Jess ElmquistNovember 20, 2022
Topics: Employee Experience

CHROs Can Nurture Employee Growth By Focusing On Skills. Here’s How.

There are few gut-check moments for a CHRO that can compare to the disappointment of being told a superstar employee was walking out the door for another company. I’ve been there, and it stings.

“I felt stuck” or “I didn’t see a path for me here” were some of the most frequent reasons cited during the exit interview. The manager and I would look at one another and wonder: “What could we have done better?” 

If you’ve been asking yourself that same question, then there’s a good chance one of your former employees was one of the millions this year who gave notice to go work for someone else.

Every employee right now is approachable and poachable. We’re competing for talent everywhere and we know our competitors are doing the same. So either the competition is doing one heck of a job recruiting, or we need to step up our retention game. My instincts tell me it’s the latter. 

So how do we do that? One way is technology. It wasn’t until I invested in an intelligent talent experience platform did I begin to see rich data about employee skills. For the first time, my teams and I had insight into who was interested in a new role, what their skill sets were, and their career aspirations. The information was right there in one spot — we didn’t have to go searching through different platforms to find it.

Since the strongest companies are the ones investing in employee growth, let’s make 2023 the year to get serious about investing in your people — lest the high quit rate of 2022 was a tepid warning of what’s about to come.

How Cigna Nurtures Its 70,000 Employees

Let’s take a look at a company that invested in its talent by adopting an experience and AI-centric retention strategy: Cigna. The global health services company used to focus primarily on external hires, Effie Gikas, Sr. Director, Enterprise Talent Enablement, told me.

And, internal talent didn’t always have clear visibility into all of the different opportunities that were there for them until Cigna was able to associate skills to roles and roles to job fit, which can better help inform career pathing.

Cigna went live with the Phenom platform earlier this year, and within five months, 50% of employees had updated their skills. The company did quite a bit of campaigning around it to let people know “This isn’t an HR exercise.” Employees clearly saw benefits to filling out the information because the job recommendations felt personalized and tailored.

As HR practitioners, it can be a challenge to know at a granular level what the skills/skills adjacencies are in an organization. How do you get the visibility that’s so fundamental to giving people new opportunities for career development? 

Some companies are making it happen with the right technology. I hosted a live online discussion with Effie and industry analyst Josh Bersin, whose research revealed that 60% of people said it's harder to find a job inside an organization than outside (that doesn't surprise me).

As an industry, we can do better. We have to do better. So I encourage you and your HR teams to hear from these fantastic speakers about ways to enliven the employee experience.

I am confident you will take away three important things about how skills and competencies can help:  

  • Improve retention

  • Accelerate development so our employees not only are optimistic about today, but they can see their future and our organizations’ as well

  • Bring transparency to skills and abilities to help us as organizations plan over the long haul

Planning is such an integral part of our jobs as HR leaders. That ability to look around corners is even more important when you have a global workforce of more than 70,000 employees like Cigna.

Your Organization Can See Similar Results. If the Will is There.

My advice to companies about how to conceptualize the employee experience are:

1. Decide who’s going to own talent management.

Who owns Talent Acquisition? Talent Acquisition does! Who owns Talent Management, employee development, and internal mobility? In many organizations it's traditionally not been as clear or that cut and dry. So much of traditional succession planning landed in the laps of the direct report of an employee.  As you get deep down into the inner workings of an organization, it can become unclear based on the different facets of employee experience.

I have three beliefs about internal mobility when it comes to people. I am a firm believer that front line leaders are responsible for championing their employees and supporting their development. In turn, I also believe that employees are responsible for building their career path and vocalizing to their leaders where they want to go and direct their performance and development to that aim.  And finally, I also believe that these stakeholders need a professional Talent Development leader who has purview across the whole organization and excels at connecting AI-empowered data, people, their skills  and their interactions.

This direction and guidance hold the process accountable. But more than that, brings insight and accuracy to an often complex and subjective topic that can impede follow-through and measured success.  

When I was at Life Time, we had 1,300 hiring managers, 152 of which were General Managers. GMs were ultimately in charge of somewhere between nine and 11 department managers, and they, in turn, had 15-30 people working for them.

We decided we wanted the GMs to own career pathing for their respective club, so we had at least one point we could go to with the data and insights generated in HR.

My advice: The mindset of the organization has to be radical ownership of career growth and engagement. This is a top-down, bottom-up process  that values internal mobility and career growth, takes the time to do them right, allocates sufficient resources, and celebrates the success. 

2. Career succession paths are the company's responsibility. But career pathing is an individual's responsibility. 

Once an organization has developed the right mindset and set up the systems and tools, HR leaders need to manifest that with their time and expectations on how they operate, and make sure they're actually taking the time around development. 

That feeds into my next point: it’s then up to employees to take the career growth opportunity and run with it. They need to take responsibility for their own career development. 

An AI-empowered, self-service platform gives employees a clear line of sight to new roles, and the skills needed to be considered for the job. If an organization is using AI Job Fit assessments, then employees will also be introduced to roles that are a good fit but may not have been ones they thought of. So often, people miss new opportunities internally based on not knowing what a job is and are too embarrassed to ask, so a technology platform that makes connections can be critical for individuals and the company in hiring for hard-to-fill roles.   

My advice: Now that you have the right mindset established and set up the proper infrastructure, it’s time to encourage employee bias to action. Take a page from Cigna and start an awareness campaign. Be clear with employees about what’s in it for them.

3. It’s a journey, not a destination.

If you're an early adopter to skills, or if you're thinking about putting a formal program into place, don't think that you have to have every answer. This is a journey. You’re not the only one trying to figure this out. What works for your organization may not work for another.

Here’s what I mean. I believe in the value of fit score rankings, but using this powerful tool alone can cause confusion for internal employees on what percent of a fit they should have before applying.  This is why a clear, exciting communication strategy is so important.  Employees and leaders should have confidence in the process, know that whether there’s a fit or not, each person will get constructive feedback in the continued spirit of skills growth and career advancement. This can positively support groups in job advancement like women, who have to have more confidence that they're absolutely right for the role before they’ll apply. Men, on the other hand, will apply even if they're not 100% qualified. 

My daughter had this experience when she was interviewing for jobs after graduating from college. I told her statistically, women, unless they equate their skills to 90% of the job description tasks, will not apply. Whereas for men, if they're somewhere in the 40 to 50% range, will apply with confidence. LinkedIn research bears this out.

“Are you kidding?” my daughter responded. “I’m so angry I’m going to start applying for every job.”

The point is: yes, she needs to submit an application regardless of what she thinks of her skills. Her expectations for herself are higher. And she needs to understand that she’s competing with the same set — male and female — and as company leaders, we can’t afford to have 50% of our job candidates potentially opt out of applying before we ever see their interest.  In fact we may proactively reach out to pursue those who may not naturally blow their own horn. 

My advice: As CHROs and talent execs we need to set the tone for a culture based on a growth mindset. Carol Dewerk’s concept creates a welcome and curious place where engaging different groups of people differently just makes sense. Now we can set an employee experience that is not prescriptive and invites all who start the process to be welcome. Building skills and elevating a career is a journey.

Tune in

I hope you’ll watch the fireside chat with Josh Bersin, Effie Gikas of Cigna, and me on demand for what was a fantastic discussion. Because as leaders, we know that the strongest companies are investing in employee growth. 

And once we actually have someone new come in and join our organization, recruiters, TA leaders, and career planning professionals all need to be vested in their success and not allow talent to pass through a revolving door: in one day, out the next. That's why skills are so incredibly important.

Every company is on a talent journey, and we have to invite our employees to join that journey as quickly as possible.

Watch the webinar on-demand here

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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