Talent, Skills, and Training – Bonney

I think it’s important to put the topics of recruiting, skills, training, and development in the larger context of talent management and the still larger context of the changing workforce demographics and the technical skills shortage that we face in industry – the so-called “War for Talent.” My point is not to give the reader comfort that this is a problem faced by many companies across most industrial sectors and throughout the entire world economy because that doesn’t absolve us from dealing with the problem, but rather, to draw attention to the true scope of the problem.

In the larger sense, we are dealing with a fundamental transformation of the use of human capital, on par with the industrial revolution. We should keep this in mind when determining how to approach our talent issues. Yes, the short-term tactical advice is always useful. But, planning for the long term can’t be ignored and will take a combination of human resource planning, government policy changes, new capacity and new approaches in our education systems, and new technology. These changes will require us to work differently with partners and suppliers to achieve the outcomes we want. We can’t rely on the old models of allocated headcount with defined duties and desired skills to just “get the work done.”

Talent and the Human Element

Let’s first put the topics for this chapter in the larger context of talent management. Talent management as a discipline traditionally includes four pillars: recruitment, learning, performance, and compensation. This chapter is focused on recruitment and learning which is done for an outcome (performance) at a price (compensation). Keep in mind that the purpose of talent management is to create a high-performing, sustainable organization that meets its strategic and operational goals and objectives. The goal we have for talent development is to:

  • allow the Information Security team to develop the skills and capabilities to continually adapt to changing business and threat environments, thereby
  • help the larger organization identify and manage the risks that threaten its information and operations technology, in order to
  • safeguard the organization’s data (both generated and entrusted), and
  • protect the people and operations from cyber and cyber-kinetic harm, thus
  • enabling the organization to compete with less drag and friction.

I think to be successful with how we approach building and developing our team’s capabilities we need to consider the human element. Several different works that share some similarities with each other are helpful here. The first is a book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Pink 2009) by Daniel H. Pink. The second is a study conducted by Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project[1] along with Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The study is summarized well in an article in the New York Times (Porath 2014). The third is an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review (Gunter K. Stahl 2012) called “Six Principles of Effective Global Talent Management.”

What is common to these works is the assertion that the sense of purpose that each person has for their work is more indicative of their engagement and success than their skills. The argument is that affinity is a more important predictor than efficiency.

That is not to say that skills aren’t important. On the contrary, one has little chance of being successful without possessing the skills required for the job. But it would be worth your time to review these works. Daniel Pink tells us that by providing our teams with opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, we are providing the key ingredients to motivate our people. Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath tell us that employees are vastly more satisfied and productive when four of their core needs are met:

  • physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work;
  • emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions;
  • mental, when they can focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done;
  • and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

Gunter Stahl, et al., found that large successful companies adhere to six key principles rather than traditional management best practices focused on maximizing the four pillars listed above. Those key principles are:

  • alignment with strategy,
  • internal consistency,
  • cultural embeddedness,
  • management involvement,
  • a balance of global and local needs, and
  • employer branding through differentiation.

Therefore, I’d like to suggest that we think of the people we work with, who help us achieve our outcomes, as people, not just talent. We would like to hire the best people with the right skills and mindset, help them become even better at what they do, have them share a common set of goals, and have them engaged and happy to be part of our team for the long haul.

Recruitment

With the human element considered, let’s turn to the issue of recruitment. I referred at the beginning of this chapter to the “War for Talent” and noted that we are dealing with a fundamental transformation regarding how we deploy human capital. These changes affect different industries in unique ways and the various functions within organizations in very different ways. Three factors I think we need to address are the scarcity of qualified workers, third-party service delivery, and augmentation using artificial intelligence.

The scarcity of Qualified Workers

A significant result of the industrial revolution was the migration of populations from rural to urban centers. This migration was aided by several factors. Among these factors were the ability of manufacturers to expand the capacity of their workforce, the resulting increase in productivity and profitability of doing so, the resulting elasticity of wages, and the relatively low barrier to entry (compared to both the guild system that preceded industrialization and the highly technical skillsets that are required in today’s digital workplace). While there were often labor shortages when new factories or industries popped up, the pace of industrial development, the availability of investment capital, and the speed of communications served as natural governing factors.

Still, labor shortages could at times doom businesses or at least temporarily suppress profits. In short, the demand signal was sent, and the response was the arrival of men and women ready to work. Training shifted from years of apprenticeship to mere weeks of classroom or vestibule training, but the key factor was the availability of any person ready and willing to work.

Fast-forward three hundred years, and many of the jobs we need to fill are highly specialized, requiring years of school and what amounts to years of apprenticeship. The demand signal has again been sent, and governments and universities recognize the severe shortages of highly-skilled workers, not just cybersecurity professionals. However, the pace of development in the digital age, the availability of abundant investment capital, and the instantaneous speed of communications serve as accelerators, not governors.

Enough Admiring the Problem. What Are We Going to Do About It?

[1] https://theenergyproject.com/ – referenced November 2016

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