People first: tech adoption in the global context

The biggest conversations at one of the UK’s largest tech conferences – HR Technologies UK at London’s ExCel in April – were not only about AI and the latest HRM platforms, but also human-centric approaches to work, change management and personal leadership.


This article is taken from the Summer 2024 issue of

Think Global People magazine

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It was a theme Maria Giovanna Vianello, Novartis’ global leadership development director, deftly identified in her day one keynote, ‘A Human-Centric Approach to Technological Change in HR’.Vianello compared the number of Google hits for the search terms ‘AI’ and ‘skill mapping’. Surprisingly given both the heat and hopes around AI, she found that search volumes for skill mapping outweighed those for AI.The reality check underscored the key message from Vianello’s session: that engagement with any change, be it transformation, merger or acquisition, or the introduction of new technology, is less about what is changing and more about how it is changing for people involved. It is about listening to what’s really going on, understanding the data, asking what value will this bring and responding with people in mind.

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Skill mapping

Skill mapping remains an essential tool for responding with agility where tech and other factors are rapidly changing service delivery and business models. The entire process, which technology again can make more efficient, creates workforce engagement and value for businesses, both of which are especially important now as business looks to serve employees as well as shareholders.The relevance of skill mapping exercises was also emphasised in the seminar, ‘The Great Balancing Act: Research-based tips for keeping performance high and people happy.’ Referring to data from the company’s Annual Pulse of Talent survey, Alastair Logan, director of value advisory at Dayforce, talked through the trade-offs for leaders around the survey’s three key areas of agility and stability, productivity and flexibility, efficiency and empathy.One of the most striking messages around employee engagement and retention was the potential for internal mobility. Four in ten of the 8,700 people surveyed across the UK, US and Australia said their skillset matched another role in the organisation better. A further 81% said they had experienced burnout symptoms over the past 12 months. Another 69% deemed themselves to be a flight risk from the organisation. All the figures point to widespread under-engagement, under-performance and sub-optimal wellbeing.With the impact of demographic change and employee wellbeing front of mind for businesses, skill mapping – especially given the rise in conversations around skills-based pay – has become an even more business-critical activity.

An international perspective

Internal talent mobility and skill mapping are not novel ideas in global mobility or across other corporate functions. People with key skills have been moved across borders on assignments to deliver value for the individual’s career as well as for the organisation at large, including host teams and colleagues, for decades.Nevertheless, Dayforce’s findings reiterate the strategic importance of the global mobility function and its links with talent management and value creation.Interestingly, Maria Giovanna Vianello’s presentation also featured the experience of her one-year international assignment from Europe to Asia and the skill mapping exercise she was tasked to deliver there.She described the personal challenges of feeling like she had taken on an almost impossible task – one where two external consultant-led projects had not quite fully delivered on previously – and experienced the challenges common to many when taking on an international assignment.Yet with tenacity, resilience and the support of her colleagues, she overcame these familiar international assignment challenges to deliver on an opportunity she had worked hard to make happen. She talked with people in the manufacturing facility to find out how she could understand their role and what they needed going forward to perform in their part of the organisation.After two or three months of conversations, the reality was that specific skill mapping was needed because of the transition in the workforce from one generation to the next because of retirement, said Vianello. The data-gathering stage mapped 150 job roles, complying strictly with data protection laws, and enabled the identification of 67 key skills. These included prioritising skills around dealing with complexity and strategic focus, which had become more important.From an adoption and value delivery perspective, the skill map was hugely successful for the business and for Vianello, who was promoted for her project’s outcomes. The skills map became the global standard and positively changed the working lives of her colleagues in the manufacturing facility. Returning to the region a few years ago after the assignment in 2014, Vianello was made aware of the lasting impact of her work.“I focused on adoption and that made a huge difference,” she said, in a message relevant for everyone involved in introducing new ways of working. “We in HR can create value for the business, but we have to listen. We can really be disruptors when it comes to the adoption of new tech. We should be the orchestrators and help to connect the dots in the organisation, but for that, we have to start conversations and listen.”

Adopting technology for engagement

How to support technology adoption – not just drive implementation – and deliver value for organisations and individuals continued as an overarching theme across the day-one sessions. Swissport’s CIO, Dave Lynch, spoke with Lilly McEneaney, account executive at workforce communications software developer, Firstup, about how Swissport has adopted its One app to communicate and engage with the 45,000-strong global workforce in passenger handling, cargo and fuelling. “Because of Covid, we lost a lot of experienced people,” said Lynch. “This product came to us at a time of high attrition. There was a big cultural issue around onboarding and we needed to find a way of sending a uniform message across the business and a way of getting messages back.“That’s about appreciating the health of all our employees and reaching out to those with some of the hardest physical jobs, like baggage handlers, who are on the frontline.”The app, which includes features such as group and local corporate news, rostering and more social functionalities, balances creating belonging and building individual teams with being part of a global business. This means paying attention to local needs as well as the global view. It has reduced attrition, saving the company an estimated €4,500 per employee onboarding costs, and connects with more than 80% of the workforce who were previously unreachable because of the nature of their job role.The successful iterative rollout of the app means “engagement with it” is a consequence of how it has been designed and implemented. To do this, Lynch says Swissport turned the communication pyramid “the other way round”. It still leads with the message from the CEO and offers “a single source of truth”. Yet around 9-10 months after roll-out and connecting with employees, the app has become as much about talking to employees around the world as it has about listening. This is possible because it can cluster messages by geography and is relevant and accessible to employees, 75% of whom are deskless, through consumer-grade tech.“We are continuously answering the question, ‘what’s it in for me?’ and aligning with that,” said Lynch. “It’s connecting up to leaders and across the business too.”All these human-first approaches are creating the ecosystems for technology, humanity and performance to align in positive ways.“It is a really interesting but difficult balance,” said Alastair Logan on balancing empathy with efficiency as he concluded his session. “But it is one that is achievable by thinking of the full impact of change and acting on feedback.”

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