Skip to main content

Why You Need Skills Intelligence To Solve Talent Challenges

Betsy Summers, principal analyst at Forrester Research, hosted a panel at Beamery’s Spark Live event, titled “Reinventing the Job, Why Skills Are the New Foundation for Talent Teams.” It featured Eric Miller, Vice President of Talent Discovery and Insights at Paramount, and Jenn Galbraith, Vice President of Digital HR transformation and Internal Careers & Talent Marketplace at Salesforce. 

The discussion focused on how a skills-based approach to hiring and internal mobility can help you attract and hire the best talent, and unlock the full potential of your workforce. 

To kick off, Betsy set the scene: the labor market’s tumultuous journey over the past three years, including massive layoffs and record-high unemployment rates during the pandemic. She highlighted the subsequent struggle to rehire and the rise of the “great resignation” phenomenon. “Organizations were caught fighting this battle on two fronts. You fiercely have to retain your employees, while also trying to navigate these talent shortages and make sure that you are getting great people with the right skills in the door.”  

Betsy emphasized the importance of data in understanding cyclical and structural market changes, and mentioned the difficulty employers experienced in filling roles and filtering out highly skilled candidates. She proposed that the convergence of skills, intelligence, and technology could offer a solution to these challenges.

Who ticks all the boxes? 

By way of introduction, Jenn noted that she has been leading the digital HR transformation at Salesforce for the past four years, with a focus on improving the tools used by HR, making them more efficient, and improving the employee experience. Recently, she was asked to take on the internal careers and talent marketplace team, despite not having a recruiting background, because her skills in digital transformation were highly seen as valuable for rethinking how employees find new opportunities within the company.

“A lot of times the most successful Chief People Officers and HR leaders are leaders who actually were Chief Operating Officers or who had business acumen… because that actually makes HR a lot more valuable to the business.” – Jenn Galbraith, Salesforce

Eric said that his team aims to discover hidden talent, bridge the gap between internal hiring managers and external candidates, and use data to ensure they attract and engage the best talent available.

“We’re not leaving any stone unturned in terms of tapping into talent that’s out there. We want to make sure that we’re really canvassing everything that’s out there and making sure we’re starting to engage with the best talent.” – Eric Miller, Paramount

Eric commented that there are challenges around attracting and understanding candidates, beyond their resume or LinkedIn profiles, in the current confusing and uncertain world. As Betsy also noted, there are people who feel like they have to check all the boxes or want to check all the boxes from the job description or the job criteria – and this could mean missing out on incredible hires, especially if you want to build diverse and inclusive companies.  

Eric and Betsy agreed that technology was, paradoxically, helping us to understand people better, and build greater connections between humans. 

Skills-based transformation: the journey so far

Eric said that his talent discovery and insights team, which supplements in talent for job roles that are basically not getting enough applicants, has always done well. But previously it was all siloed off: it was rec by rec by rec. It was a very decentralized model and it was a lean team, making the activity of adding in that talent exponentially more difficult. 

With the consolidated team they have now, they can see those talent pools together in one place. They have a persona-based model where they see all of the skills residing in one spot. And now if a person looks like they may not be a good fit over in the central team as a project manager, they could very well be a great project manager over in Streaming.

“It gives us a larger degree of visibility, transparency, and… prospect opportunity, of bringing new people to the table that potentially would have been overlooked before.” – Eric Miller, Paramount  

Eric argued that “persona-based hiring” is a simple concept, where you aggregate different skills and competencies into a single profile, such as “project manager”. It allows for a more holistic approach to recruiting, he said, by clustering individuals based on their skills and desired roles rather than focusing on specific job requirements. By using personas, organizations can explore non-traditional candidates and test different criteria for a better fit. It creates a “fluid environment” where candidates can be considered for multiple roles, and it helps you adapt to the changing landscape of technology and skill requirements.

Skills & talent mobility 

Jenn noted that at Salesforce they are still fine tuning their internal mobility strategy and they are in an “iterative state”, testing some hypotheses and “pressure testing” themselves. “I always find one of my cardinal rules of transformation is you’re never done,” she said. “You’ve never arrived. It’s just the ongoing journey.” 

She explained that Salesforce is placing a “big bet” on data and AI to better understand their internal talent pool – “Who do we have in the building?” – and the skills they have, and shift towards internal hiring. Previously, their focus was on rapid hiring and the “bias” was to always go externally, but after growth slowed they realized the need to uncover and make use of the skills of their existing employees – including a large and growing remote workforce. 

“We were actually losing some of our top people because they weren’t seeing the opportunity to grow.” – Jenn Galbraith, Salesforce 

By using AI and data from their CRM, they are now working to change the mindset around job requirements and test the tolerance for candidates who may not meet every criterion but possess, for example, valuable internal knowledge. “They might not have had all of the requirements, but we gave them a shot and they were uber successful, and their career’s growing, the employee’s happy, the business is happy, recruiting is happy.” 

This shift has already resulted in leaders opening requisitions internal-only, and in the first quarter they saw more internal hires than external ones (by a long way) for the first time in Salesforce’s history.

“We’re actually saying that to our hiring leaders: the talent’s in the building, we just need to find it and bring it to the surface and actually match it to the right opportunity.” – Jenn Galbraith, Salesforce

Speaking about the shift from long-tenured career paths at one company to squiggly line careers, Jenn said how she grew up in sales and marketing technology, and now she’s doing HR transformation, because there are so many adjacent skills there. She said that, generationally, many folks are looking for experiences now, not just the title or the level jump. Having the skills data to power internal mobility also helps facilitate those new experiences. 

The power of skills intelligence

Betsy commented that it’s ironic when you think how people power your business, and the economy has really moved towards skills and services and relying on the power of human capital “versus the widgets”… But it’s the thing we know the least about. 

“We don’t know a lot about our people, or at least in a structured data way where we can scale it, we can track it, we can use that data. It’s usually locked in our brains and informally through our networks and relationships.” – Betsy Summers, Forrester Research 

Betsy said that skills technology, and talent intelligence, means you can also understand the aspirations and interests of your workforce. And you can align that with what the business needs – as that is clearly vital. Jenn added that as well as business outcomes, you need to factor in what employees expect based on their experience as consumers: the expectation that technology understands them deeply, and they don’t need to start at square one with every new conversation about their career.  

“Employees get frustrated when they’re like, I told you all about me when I applied. How come you forgot about all that? How can you only focus on what I did in my job here? Why are you asking me again?” – Jenn Galbraith, Salesforce

Overcoming the common barriers

The panel discussed some of the barriers organizations face when it comes to skills-based approaches. Internal mobility initiatives can fail due to talent hoarding, Betsy pointed out, as managers don’t want to let go of great people. As discussed, there is often a mindset that the “perfect fit” needs to be found for each role – or there’s simply some organizational inertia that leads teams to external hiring as the first port of call. 

Eric said that any big change is scary for people, and they will be asking why it’s necessary. His suggestion was to reinforce and personalize the “why” for managers and show them the additive value of enhancing the talent pool with internals and referrals and “non-traditionals”. 

“That’s the beauty of the persona… You can hyper personalize it because you have the ability now; your aperture is that much wider now that you have to look at people. So now you have a wider pool and you could serve up talent to those leaders or those hiring managers.” – Eric Miller, Paramount

As they get started with Talent Marketplace initiatives, Jenn said Salesforce is using pilots and small tests to show the value of internal mobility, and remind people of the “greater good”. As they run the pilots they are gathering use cases and examples – people that benefited who can say “I’m a success story”. 

“Wouldn’t you rather that really high performing individual stay at Salesforce than go outside? But you might get somebody really great back. You’re going to put this person out into the system, but you’re also going to get really great talent back.” – Jenn Galbraith, Salesforce

You can watch this fascinating Spark Live panel discussion on demand at any time, or learn more about how to build a skills-first organization.