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TecHR Interview with Ian Cook, VP of People Solutions at Visier

Tell us about yourself Ian, and your professional journey so far.

I have spent the last 15 years of my career elevating the strategic contribution of HR. Through roles in consulting, research and most recently people analytics, my focus has been on enabling HR to drive business success through people, and move away from a purely administrative focus. For Visier I have led the development of the worlds leading people analytics solution – which is used daily by CHROs in the Fortune 500.

Diversity and Inclusion are crucial in the B2B/Tech hiring marketplace. We’d love to know your thoughts on companies that have the best D&I best practices as well as some of your suggestions on how companies can inculcate a stronger D&I culture.

There are two main activities, and organizations often get them the wrong way round.

The first is to focus on developing a management approach and culture which supports diversity. Rather than simply reporting numbers of people in different groups the activities need to involve both data and the practices which make diverse groups perform well. And rather than overall reports of diversity, this focus and practice need to be embedded in how people managers think and act on a day to day basis. People analytics distributed across the business gives these people leaders the information they need to know for when and how to act to support diversity in the organization.

The second area (which many organization incorrectly put first) is hiring. The logic that is followed is that to make our organization more diverse we need to hire more diverse people.  This is only true if those people join an organization where they feel like they contribute and align with the values. So focusing on hiring when the overall culture is not inclusive will not bring the expected results.

When it comes to hiring the key is to attract as broad a pool of people as possible. This means ensuring that your job postings are written to be inclusive and that opportunities are posted in many places. If you bring in a high number of diverse candidates and then run a “blind” selection process so that gender, ethnicity, age, etc are all ignored as part of the short-listing process then you create the best opportunity to hire on merit and hire a diverse workforce.

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How can a strong D&I culture also help achieve core business goals?

Diversity, when groups work effectively, has been positively correlated with innovation and better problem-solving. The blend of different perspectives generates a better overall result. This is key helping organizations succeed.

Additionally, in organizations with large customer-facing staff groups, a wide range of diversity has been shown to improve customer loyalty – leading to return spend.

How do you foresee the dynamics in HR and People Management change with time, given the easy access to more sophisticated features and HR Tech tools? 

Through the previous 20 years, the focus on HR was enabling managers to manage people better. Instead of HR stepping in to have performance conversations, managers were coached and supported to do this themselves. The technology changes drove the same movement from the central admin to self-serve people processes done by managers.

One thing the next wave of technology will enable is the process of self-managing your role, career and work experience even further down into the organization, down to the employee. A lot of emerging technology is focusing on allowing employees to understand their skills, which types of work they could do, and how they would navigate from their current role to the one they want in the future.

Other technologies are enabling people to self-manage schedules and switch when and how they work without needing manager interventions or approvals.

This move towards enabling each employee level will continue.

In addition, technology will help managers to manage people in smarter ways. Managers will be supported with suggested actions or reminders or guidance on what they can do to keep employees motivated and focused. The automation will move on from simply the transactional work of logging vacation to the more complex work of guiding, motivating and developing people.

We’d love to know your thoughts on how predictive analytics/HR tech tools can give businesses an edge in gauging their future talent needs

The big area of growth that is just becoming possible is the detection, capture, and maintenance of a skill profile for each person. In the past this work had to be manual and this meant it was rarely maintained.  The evolution of machine learning, and the data to back it, has made the process of properly understanding a person’s skills, what they can do now and what they could do next far more automated and scalable.

With the changes that are coming to business, this insight is crucial in determining how and who to re-skill to adjust to the changing work demands.

What are some of the innovative ways in which companies can create a more compelling people experience with the help of their HR Tech Stack?

For many employees, their primary questions relate to how to build the career they want. Organizations that can provide the capability for individuals to understand and navigate their own careers will benefit from increased retention and better optimization of the people they work with.

What are some of the hiring biases in the B2B/tech segment that you wish didn’t exist?

In our Visier Insights: The Truth About Ageism in the Tech Industry report that we conducted a few years ago, we found that systemic ageism does exist in tech hiring practices. The study found that while older Tech non-managers are consistently rated higher performers than their Non-Tech counterparts, they are less likely to be hired. From age 40 onwards, non-managers in Tech enter what Visier has coined as the “Tech Sage Age” and are increasingly likely to receive a Top Performer rating as they age, mature, and gain experience, compared to Non-Tech. Despite this, while in Tech 41% of available talent is Gen X, Gen X makes up only 27% of new hires (a ratio of 0.67). In contrast, having a similar proportion of available Gen X talent (45%), in Non-Tech, Gen X makes up 35% of new hires (a ratio of 0.78).

But it’s not all bad news for older Tech workers. Despite finding evidence of ageism in hiring, the study found that older tech workers as a group do not experience a reduction in average salary that is any different from their counterparts in Non-Tech industries. Rather, workers in Tech experience the same salary lifecycle as their counterparts in Non-Tech. The study also found that older tech workers that are newly hired do not—on average—experience a lower wage. Rather, newly hired workers are paid the same average salary as more tenured workers, across all age groups.

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Can you share 5 top tips for hiring teams to stay abreast of the latest industry challenges, given the changing dynamics in requirements of specific skills?

The sheer scale of reskilling requirements will force organizations to transform learning if they haven’t already: 62% of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between 2018 and 2023. Learning will no longer be a periodic one-and-done process, but a seamless part of work for everyone, managers included. Here are 5 things that HR teams can do to effectively reskill their workforce:

  • Forecast the new wave of jobs and identify their corresponding skills. 
    • Connect with senior business leaders and line managers to determine which skills will be in demand. This process will have to be constant and flexible, as skills needs will likely change every 5-10 years.
  • Determine how much of a learning investment is required to meet business goals using the time to productivity metric. 
    • Time to productivity is very important because it is an indicator of how much investment is required to reach your business goals. To get this metric, calculate the sum of days to productivity for the analysis group and divide that by the number of employees in the analysis group. The more aggressively you need to shorten time to productivity, the higher the learning investment.
  • Start gaining a clear understanding of each employee’s skill set–not just their job title.
    • Capture leadership experience and skills, levels of experience, and degrees and certifications. With this information, you can deploy teams to projects more rapidly and get a handle on where you are at risk of experiencing a skills shortage. Consider also how AI and automation can be introduced to supplement any needed skills.
  • Explore where immersive learning experiences may be useful for you.
    • Identify areas where there is pre-built, out-of-the-box, high-quality content that meets your organization’s specific requirements. Run experiments and pilots, and determine whether the product or platform, such as VR/AR, is a good fit that provides additional value.
  • Monitor courses and compare learning outcomes so that they can drive the best business results.
    • Dig into your people data to determine whether participants from a specific reskilling program are experiencing more internal movement, flowing from low-demand positions to high-demand positions.

What is the best recruitment/leadership advice you have ever received?

Early in my career, I worked with McKinsey as a coach. One of the Principals I worked with had the mantra “Do what you want to do and wait to get fired.”  What this meant is work like you own the business and invest your time in making sure you are doing the best for the business. And the outcome will either be success or if you don’t fit with that business you will be let go – which is not a bad thing as you did not fit!!  I still find this mantra gives me the courage to have the hard conversations and drive for what I believe will bring the most value to the organization

Tag (or mention/write about) one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read!

Jason Averbrook.

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Thank you, Ian! That was fun and hope to see you back on TecHR soon.

Our curiosity, the desire to understand, is inseparable from what it means to be human. But, in the hype of big data analytics, we’ve forgotten that data does not equal knowledge.

Visier was founded to focus on what matters: answering the right business questions, even the ones a person might not know to ask. Questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business results.

Visier is dedicated to transforming business analytics, to providing leaders with clear answers to critical business questions — out-of-the-box, without the hassle and cost of data management, statements of work, and long and risky development projects.

Visier lets companies say goodbye to data quality problems, to complexity, to costly tools, to endless service fees, and to guesswork. A people strategy platform designed by domain experts for leaders, Visier lets leaders say hello to clarity, to confidence, to meaningful answers — and to better business performance. Say hello to Visier. Outsmart, outperform.

Ian Cook heads the workforce domain for Visier, which develops cloud-based applications that enable HR professionals to answer workforce strategy questions. Cook has been involved in driving forward the datafication of HR and is a speaker and blogger on the subject. Prior to Visier, he built Canada’s leading source of HR benchmark data. His expertise has also been developed through years of international experience solving strategic HR problems for brands in the Fortune 500 and FTSE 100.