In this video, John Sumser presents a masterclass on the jobs and skills needed in today’s organizations as we navigate the world of work during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the discussion we had in the interview. Post your comments on or my YouTube Channel »



Full Transcript


Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.


JS – John Sumser, Principal Analyst, HRExaminer

John Sumser: [00:00:00] I’m going to talk to you today about jobs and skills, but I’m going to talk to you about jobs and skills in a way that might surprise you. I took the idea that this is a masterclass very, very seriously. My name is John Sumser and if you don’t know me, I’m going to tell you a little bit about me and why I’m qualified to talk about this topic.

[00:00:22] I’ve been a student of human resource technology for about 25 years full time now. And I am an industry analyst and a, a well-recognized authority on the range of HR technologies, including artificial intelligence, which has been my focus over the last five years. What’s interesting about me is that my father ran a project for the American department of labor called the dictionary of occupational titles in the 1960s.

[00:00:57] In the 1960s that work, which was the source of all skills analysis that we know of today was updated because. In order to operate the American civil rights legislation, you had to be able to define a job in explicit terms. So you could see whether or not there was discrimination there. So the government sponsored the department of labor to do this massive overhaul, and they sent people out to examine all sorts of things about how people do work.

[00:01:31] And that was my dad’s job. So this was the conversation at our family dinner table. I didn’t really want to go into the family business. So I spent 15 years as a systems engineer in a big electronics company learning how technology really works and really high-end technical environments, and then came slowly but surely into the HR Technology fold.

[00:01:57] So I’m a senior fellow at the conference board, which is America’s largest business consulting operation. I run a company called HR Examiner, which is an industry analyst firm that I’ll tell you more about in a second, I’m the principal analyst there, and HR Executive Magazine has a regular column of mine every month about intelligent tools and mostly it’s about the ethics associated with intelligent tools.

[00:02:25] The HR Examiner is it’s about 11 years old now, and we do annual reports and weekly newsletters and a couple of podcasts. You can find our reports on Amazon for a pretty decent cheap price. Or you can buy the latest report on the website for a not so cheap price. About 40,000 subscribers, mostly in North America, mostly CHR level people read the HR Examiner to find out about what’s going to happen next.

[00:03:00] So as I do this, talk, if you have questions and you want me to dig down into the details, I will try to answer them as you ask them. I’m happy to ask them in the flow of things as well. Part of what I’m doing here today is showing you a new technology that I think you will probably all be using something like this.

[00:03:23] This, this is a way of trying to overcome the monotony of a zoom meeting and gives you control over your video flow so that you can do what I’m doing here and present things. And then, move the screen to emphasize, move it back to not emphasize, move it around forever for entertainment value. And this is early.

[00:03:46] This is a product known as mmhmm, m-m-h-m-m it’s in beta right now. And it’s the kind of thing that you want to think about when you’re thinking about skills in jobs, because learning how to use this new technology, turned out to be a bigger deal than I thought. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that we’re going to talk about in the presentation today.

[00:04:11] So my goal here is to give you a masterclass, and a masterclass isn’t about getting answers. A masterclass is about making you think. So I’m going to present a picture of what I think about skills and jobs, and I encourage you to disagree with me. I don’t want you to be able to repeat what I’m saying. I would like you to have better questions about jobs and skills as the result of this class.

[00:04:39] I’m not here trying to persuade you of anything. It’d be interesting if you agreed with me, but it’s even more interesting if you don’t agree with me. So I’m not, I’m not here to persuade you that I’m right. And I am perfectly happy if you think I’m wrong. I don’t think this is probably going to be a debate about right and wrong answers.

[00:05:00] Because what I want to do here is give you a way of thinking about the limits of our current ways of thinking about work and jobs and the skills that are part of working. This is my office. I am talking to you from this office. I want to tell you a little bit about this office, because it gives you a sense of the skills that you’re going to need.

[00:05:26] This office has a very sophisticated audio system and that you can see that I’m using a remote microphone that is processed through a sound processor to make it more listenable. There are multiple monitors. There are wires everywhere. There are studio lights. There are seven microphones and seven cameras tucked into this space to get various effects done.

[00:05:54] And it’s turning out that I do all of my work here because at least 60% of what I do involves being on video in some way, whether it’s a zoom meeting or a presentation like this. And so I have to get good at recording and distributing and streaming video. And I’m going to tell you that if, if you want to know personally what skills you need to succeed, you better get good at developing and streaming and delivering video.

[00:06:25] This is the way of the future of this moment is like when I got my first computer in 1980 and nobody knew what in the world you did with a computer on a job. I was part of an early class of people who had great careers because they were at the cutting edge of the technology. And I spent my adult life at the cutting edge of the technology and it has delivered remarkable benefits.

[00:06:52] This is the next step you’re going to need to be good at delivering video. And you’re going to need to, whatever your budget is, get the best equipment that you can get to deliver the best video you can get. A lot of the trick to doing great video is whitening. It’s all about lighting and then it’s all about controlling the video so that the changes in lighting don’t interrupt your work.

[00:07:24] So I wanted to show you this too, because if you look here and see me, it doesn’t look like I’m in that place. It looks like I’m in some sort of a studio somewhere with a dark whites and very effective. Presentation, and this is the reality of the home office studio.

[00:07:46] So, so the first thing that I want to tell you about is a story that I’m going to repeat over the course of this presentation. And this is, this is the story of B going to get a flu shot. This last Saturday morning, I got in the car with my wife. We drove over to the place where we get our healthcare and they have an emergency room there.

[00:08:14] And in the garage of the emergency room or eight stations where you could get a flu shot, you couldn’t get out of the car. This is, I don’t know what it’s like, where you are, but we’re in the middle of the pandemic. And so everybody had masks on, you had to wear a mask in the car. The people who gave his shots were, were full of masks and it was a traffic.

[00:08:35] An interesting traffic problem. There were eight workstations giving shots. There were five people at each workstation, and then there were another 30 people directing traffic because they could only take eight cars at a time. So eight cars would move in, then they’d move the next eight cars in and they moved the next eight cars in.

[00:08:54] So you got a shot in the safe way and did get COVID from having a gun from the shot. Now, the nurse who gave me my shot. Uh, I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like giving shots and the nurse who gave me my shot was really excellent, but I’m almost positive that nothing prepared her for the prospect of having to give a shot to somebody whose arm was hanging out.

[00:09:19] Okay. Window. And that’s the point that I want to make about that right now? Is that what constitutes a skill is a very, very flexible thing. And it may be that there are not nearly as many skills as people think about the thing about nursing. I was just going to dig a little bit further into the nursing example.

[00:09:44] If you look at all of the job descriptions everywhere, what you’ll find is that no job description of a nurse says has to be good at giving shots. And if you look at all of the resumes of every nurse who ever lived. What you’ll see is no resume says you have to be good at giving shots. At in fact, in the nursing profession is divided into people who can give shots well, and people who can’t give shots well, if you hurt people, when you give shots, you end up with an administrative job.

[00:10:16] And if you’re great at giving thoughts, you ended up working in clinics. And so it’s a determining factor in the job, but nowhere is that documented. And this is the big problem with skills. Is in the current world where job descriptions are written than resumes are matched against job descriptions. The things that everybody knows are never documented.

[00:10:39] And it turns out that, that stuff that everybody knows because every nurse knows that if you’re no good at giving shots, you can’t work in a place to give shots, but it isn’t ever in the job description. That problem runs all the way through all of the way that we see skills. So just for a quick definition, a skill is the ability to perform an action with determined results often with a given amount of time or energy or both.

[00:11:08] And that little definition has done lots and lots of things damage.

[00:11:16] I’ll tell you further on in the presentation. There are really enormous projects in places like Workday or IBM or Google. There are 30 or 40 of them right now, where people are trying to match job descriptions and resumes to get a view of skills. And they get these very complicated things that don’t actually match up to what’s going on in the workplace.

[00:11:41] So while a skill is an easy thing to understand, it’s a very, very difficult thing to document. There are all these theories about how this works. I assume that if you’re in this class today, you have, and believe the idea that a job is a set of skills. And that’s a, that’s a common view that is very industrial in its orientation.

[00:12:08] So in the 1920s, when, when the United States was turning from a farming economy to an industrial economy, That was a lot of work applied to looking at measuring and calibrating. The ways that people did, the things that they did and all work was essentially something physical. So you could see it and you could measure it and you could talk about it.

[00:12:33] And the idea at that time was that the only things that mattered were the things that you could see and measure. And so a job was a collection of skills.

[00:12:47] This idea that a job is a collection of skills is an equal idea that something like people are simply assemblages of skills. And so you move people, um, because they have skills into different jobs. And that’s a, that’s a really great theory. It’s particularly prevalent in HR. Out in the workforce and out in the, the world where people are not doing HR, but they’re doing work when you don’t have somebody with the skill you put somebody else in.

[00:13:21] And that’s, that’s one of the fundamental questions about skills that I want you to think about, which is why you ought to have to have a certain skill to do a certain job. All the time people do jobs without having those skills. And so there’s some underlying disconnect between how we think about jobs as collections of skills and what actually happens in the world.

[00:13:46] Here’s another idea that I’m a little bit more comfortable with and that, that jobs are really social constructs that have a little bit of skills at the heart, but they’re really reflections of social structure. They’re buried inside of jobs, specific language, and they always happen inside of a specific context.

[00:14:07] And so these outer three layers, social structure, language and context are actually the most important parts of any job. The skills are, as you can see here while they are the heart of a job, they are a minor portion of the entire job. And if you can match master the social structure, the language of the context, You can figure out the skills.

[00:14:31] And so when you go think about how do you transfer that green ball of skills over to the next job? Another way you might think about it is how do you teach somebody about the central structure, language and context of that next job? They’ll figure out the skills part. There are great experiments going on right now with the idea of that work has been.

[00:14:57] Described in our language and social structure in a way that obscures what the actual skills are. So I know of an experiment where they are taking people who work on the assembly line in a fast food restaurant, a Kentucky fried chicken or something, um, and teaching them how to be top level software developers.

[00:15:23] Turns out that in these experiments, that the difference between working in a fast food franchise and being a software developer has way more to do with language, context and social structure that it has to do with the actual skills. Because to work in a fast food restaurant, you have to all of the time do the same things that you do when you’re a software programmer, you have to get good.

[00:15:48] At repeated patterns, identifying repeated patterns, noticing when they’re off, that sort of thing is the heart of the work. But because one requires some kind of formal technical or college education than the other you can do when you walk off the street and one pays a lot of money and one pays a little money and one tends to be inhabited by upper-class people.

[00:16:11] And the other tends to be inhabited by lower-class people. We confuse those social distinctions with the notion that the skills are profoundly different. And so this is, this is a new idea that is just coming to coming to the forefront. But the idea that language context and social structure are more important to getting a job done well than skills is something that you’ll want to be thinking about the next.

[00:16:40] Story. This is again, I told you my dad was responsible for the second edition of the dictionary of occupational and this work described physical labor and factory jobs with explicit detail about what people did so that you could go measure and recreate it time and motion studies where the heart of the work, it’s all about physical work.

[00:17:08] And as the American economy started to move away from manual labor and away from factory labor into information labor, they work started to slow because you can’t see and measure and understand the work that people do in information economies in the same way that you understand how people do physical work or factory work.

[00:17:32] By 1999, the department of labor had completely abandoned the project. And I know of no other place to maybe something in India that I’m unaware of, but I know of no other place where anybody is doing a comprehensive view of what each job does. There was a temporary project at Google to do that, and they realized how expensive it was that it was a moonshot and they backed away from it.

[00:18:00] This method. Uh, defining the job by the specific tasks that people do, is it really relevant to information and service economy jobs in the way it was to factory jobs where everything was hyper predictable. We live in a world of work today where work is not particularly predictable. So there’s this legacy of thinking about how to identify skills and process skills.

[00:18:31] That’s almost a hundred years old now, and it’s archaic. It stopped being updated in the nineties and everything that’s happened since the nineties that has to do with job descriptions and the development of ways of thinking about what people do and their skills is all a theory. It’s not based on objective observation and measurement of the work it’s based on what people think might be happening.

[00:19:01] And so there’s a lot of confusion because that’s 20 years of data about jobs. That’s mostly made up in theorizing by the people who get to write the job descriptions instead of it being a more formal documented kind of approach. But that’s the thing that, that, that gets in the way of the skills conversation is the idea that resumes and CVS describe jobs at all.

[00:19:29] And when you think about what you use a resume or a CV for the fundamental goal, isn’t to explain who you are, the fundamental goal is to get an interview, right? And so a resume and a CV is a marketing document that oversimplifies. It doesn’t really tell you what’s going on. There’s no standard construction.

[00:19:50] So everybody talks about the same thing in different ways. And there’s out, I’ll tell you a little bit about, about some great, interesting projects to try to extract skills from resumes and job descriptions. But if you were to go look at resumes and try to figure out what’s consistent across hundreds of millions of reservations.

[00:20:11] And people, people are spread rate money, doing this. What you find out is the things that matter are documented, like in the nursing example and that what people talk about exaggerates, it’s an exaggerated view of what they did and what they’re capable of. And so they’re not accurate for sort of research based, looking into skills.

[00:20:37] The next piece is that job ads in job descriptions are the same thing. And so much of the work to identify skills in the last 20 years has been done by examining what people ask for a job ads. And I don’t know, I don’t know if you you’ve had the experience, but it’s very rarely the case that what the job ad says matches what the work actually is.

[00:21:05] And so job ads are marketing documents. The goal of a job ad is to get candidates. The goal of the job ad is never to accurately describe what the job is. It may be impossible to accurately describe what the job is, and we’ll talk about that in a moment, but the goal of job ads is simply to get candidates, to apply for jobs within the hiring process.

[00:21:31] Matching job ads and resumes. Doesn’t get you hired. It gets you people into an interview. And so both sides are interested in getting to the point that there’s an interview, but it’s the interview. That’s the determining factor. It’s not the skills that are represented in job ads and job descriptions.

[00:21:53] The challenge here. Is that the great databases of skills are all based on job ads and job descriptions. Um, and so if you’re trying to do coherent workforce planning inside of HR and you use these cumbersome, massive skills taxonomies, what you get is a very imperfect picture of how the world works, because the important things are not documented.

[00:22:23] And you’re taking marketing tools and comparing and digesting marketing tools. So you’d get a great picture of how people are marketing to each other and a bad picture of how work gets done. The next piece is that resumes and job ads are about the same thing. And this would have to be true. If you were going to use the data for both places to come up with an assessment of skills.

[00:22:49] Which is how most skills analysis is developed these days. And they’re not, they are complimentary opposites. The job of the resume is to get the attention of the hiring manager or get through the wickets imposed by the applicant tracking system so that you can get to an interview. And the job of the job ad is to get as many people to apply for the job as possible.

[00:23:16] So these are not, these are not the same goal. They’re trying to do the same thing. It’s a bit of silliness to actually compare the two, but there are great industries in the HR technology space built on the idea that you can make something sensible happened by comparing the two right now. It’s it’s all we have.

[00:23:40] It’s all we have, but it doesn’t mean that it’s right. It doesn’t mean that it’s a good way of thinking about the future and it doesn’t mean that, that it gets good hires accomplished. You might wonder if there is this big disconnect that I’m laying out here between how we think about work and how we’re trying to automate work, how we’re trying to get skills into the automation process.

[00:24:04] You might wonder. If that isn’t the cause of the significant, uh, attrition problems that we have in our companies today. The next thing is that we think we actually know what skills are. And so I want to tell you about a, uh, a view that I have about how work actually happens. And in my view, there are two kinds of people in organizations.

[00:24:33] Big organizations. This isn’t true in small companies, but in big organizations, there are the people who worry about the lines and boxes, and there are the people who get the work done. And the people who worry about the lines and boxes are generally a higher class social class, and their arguments often boil down to who gets credit for what?

[00:24:56] And that they’re in charge of a certain, very defined aspect of work. Out in the world where the work gets done, people can’t really afford to live inside of those boxes. They have to get outside of those boxes every day to get the work done and down where people get work done underneath the level where people are worried about who works for who the workforce understands that if the work doesn’t get done, the money will come in and they won’t have a job.

[00:25:26] So they work very, very hard. To ignore the lines in boxes in order to get things done. And this is, this is where the inherent tension between management and workers comes from is they’re looking at the same problem from two very different points of view. It turns out that almost everywhere when you take a very close granular look at a specific job, it looks different than it looks from a supervisory kind of position.

[00:25:58] So that means often that the people who have the hardest time with new technologies are the people who manage it. The people who work with new technologies have a relatively easy time. Most of the time switching technologies, because well, you have to, and it’s not as necessary to come up that learning curve with a management job.

[00:26:21] One of the reasons it’s important to me, you can see I’m not a young guy. It’s important to me to have. A continuous flow of new things to learn a new skills to master is I don’t want to lose sight of what it’s like to be at the cutting edge of the technology. That’s where people learn. That’s where skills change and that’s where you get a view of what’s actually happening.

[00:26:46] So. The genius of work, which is the top bullet here. What I mean by the genius of work is that it takes the people with the lines and boxes of the people who get the work done. It takes both of them to get work done, but the idea of skills and jobs belongs to the people with lines of boxes that the people who do work and get it done and make sure the company stays afloat by doing the work are less concerned about those lines and boxes.

[00:27:18] I wanted to take a moment and give you a little breather from all of this and show you some things that I’ve found recently. I assume that that in India, the, um, uh, pet DEMEC has you in some form of lockdown as well, and you’re not having meetings like this close at hand, and I found these videos about what it was like to work in an office that I just want to show you in common a little bit about.

[00:27:44] You can’t have this kind of interaction today in any company that I know of. If you look the supervisor, the woman who’s, the supervisor is having individual instructive, um, interactions with employees. It’s just from one to the other. And the people who were in the meeting at the back of the room are busy, cutting and pasting stuff.

[00:28:09] This doesn’t happen anymore. This kind of meeting simply can’t be done in a zoom context. This one, if you look, people are happy, they’re touching each other. Um, and we don’t do this at least, at least in the United States. People we’re not touching each other at all.

[00:28:29] There is a bigger brainstorming conference room full of people.

[00:28:38] and they touch each other. They fisbo, we don’t have meetings like this anymore. My guess is that we aren’t going to have meetings like this anymore. And here’s the last one used to be that a conversation could take a whole room and you could do things visually inside of the space of a whole room that helped the entire team understand what was going on.

[00:29:04] The reason I wanted to show you these images, our work has changed overnight. And the fact that we’re able to do it through zoom meetings currently is a poor pale comparison to the vibrant ways that we used to work together. And what we’re doing right now, like we’re doing with this technology. Let me remind you the technology lets me do this.

[00:29:32] And, and emphasize a point. What we’re doing right now is learning how to accomplish some of the things we used to be able to do easily and that we just simply can’t do any longer. So the next thing is, is this idea that we know what the new skills are going to be. I’m sure some of you are, are here because what you’re trying to do is.

[00:29:59] Forecast skills requirements into the out years. Um, and you know what? I never would have guessed in a million years and nor would anybody that I talked to that I would spend the last 90 days perfecting my video presentation skills with the way that I have, but that’s what I have to do to do my job is make sure that my content is available.

[00:30:25] So, so there’s a question here that I’m going to, I’m going to put off till the later, uh, which is what should be some of the key skills which HR professionals should focus on to succeed in the fast pace of wherever is I’ll get that. I want to tell you about a company called Catalyte and what Catalyte does.

[00:30:45] Is it takes, remember I talked about somebody working in the fast food industry and getting a job as a senior software engineer Catalyte does this. And it’s a, it’s a huge company in the United States and they do nothing but a dead defy, raw talent and turns into great talent. And it turns out every time that the real issue is social structure and status.

[00:31:12] Not. Not specific detailed skills, even in worlds, as disparate, as fast food franchise and software engineering. And they don’t do it by knowing what the skills are. That’s not how that’s not how they do it. They’re looking for things that are very, very difficult to far to define, except with testing inside of a computer.

[00:31:36] Now, I want you to imagine that it’s 2010. And that your job is to imagine what skills we’d need in 2020. And I don’t think you would have gotten smartphone, smart cars, Uber, the way that Google is dominant everywhere, Facebook, the rise of authoritarianism distributed work, or the gross failure of academia that we’re witnessing.

[00:31:59] And so, so the, the idea that we know how to move from one skill to another is I think optimistic. And in each one of these cases, people are learning those skills, but there’s not a structure about them learning the new skills. They learn the new skills as they’re required. And so the next theory is that skills are the most important thing about jobs, and this is over and over true.

[00:32:27] I’m sure you all have a story about somebody who wasn’t qualified to do the job who got thrown into the job because they were available. And turned out to do a super job in the job. So it’s clear that the skills are not the best important thing about jobs. And it’s shown in battlefield promotions of family members who succeed in businesses, people who focus on just getting it done.

[00:32:55] And then the last thing is we are starting to build our companies around this monitoring software that measures employee performance in keystrokes. And there’s no science behind it, particularly, but this business of measuring and accounting for KPIs is with us. And it’s forcing us to think about skills in ways that are pretty destructive.

[00:33:27] So a little bit about the structure of the way that people think about skills and how you should think about that. Most of you will have had some exposure to skills taxonomies because skills taxonomies are the foundation of any good compensation management scheme. They’re the foundation of organizational status.

[00:33:50] They provide the technical backbone for your R I S they’re rooted in ideas from the dictionary of occupational titles and they have. The interesting feature that they replicate class systems. And so, so people in the top of the taxonomy are always deemed to be superior to people who are in the bottom of the taxonomy.

[00:34:17] That idea that, that the job classification taxonomy is an industrial idea that has been overtaken by dynamic skills, ontologies. And dynamic skills. Ontologies are what I’ve been sort of talking about throughout this presentation, which is you take all of the job ads and all of the resumes, and it’s possible to get this data and you put them in a natural language processing database, and just start to be able to see how the employment market is changing.

[00:34:51] And the argument that the people who are doing this may make, and there are 30 major experiments from IBM and Google burning glass. You may know the argument that they make is that because you can watch all the employment marketplace changes, it will tell you about what the skills are. And so you get this rapidly changing sort of super duper taxonomy that.

[00:35:19] Has the net effect of being distracting, right? It doesn’t really, it doesn’t really help, but it sure looks good. And so there’s a lot of money and time and energy, you will be exposed to dynamic skills ontologies, but if you stop and think about the fact that what they’re doing is comparing to marketing documents at massive scale, you can start to wonder about what’s inside of those taxonomies.

[00:35:50] So long range, workforce planning, which is what, another one of the reasons that people think about skills over time. You know, the way that you do long range workforce planning is just start with the business plan. You can’t do workforce planning without a view of where the company’s going, and you do a staffing plan associated with that long range business plan that should break out into job types, which should.

[00:36:15] Allow you to think about skills. And the theory is that you get a total precise picture of what you need out in the future from doing good workforce planning. And the problem is it’s always wrong because the underlying data is wrong and you can’t see what the future is. So what sophisticated companies are doing these days is a portfolio approach.

[00:36:41] And what that means is. They don’t try to identify specific skills that they’re going to cultivate. They identify kinds of people that they want to bet on as people who will learn what the skills are. And so they make investments in particular kinds of engineers or particular kinds of customer support people.

[00:37:03] And they do that at scale because they believe that having a portfolio of skills. Represented by people who are the kinds of people who actively change is a better way to make your workforce agile. Part of what I’m getting to in all of this is we don’t really have a clear idea in the 21st century of about what work is.

[00:37:28] Is it the value you produce? Is that how many hours you work? Is it, how many of the tasks you’ve been assigned that you accomplish? Is it your overall level of accomplishment? Is it something that has to do with the hierarchy and the way that people see you in value inside of the organization? We just simply don’t have good answers about what is and isn’t work.

[00:37:55] And I can tell you my favorite example is a software coder who works for Deloitte goes to. Four to five meetings a day and codes with the rest of their time, a software coder who works for HP would be fired for doing that because the two companies, while they call the job the same job, it is a nest of social structure, context and language.

[00:38:27] And the fundamental skills are not the critical thing, how you do software development in one company is different than how you do software development in another company. The same is true with how you do medicine and those two places or how you do customer service. There’s two places. Um, and so we don’t have a state Android view of work, and there is this myth that, that I’m encouraging you to question.

[00:38:53] That we know what work is and we know what the skills are, the cost. So we’re sitting here, it’s the pandemic. Um, and, and I want to tell you that, that it’s a, it’s a crazy, interesting time for this topic. When the pandemic hit, every job description broke everybody everywhere does their job in a new way, and we haven’t begun.

[00:39:20] To figure out whether or not they’re doing the right thing. What constitutes success, how you tell when you’re having success, most forms of collaboration don’t work. You remember that video? I showed you with the supervisor talking to the two employees at the front of the room or the, the post-it notes of the wall or brainstorming this forms of collaboration don’t exist anymore.

[00:39:45] And we have not figured out how to replace them. We don’t know how to solve the problem that a lawful lot of work done because people bumped into each other and we’re starting to see the very edges of what constitutes group cohesion in a, um, all zoom, all the time environment. It gets very bad, very quickly, and we’re starting to see real problems.

[00:40:13] There’s a company called humanize and I sit on their ethics advisory board because ethics is important inside of AI. And they look at overall organizational health measured as behavior inside of the networks that make up the organization before the pandemic people had 2.9 close connections. These are people you spend an hour or more a week with.

[00:40:40] And 42nd order connections. These are the people you spend 15 minutes or less every week, often five minutes a month after the pandemic that went to six close connections and 15 second order connections. So this is universal across a hundred companies. And so what that tells you is that everybody is having the experience that I’m having.

[00:41:04] I’m sure you’re having this experience where. You are talking more closely and longer with the same people. More often. Part of that is the nature of a zoom communication. And part of that is we don’t know how to make up for the intimacy of being in an office place. The problem is those 15 second order connections.

[00:41:27] Aren’t enough, the things that make work flow, as I understand it. Around an organization have to do with those second order connections, knowing that things are happening and letting each other know that’s where the organization really works. If you are a job Hunter, for example, um, it’s your second order connections who are most likely to produce the next job, not your close connections, close connections.

[00:41:57] Are four intimate job related conversations, but the second order connections are how you get things done and depend DEMEC has changed the nature of the organization. And we don’t know what that means just yet. So what’s coming from a skills perspective. The pandemic will be under control in two to five years.

[00:42:20] It’s never going to be normal. Again, we don’t know what the we’re in the new beginning, if for anything, the nature of what happens in the pandemic, which is some people have to be exposed and other people don’t have to be exposed means that we’re going to have heightened social, social tensions with class divisions, between essential workers who have to interact with the public versus homeworkers.

[00:42:45] We’re going to see major innovations in safety, health, and development. There’s a communications revolution, which is what’s going on in this conversation and measurement and monitoring is going to be everywhere. So this is what you do. This is sort of the answer to the new better is right now, there is no up right.

[00:43:06] Up-skilling assumes that there’s an up. And all I could tell you is that the uncertainty is global. So rather than knowing how to figure out what up is. You have to ask yourself, what do you do next? You do it. And then you embrace the uncertainty. You ask yourself what is to be done next and you do it.

[00:43:25] And that’s how a human resource professional needs to operate in this environment. So back to telling you about my office to close out the conversation, my office is what skills acquisition actually looks like when this all started. The behind the green screen is an amazing library of books. And there was a laptop on the desk.

[00:43:52] And as I acquired the new skills necessary to have this presentation, the workplace transformed into something that doesn’t look very sophisticated, but it does a pretty good job of what I’m trying to do here. I hope I’ve challenged your thinking. I’m looking forward to Q and a, if you want to engage on that stuff.

[00:44:16] I think we’re at an amazing point in the development of the species where we get an opportunity to rethink everything. And I think I hope that what you take away from this system that pointed to some fundamental things that we need to rethink very carefully. There’s a communications revolution going on.

[00:44:36] And if you want to succeed in your career, You need to be at the front of the communications revolution. This is the second East skill embracing uncertainty and acting as the first key skill. Getting on top of the communications revolution is the second piece skill. There’s going to be a work revolution, and I’m afraid that there might be a few actual revolutions and we are, we are as a species looking for new ways of seeing.

[00:45:06] So. Thanks for your time and attention here. And I’m happy to take on your questions. I don’t know.

[00:45:19] All right. Then my question is, since the testing time has been on and we don’t know where this would land in future of, I wanted to understand that what will be couple of skill areas or competencies, which we should. Develop as our professionals because of disease simply because studying about the 21 jobs of feature by cognizant, uh, that gives a complete different, uh, horizon of HR skillset will be required in the future.

[00:45:49] So what will be couple of, uh, areas of focus on for us to, uh, grow, uh, in future? So, so I saw that 21 human resources jobs of the future, and I laughed a lot. That was to me, A way of thinking about HRS, if nothing actually changes. And so, and so I would encourage you to look somewhere else for, or insight into what’s going to happen in the future of HR.

[00:46:16] But I’m going to, I’m going to say again, the first thing is you really need to figure out how to see the similarities. Between jobs in different social classes. And I think this is probably a global question to work on, but the idea of that social class determines ones, the capacity to do work is archaic.

[00:46:46] And yeah, you can prove that today. It’s it is not certainly if you look at my country, not everybody thinks that’s a good idea and we’re having some trouble with that here today. But the. But the reality is that we have put in the United States, we’ve put people with darker skin or who are not men in lower status jobs and positions, and that’s simply a waste of human potential.

[00:47:14] And so, so the first thing is learn how to see beyond that stuff. Really learn how to see beyond that stuff. Then the second thing is being able to, to encourage your work environment, be a place of exploration so that it’s okay to try new things. That’s super, and the best way to do that is to demonstrate it yourself.

[00:47:37] So if you want a good skill to practice a skill, that’s easy to articulate and practice, find new things and bring them to work and practice them in public. And show that it’s okay. Like, like I did, this was not a perfect presentation because I’m still learning and I will learn faster if I learn in public than if I try to learn in private.

[00:48:00] And so that’s, that’s a skill, not being ashamed to learn in public, getting the communications technology. Right. Begins with, look at your zoom image and make sure that your face is well lit. That generally takes two lamps in front of you, one on each side so that you don’t have shadows and make sure you’re using the best webcam that you could use, because really for the next five years, the person with the best video wins.

[00:48:29] If you want the single most important skill in your to be a good HR person and have a successful career. Have the best video of anybody, you know, and figure out how to do it. The next thing is, look at the world that we’re working in today, where everybody who’s on this call appears to be coming from their house.

[00:48:52] Right. And so, so that means that everything that we know about going to work doesn’t matter anymore, isn’t happening anymore. And there are things that we really, really need really need. Like. How do you make it so that people talk to each other, people who don’t know each other, talk to each other, how do you get that to happen in your organization?

[00:49:11] So that’s, that’s facilitating conversations between strangers in digital media, at your workplace or at your company. That’s super important because when the current project that everybody’s on is over. If you don’t know other people in the company, you can’t move to the next project. Everything we know about succession planning, for instance, depends on everybody involved in the succession planning conversation, having interactions with each other and that no longer happens.

[00:49:42] So what you’ll see very quickly is succession planning is failing because we depended on face-to-face interactions as a way of understanding who would be the successor, and we don’t have that anymore. And so, so there are going to be you wait. Everything in your world is going to break. In fact, it’s probably already broken.

[00:50:07] It just haven’t noticed yet. And part of what I’m trying to tell you here is maybe the biggest skill that you can cultivate is the ability to see beyond the assumptions that you carry with you. And those assumptions have to do with what’s work. Who’s a worker. What constitutes good work? What constitutes an adequate job?

[00:50:29] How do you do all of that stuff? And it’s very much, this change starts internally. It was not a set of skills for practicing in the organization. It starts with you figuring out what work means to you and what value creation means to you and then wrestling with that. So I hope that I hope that answers the question.

[00:50:48] It was a little preachy and I apologize for that.

[00:50:51] Seemab Sulemani:
[00:50:51] So, I have a specific question on the portfolio approach that, John you spoke about. In today’s time where, you know, retaining people for, more than one or two years is, really a challenge for organizations. Do you see that kind of an approach working, or how do you see when you proposed, you know, moving to full portfolio approach? Could, you could you just throw some light there.

[00:51:15] John Sumser: Yeah, I’m going to give you another, you might notice by now that I have ideas that are not the norm. And so I’m going to give you one of those. The job of the first level supervisors. The job of my boss primarily is to see that I get promoted and that boss is in charge of seeing that I get promoted either in the company or outside of the company.

[00:51:37] But the boss’s job is to see that I develop to the point that I get promoted. If you do that, your retention problem solves itself. Retention problem absolutely solves itself because what you get as you ensure that your people are successful with moving on, is you develop the reputation of being a great place to be from.

[00:52:01] And everybody wants to go to work at a place where you know that because you work there, you’re going to get a better job in the future. And so that’s, the simple way for how you solve that. And that means that the emphasis on retention is you have to put that second to developing people. You have to put that second to developing people and what you’ll get is a loyal workforce.

[00:52:31] So I think that’s how you solve that problem. What do you think?

[00:52:36] Seemab Sulemani: It’s a very progressive way of looking at it, but I’m not really sure how many organizations will be comfortable, with that, because at the end of the day, you invest in employees so that, you know, they work with you for longer and there’s some sort of ROI, but it’s a different way of looking at it. So I appreciate that.

[00:52:57] John Sumser: Yeah. I think you’re right, I will say that the idea that companies own people is kind of outdated at this point. And so, what you have to build is a world in which they want to be there and a world, which they want to be there is not one in which you’re trying to force them to stay.

[00:53:16]You can’t want to be someplace if the whole goal of the company is to get you to stay. You have to be free to leave if you’re going to stay and perform well.

[00:53:24]Surojit Golui: Hi, John, thanks for a wonderful insight. My question is that, you know, the concept of all-rounder than the specialist right, we still have since ages S o, do you see that demand for the all-rounder rather than specialist? Because, we do foresee, the change in job description, right? The folks who are used to do the same kind of work are now there’s a mix of work or enlarge the space of the work or the skill, whatever, right. So do you see the demand for all rounder rather than job specialist ?

[00:53:53]John Sumser: So it really depends like a lot of the questions about work it’s so context dependent that you can’t really make a broad proclamation about, you should have generalists, or you should have specialists.

[00:54:07] I’m a graduate of a liberal arts college that was a profoundly committed liberal arts college. And so I have a rounder core education, but I’m also interested in being rounder. And at the same time that I’m round, I’m the world’s expert on AI in HR Tech. And so there’s hardly anything that’s narrower than that.

[00:54:33] And so, I’m round and narrow, right? I’m round and specialized. And I think that’s probably what you’re looking to hold out as a model for people is continuous learning, which keeps you round, but focused on something. Right? So, you don’t get 25 years of experience in an area without spending 25 years in an area.

[00:54:57]And as a person doing that, you have to fight the tendency to rest on your assumptions and keep unearthing the assumption. So I think that it’s, that it’s not an either or thing, but then it’s possible to be both of those things and that that’s what you want to model and look for.

[00:55:18] New Speaker: Hi, John. Hey everyone. John, so I’m a part of an organization that leads recruitment and talent intelligence with skills. So all of the insights you gave were super helpful. My question is which organizations do you think have really been able to adapt in terms of their professional communication, then especially after COVID started. And I would really be interested to see this so that especially for my own organization I can internalize this as you can see, communication has become really broken. It has changed as you showed in those, you know those slides of in- meetings versus virtual meetings. That was really nice to hear your thoughts about it.

[00:55:58] John Sumser: So I’m going to say, I talk to a lot of companies. I haven’t seen anybody who’s good yet. Because we’re six months into COVID and we just moved all of the white collar workers home. And so we don’t know what we’re doing. And I happened to sit in on some staff meetings of some pretty interesting companies, and they’re all working 11 hours a day.

[00:56:28] They’re all going to more meetings than anybody should ever have to. They’re getting less work done. They’re grumpy with each other. They’re trying as hard as they know how to try to get the stuff done, but the truth is nobody knows what’s going on right now. And so, you don’t really see very many people in organizations leaving consistent organizational charges.

[00:56:54] That’s why I think you’d be surprised how easy it is to get on top of the communications revolution. And, you know, if you, I’m going to pick on you for a second, if you don’t mind, if you look at your video, you have a zoom background of some kind and the green screen is terrible at zoom. And so the reason I’ve worked so hard on my video stuff started with zoom virtual rooms, and I would sit in those virtual rooms and when I moved my head, you could see the background behind me because the algorithm doesn’t keep up with that, right. It’s a primitive algorithm, and you can get better than that. And this means that it’s easy to become a leader. Because if you took your video and took it to the next level, which you can do with just a couple of, little changes, people will look at it and start to follow you.

[00:57:51] Right, and, I think it’s an opportunity for new kinds of leadership to emerge by demonstrating that you have some sense of where to go. And so that’s how it’s happening. I probably sit in 30 zoom meetings a week. My goodness. It’s some awful number. And I’ve seen three people who have started to master their own video, but I promise you, by this time, next year, everybody will have started the process of mastering their own video.

[00:58:20] And you’ll be able to see who’s ahead and who’s behind. And the organizations that are ahead, we’ll do better customer service because the people who are consuming your video, and this is for everybody in the audience, the people who are consuming your video are comparing you to Netflix, right.

[00:58:39] And you need to be able to compare well with Netflix and that takes some extra work, but that’s the communication standard when you’re in video. High quality Bollywood or Hollywood production is the standard. And, it’s not that hard to hit. It takes learning some stupid, difficult things, but once you get them down, you’re ready to learn the next stupid difficult thing.

[00:59:07] Okay. I’m sorry if I picked on you a little bit though, it was just…

[00:59:11] New Speaker: Not at all.

[00:59:12] John Sumser: Thank you so much.

[00:59:13] Okay. Thank you.

[00:59:14] Seemab Sulemani: Thank you. Thank you, John. I hope this answers your questions. OK, fantastic. Thank you so much John, for answering all the questions so beautifully for our audience and thank you for taking out time to join us.


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