The War for Talent and the Future Workforce

Like hybrid species in nature, we are witnessing a workforce shift where companies evolve to a mix of permanent staff and freelance talent. This “hybrid talent” is at the forefront of the so-called war for talent. However, for the digital jobs of today and tomorrow, our research has identified a talent famine, with millions of positions going unfilled, despite the job losses associated with the global pandemic.

With employment’s impact on society at every socioeconomic level, this demand/supply mismatch has become the human capital challenge of the decade.

Hybrid talent is the future of the workforce. Beyond “full-stack” workers who have both STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills and empathetic creativity, hybrid talent will be a seamless mix of employees, machines and the gig economy, providing the scale and flexibility to meet workforce needs. Depending on the nature of the work and over time, the mix of hybrid talent — the ratio of employees, bots and gig workers — will evolve.

Intelligence, Sentience and Micro-change

Hybrid talent is built on the triangulation of intelligence, sentience and micro-change:

The foundation is the intelligent use of data and technology. Many organizations execute people processes with dubious quality, but they can optimize them using data and computation tools that are widely available. For example, many companies still make promotion decisions using “gut feeling,” with a few indicators like time in the role and employee reviews. However, using an algorithm to support a promotion decision will ensure a better choice — or at least a more informed and defensible one.

That intelligence comes alive through sentience. Organizations can analyze data from employees, competitors and market sources to gain insight and become self-aware. For example, how does the corporation know how its employees feel about their careers or whether its skills capabilities match customer and operational needs?

Awareness is guided to action through strategic micro-changes. “Micro” is the new “mega” — and micro-changes can bring about exponential macro-change. For example, companies that succeeded during the pandemic allowed local managers to make quick, decentralized decisions to continue operations, even when it meant changing product offerings, pricing and staffing policies. When those managers took feedback and iterated subsequent actions, the cumulative effect was better decisions and transformative results.

The 4Q Philosophy of Talent

As the founder of Alibaba, the world’s biggest online company, Jack Ma believes the 3Q philosophy of talent is the crucial human hedge against the rise of the machines. First comes the intelligence quotient (IQ) — good old-fashioned business smarts. Next comes the emotional quotient (EQ) — the understanding of people. Then, there’s the love quotient (LQ) — the ability to recognize and respect talent in others. Combined, the 3Qs keep humans relevant, providing the edge over technology and algorithms in terms of creativity, innovation and constructive thinking.

However, there’s a missing factor. Career progress is now also a function of a fourth element, the digital quotient (DQ).

In effect, talent is the sum of the 4Qs: intelligence, emotion, love and digital competence.

T = IQ + EQ + LQ + DQ

The Digital Quotient

DQ is an indicator of digital competence demonstrated by acquiring knowledge, applying it to real scenarios, and supporting organizational transformation through high-quality solutions that generate value. At the individual level, DQ helps guide an employee’s career path. At a team or enterprise level, it gauges the business’ digital preparedness.

As the fourth element, DQ highlights an individual’s position on the digital skills continuum and comprises competence, impact and value. Competence is the breadth and depth of an individual’s skills. Impact measures how these skills affect projects and clients. Finally, value covers how DQ generates added value through the individual’s ability to apply his or her expertise in high-impact areas.

From the individual to the enterprise, DQ is a metric applicable on micro- and mega-scales:

    • Individual DQ: An assessment of his or her digital readiness helps determine what’s next in an employee’s digital journey, with career progression potential and rewards linked to individual DQ.
    • Team DQ: Collective DQ is a measure of a team’s digital strength. It informs a structured managerial approach that can guide individuals and rapidly scale team DQ.
    • Business unit DQ: DQ helps identify and retain internal digital talent. As the sum of individual DQ, factors such as leadership assessments and collective intellectual capital, it indicates a business unit’s digital maturity by providing insight on digital talent gaps and helps nurture a talent pipeline.
    • Enterprise DQ: DQ delivers insight on organizational talent gaps and how to cross the chasm to execute a robust digital strategy and identifies where to focus investment on digital skills initiatives to achieve maximum return on investment (ROI). Enterprise DQ also indicates future talent readiness and enterprise adaptability.

Z-skilled Talent in Hybrid Teams

With companies now much more used to a virtual workforce, traditional boundaries between full-time talent and freelancers will blur. The most important skill requirement for digital work will be the ability to quickly adapt to new technology, master it and ride the wave of progress. This “Z-shaped” skill set comes from the role of business and digital literacy as a connector for enterprise creativity.

The Z metaphor also extends to career development, as these Z-skilled workers straddle disciplines, zig-zagging among individual skills and learning, unlearning and relearning as they move from one project or role to another. New human resources (HR) policies, career structure, compensation structure and hiring mechanisms are required to bring in and nurture Z-skilled talent.

The future workplace will have hybrid teams that are multi-locational, diverse in terms of education and background, and a mix of full-time and temporary workers. Now, leaders have the opportunity to build a better future by reskilling and upskilling employees, prioritizing work, improving the quality of jobs, and using a new approach that more closely links education to jobs.

The Live Enterprise

The 2020s will be the exponential decade, with COVID-19 at one end and 17 United Nations sustainable development goals at the other. To deliver exponential change, business needs a better model — one that transforms legacy systems into agile, digital ecosystems and that evolves with changing market needs and scales to any size. Companies can gain an edge by learning from nature’s designs — sensing, reasoning, adapting and responding.

We call such a company “the Live Enterprise.”

To be resilient, companies need to continuously evolve and learn, much like in nature. For this reason, the Live Enterprise’s foundational components are based on nature’s genius. Nature has had 3.8 billion years’ practice and should act as a model, measure and mentor, with the Live Enterprise emulating the greatest talent model of them all.