From the front lines of the talent transformation, Josh Bersin sees a ‘Big Reset’

February 7, 2022, 11:42 PM UTC

One of the leading voices in talent strategy, Josh Bersin started his first HR consultancy in 2004. In 2012, Deloitte acquired his firm and Bersin became a principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, the consulting giant’s human-capital arm. Five years later he left to once again start his own firm. Over the last two decades of working with corporate leaders in this space, he’s noticed a new paradigm for the strategy of people management.

“The big reset during the pandemic is this movement towards human-centered leadership, human-centered management, and valuing employees as assets, not just labor and expense…and that means empowerment, development and investment,” Bersin told Fortune. The Josh Bersin Company just released a report highlighting the importance of agility, purpose, and open forums for feedback, among other recommendations.

The report’s four authors and eleven collaborators—including researchers, HR leaders and other executives from companies like Ford, Uber, AstraZeneca, and Yum! Brands—assert that “change management needs to be part of the business strategy itself” and that “employees have the answers to most problems” across a wide range of topics including diversity, equity and inclusion, remote work, wellbeing, and organizational design.

The report notes that employee-first, or “human-centered” leadership represents a paradigm shift from the business-centered approach, which prioritized operational measures such as revenue, efficiency, and customer data. The authors also wrote that this approach allows companies to adapt and innovate better.

“HR is no longer a business where you copy what everybody else does,” Bersin said. “Everything is different in your company than your competitors. You can’t copy their employment brand, you can’t copy their pay structure. You can’t copy their recruiting, you can’t copy their learning strategy. You can try, but it won’t work the same.”

The report also outlined the importance of building resilience within a company, noting positive financial outcomes, talent outcomes, and innovation resulting from this skill. These positive outcomes are also stronger for companies that provide above-average rewards and benefits. 

After years of preaching the importance of talent strategy, Bersin said investment in talent is on the rise. 

“We don’t have to debate about the ROI of it as much,” he explained. “If we think about the fact that we’re losing people, we can’t rehire them. Or, we’re closing stores because people aren’t showing up for work. This human-centered era is creating clarity for companies that are underperforming.”

This new paradigm and new outlook for management strategy will require new organizational structures and additional capabilities for HR departments and people managers. 

“HR teams have to be consultants,” Bersin said. “They’re not order takers. They’re not service reps. They have to advise and consult. So that means that the HR professionals have to be skilled at their work, they have to be good at listening and problem solving. They have to understand technology and all the different things going on inside the company.”

Leading companies have also split up the people-manager role, Bersin observed, where employees have a person who they can speak with about benefits, career path, and other personal concerns and another who they work with day-to-day on their job. This approach, which borrows from agile methodology, has made its way across the business landscape. 

“It was very rare, now it’s very common,” Bersin explained. “One of the fastest-growing job titles in banking is ‘scrum master.’… there’s this whole discipline of agile organization design that’s really growing.”

Companies with hierarchically oriented organizations, layers of management taking and sending orders and information are too slow-moving for the new world of work.

“One of the things we also found in our research is the structure doesn’t matter that much,” Bersin said, echoing sentiments shared by many others including Debbie Lovich, the people strategy leader at Boston Consulting Group. “What really matters is accountability.”

Some companies have even had to rebuild their HR technology stacks from scratch to accommodate these structural changes, Bersin said.

“We talked to three or four companies that are re-implementing their whole core HR system, because it was designed around this hierarchical structure,” he shared.

Technology plays a critical role in HR transformation as board leaders consider the future of their company’s talent agenda. This includes better data and analytic capabilities as well as tools and software to enable feedback, collaboration, rewards programs, smarter recruiting, and learning and development.

While evolution is not always easy, HR and people-centric practices have an elevated importance for all managers and C-suite leaders today. Ultimately this represents an opportunity. Talent strategy can play a key role in building any company’s competitive advantage.

“Everybody I know in HR is totally energized, totally overworked, and adding more value than they ever believed possible in their careers,” Bersin said.

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