New Beamery research, in which we surveyed more than 600 managers and C-suite executives in the UK & US, explores the role of people leaders in a changing (and more challenging) talent landscape.
The Era Of Connectors: Transforming Middle Management In A Skills-First World suggests that ‘middle managers’ are increasingly on the front line when it comes to addressing attraction, engagement & retention issues – and explores ways to empower managers so they are equipped to take on these challenges.
While acknowledging that human connection is the key to successful leadership, the report advises that better insights and technology to connect people with opportunities is essential for empowering people managers to be more effective.
The new role for managers ✨
Today, closing skills gaps is not just about finding and holding on to great people. You must continually find ways to give them new skills, as new needs emerge.
Alongside HR teams, “middle managers” are increasingly carrying the weight of reskilling and redeploying the people who report to them, or at the very least taking on a new remit: that of connectors.
What does it mean for managers to be connectors?
- Assigning People and Work: Matching individuals to suitable tasks based on skills, enhancing job satisfaction, and improving productivity.
- Facilitating Development: Adapting to changing skills requirements, upskilling employees, and supporting intrapreneurship. The development and progression (and thus engagement and retention) of employees relies on being connected to relevant opportunities – potentially outside of the team in question.
- Facilitating Progression with Internal Mobility: Promoting growth, learning, and new experiences within the organization to boost retention and productivity.
- Planning the Workforce of the Future: Embracing agile workforce planning, given they are ‘on the ground’ and should be well placed to assess talent needs on an ongoing basis.
The challenge for managers 💥
So what is holding them back from playing this new and improved role? We found that managers were spending more time on ‘Completing HR activities (e.g. performance assessments)’ than any other task – while believing that improving work quality (36%), strategic planning for the team (36%) and providing feedback (35%) were the most important parts of their roles.
There’s also an issue with workforce intelligence, or the talent data needed to make connections, recommendations and decisions.
65% of managers we spoke to thought they fully understood the unique strengths and skills of members of their team. But our Talent Index survey of employees found that just 35% felt that their employer had a full understanding of the skills they bring. And the majority (61%) felt their full set of skills was not being utilized in their workplace. Management confidence here appears to be misplaced.
Managers need to be freed up (and trained up) to focus on human needs – to really connect with their team members. Managers now also need to “think big picture”: to understand the ripple effects of their actions on the organization overall, beyond team silos.
As well as a rethink around training managers, and incentivizing them appropriately, companies need to provide:
- Skills Intelligence: The insights they require to make better decisions, faster
- Explainable AI: Seamless technology to enable human-centric leadership
Dynamic, Actionable Skills Intelligence
Everything that a manager needs to do in the new skills economy rests on better insights.
We believe the most powerful insights are those based on skills – the skills you need, and the skills you have, or could access. With an up-to-date view of this information, managers can make good talent decisions, faster.
Using a common language of “skills” helps managers (and the whole organization) to have more useful and productive conversations with each other, and then make better talent-related decisions, from hiring to reviewing to reskilling to reassigning work.
For a skills-based approach to work, your view of people, and of jobs, needs to change. To define “skills” within your organization? You need a clear Skills Taxonomy. Do you know what roles require which skills? A dynamic Job Architecture can help here, to map the connections between people, skills, roles and other elements of work.
For most organizations, data about jobs and talent changes frequently, and lives in various systems. New generative AI-powered tools can help you ingest and connect many data points from various sources, and then integrate with (and expand on) existing skills ontologies.
You can build a picture that shows how people connect to skills, which connect to roles and tasks, which connect to the wider business goals and so on. The picture dynamically updates when anything changes internally.
With this, you get a single source of truth, with standardized and enriched data, and data that stays up to date as people’s skills evolve. Explainable AI can also infer the skills of colleagues, and show you adjacent skills and potential skills, to give you smart and strategic upskilling plans.
True Skills Intelligence means insights that work for your specific organization, applied to the people and roles within it. But you’ll also want to assess the evolution of skills availability on the wider job market, and within the industry and locations you are operating in.
With dynamic, contextual Skills Intelligence, managers are able to:
- Understand who is in most need of skill-building opportunities
- See where they need to build, borrow or buy the skills to be successful
- Use objective criteria for hiring, promotions and performance management
- Assign the right people to the most business-critical tasks
Seamless, powerful technology
Technology should be operating behind the scenes to make managers better – and teams stronger. Artificial Intelligence tools should be freeing humans up to do the tasks that only humans can do.
In many organizations, HR teams are already working with slick, AI-powered recruitment tools… but Hiring Managers are not. This can lead to lots of back and forth, confusion and delay.
Working together in the same platform (with deep, contextual skills insights about candidates and applicants) not only saves time in the recruitment process, but can lead to higher quality hires as managers and HR are better aligned.
It’s also worth noting that the combination of objective skills data and explainable AI should lead to greater diversity – surfacing candidates that recruiters and Hiring Managers might not have searched for.
Talent-related decisions around development and mobility should also be based on easily accessible insights.
Ideally, these AI-powered insights would be delivered in platforms like Slack and Teams, so that Managers don’t have to open a new system every time there are talent-related questions to ask or decisions to be made.
AI today doesn’t just give better answers it helps you ask better questions. For example, it can send nudges for managers to talk to someone who is at risk of leaving, or suggest an open learning opportunity that would be highly relevant for a team member.
Managers may need to get more comfortable with using generative AI, in any case. 68% of managers and 54% of the C-suite we surveyed think their organization should use AI more. 57% of employees we surveyed for Beamery’s Talent Index said they were in some way open towards using AI-driven tools.
But just 23% of the managers we spoke to are currently using AI to manage teams (with 16% using it ‘frequently’.)
Deploying AI to enhance manager effectiveness must come with the appropriate training and communication – there are several fears to allay. Keep humans “in the loop”, and emphasize to staff how AI can take on the more repetitive parts of certain roles, and free people up to focus on creativity, empathy and connection.
With the right AI-powered technology, managers should be able to:
- Get accurate and quick recommendations on where skills gaps are and how to close them
- Match the ideal person to the ideal opportunity
- Save time on the menial tasks and become more efficient, empathetic leaders
- Receive nudges and notifications in the flow of work
Are you ready for the future of middle management?
Managers matter. Their role needs to evolve as talent needs become more crucial, and more difficult, to address. But that doesn’t mean adding more work or expectations – it also means removing obstacles.
This is where Skills Intelligence (and explainable AI) can be so powerful. Investing in the right insights and technology for your management team can make them effective in a huge range of ways. From ensuring that people inside teams feel encouraged and supported – because they are understood – from redeploying critical skills to new projects, to upskilling, to talent planning… an empowered manager means an engaged and productive workforce.
Contact Beamery to see how we support skills-based transformation, and help managers and HR work together to meet talent objectives.