employee. As an example, an employee may aspire to a particular job role in the near future and what we are doing, enables that employee to have a look at the skills required for that role they are aspiring too and can compare those skills with the skills they currently possess. Through our Learning and Development programme, the skill gaps they want to develop can be added to their Learning profile so that they start to receive recommended learning content to develop themselves in that particular skill area.

We also offer an Internal Talent marketplace where that employee can seek ‘Stretch opportunities’ that will help them develop their skills in a specific area. Once the employee has the skill set required for the role they are working towards, they can search for open opportunities through our Talent Acquisition portal, which also leverages the same consistent skill ontology.

What pitfalls should business leaders avoid when implementing HR technology?

One of the key pitfalls I would call out is not thinking through the data flow and architecture between the different technologies used, at the outset.

It is very easy to become consumed with data and analytics from a specific technology as it may provide great insight into the usage and adoption of that specific technology and area of the overall experience. However, the real value is in being able to see the bigger picture of the end-to-end experience. 

This involves the data flow across multiple applications and is where considering and planning the data architecture is of utmost importance.

Where can you see the market going – both in terms of the workforce/talent and the tools organisations use to manage them?

I see the market placing more emphasis on data and analytics and being able to leverage this to enhance the end to end employee experience.

Previously, the emphasis was more on the customer experience, and while this is still a focus area, I see more applications focusing on the data element with respect to employees.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of this is dependent on being able to highlight opportunities for employees which will keep them energised and enable them to develop, while benefitting from retaining the good talent within the enterprise as a result.

I also see the use of and innovation around Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing playing an increasing role in enhancing the overall experience while providing operational efficiencies at the same time.

The challenge I see is that more applications will try to expand their offerings to cover a broader capability set, however the trade-off to be considered here is whether to use one application that covers a broader scope of capabilities well, versus going down a best of breed approach where you end up using a suite of applications that focus on specific capability areas exceptionally well.

By: Alistair Antoine, HR Technology Manager – Team Success at Cisco

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