IBM Survey: Capability management key to successful workforce

On October 18th IBM Global Business Services published a substantial survey on Human Capital Management.

At 72-pages, and chock-full of graphs, Unlocking the DNA of the Adaptable Workforce  could be another corporate device for generating PR.

Except it isn’t.

There’s a lot here that bears closer scrutiny.

The report is based on a survey of over 400 HR professionals, across 40 countries, and is representative of private and public sectors and organisations of all sizes. Signed off by Global Human Capital Management Leader (and former Accenture Executive Partner) Tim Ringo, this document deserves attention.

Thanks to IBM’s own press release, a lot of the press around this report will focus on the coming gap in the leadership pipeline that it predicts.

But that misses the point.

Sure, the ‘Leadership Gap’ is one of the reports four main sections, but the rest of the report looks at why an adaptable workforce is essential, and how you go about generating one. Without that workforce, the leadership will only be where it is today: terribly under-informed about what it can do now, and what it needs to be able to do in the future.

So why is an adaptable workforce so important?

Because the world changes faster than before – particularly in the field what people can do. As one European Bank Executive put in the report:

When I started working, the half-life of knowledge was seven years, now it is 18 months!

In other words, you can’t sheep dip people in training at the beginning of their working life and leave them to it. Their skills and knowledge need constant refreshing in order for them to stay current, stay productive and stay in line with strategy. Also, understanding future organisational skills needs is both more complex and more important than ever before.

And the HR executives surveyed know this.

Fascinatingly, just 14% of respondents said their organisations were very capable of responding to change. The characteristics of these organisations were significantly different from the rest of the pack in three areas:

  • Ability to predict future skills needs (25% ahead of the rest)
  • Effectiveness in locating experts (20% ahead)
  • Effectiveness in collaboration (25% ahead)

The report goes on to detail some of the ways organisations can tackle some the three key areas. One quote in particular jumped out at me:

First, develop a formal skills management process that allows organisations to easily track the quantity and location of individuals with important capabilities

Anyone interested in such a process might want to take a look at the InfoBasis skills management white paper, and no, you don’t have to use the InfoBasis ESI capability management platform to make this work (but it helps).

Another recommendation from the report:

When developing a formal skills management approach, organisations need to strike the right balance – tracking the appropriate number of skills without creating competency models that collapse under their own weight.

This is only one of many parts of the report that prove to me that it is rooted in practical experience (and not just because it agrees with my own prejudices on competency frameworks).

As I say, the leadership part of the report is interesting, but it’s the last one on Driving Growth through Workforce Analytics that really struck me. It opens with this quote:

Until recently – and perhaps even now – 90 percent of HR personnel’s job had just been about obtaining the data rather than analysing it.

VP of HR Operations, European industrial company

Too right.

The respondents were asked for their organisation’s primary business challenge. Nearly 60% said ‘improving operational effectiveness’. The next nearest answer attracted just under 40% of those polled. And guess which concern these 60% had for assuring operational effectiveness? Aligning employee skills with current organisational priorities. Like teenage sex, that’s something everyone talks about, but nobody actually does. At InfoBasis, I’m privileged to have seen some client organisations that do it well – like Microsoft and Norwich Union.

Of course, any work in this area is hampered by the fact that HR and its data systems aren’t set up for it. Only 6% of respondents said they were very effective at using human capital data and information to make decisions about the workforce – and a huge factor here was the lack of integration between HR systems and between HR’s systems and the rest of the organisation.

One key result of all this: a lack of HR credibility, something Angela Baron alluded to in her recent talk to the InfoBasis Executive Forum. Here’s how the report puts it:

No matter how much respect the C-suite may have for the CHRO, until the HR organisation has access to workforce data and information with the same level of timeliness, consistency and validity as the financial or operational data available to the CFO or the COO, its insights will not hold the same weight.


As with any report, I would recommend starting at the executive summary and conclusion before scanning through and checking out the graphs that jump out at you. But you may find that the reports very last paragraph is the one that makes the greatest impact:

The Human Resources function has a unique window to make a strategic business contribution by shaping the adaptable workforce. If there ever was a time and an opportunity for HR to prove its strategic mettle, is has arrived.

Disclosure: InfoBasis works with IBM and other partners in deploying human capital and capability management solutions. 

One response to “IBM Survey: Capability management key to successful workforce

  1. Pingback: Competencies and capability Part III: Bersin’s take « Donald H Taylor

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