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Keryn Paviour-Smith: There is no ‘delete’ button in a digital age

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The challenges and benefits that have come through leading in the digital age

Following our successful, inaugural Disclose. Discuss. Discover. event, we’ve gathered some of the key insights shared by our panelists, Keryn Paviour-Smith and Colin Hamilton, during the session focused on 'Leading in a Digital Age'.

1. What challenges do you face today in leading in the digital age?

Colin: One of the challenges we keep facing is trying to do something that suits one part of the staff demographic but doesn't suit everyone. Expectations across generations are very different and trying to appeal to everyone at the same time is difficult. The rate of change of the technology coming into use is significant, so the challenge is in identifying how do we actually make that fit the purpose for the whole workplace.

We have to recognise that while some of the workforce might respond well to new, tech-based approaches - HR apps for example - others really still just want the human interaction they’ve come to expect from their HR department.

Keryn: I agree. I think another of the most widely recognised challenges is the fact that everyone is now always online, connected and, in theory, available via the device in their pocket or handbag.  This inevitably means we’re all inundated with emails and messages.

As leaders, while we should embrace the flexibility and connectivity digital solutions offer, we must also find a way to respect that people have lives beyond their professional commitments.

Leading in today’s environment is about the fact that whatever we say and do digitally is captured and recorded forever. There is no “delete” button in a digital age. We must be more vigilant than ever about the information we share, and the appropriateness of the actions we take and the comments we make in a digitally-driven world.

2. What do you do to keep up with the constant rate of change?

Keryn: I maintain a sense of curiosity and a love of lifelong learning. I read articles, books, and magazines, I talk to colleagues, I listen to podcasts and join webinars, and I attend industry events.  

I also strive to be adaptable. History shows us that those who have survived are those who have

adapted to change. We have to keep up with technology, even if it does prove challenging at times! Because, if we don’t do it, I believe we’ll be gradually cut off from society.

Colin: I think for me, the way I handle the rate of change and communicate with my teams about it is to first accept that it’s there and it’s not going to slow down or go away. Then I work at finding a way to repeatedly adapt so that we can just get on with it!

We've never had as much information at our fingertips as we do now. The key is in understanding how you access it, when you access it, and, more importantly, what do you actually do with it once you've got it.

Keryn: I also try to accept that there will be a limit to my knowledge and I can’t know everything! So I choose a couple of things to become an expert in, to be “famous for”, and I acknowledge who to go to for the things I don’t know or understand.

Colin: Look for the bite-sized chunks of learning that will satisfy your curiosity and ensure you keep up to date with what's actually happening around you in a timely manner. Yes, understand your limitations, but embrace change and the new avenues it will take you down.

3. What are the challenges today in finding great talent?

Keryn: This is something that many can relate to. The “war for talent”, originally identified by McKinsey in 1997, never ended.  

In fact, it’s not only continued, it has become increasingly critical to the challenges facing talent acquisition specialists, particularly with the immigration changes recently introduced in Australia.  

Unemployment in Australia is currently sitting at around 5.5%.  It’s becoming more and more difficult to find skilled talent - then finding the people who are also the right cultural fit is even more challenging.

Colin: Absolutely, Finding great talent is difficult, very difficult, and I suppose it comes back to the fact that no one is now looking for a job for life. In this whole changing world we are likely to see it become the norm for “talent” to have multiple jobs, moving companies regularly. So, the role of talent acquisition and talent management becomes more and more challenging.

I think nailing it is about finding the relevant and timely channels to use to communicate with the various individuals we’re engaging with. For me, that can be a tour guide in Asia through to a commercial negotiator. It’s about finding a relevant solutions that is going to be fit for purpose.

4. What smart hiring processes are you adopting?

Colin: Right now, for my organisation at least, it’s about getting back to basics, with technology helping us improve our speed of hiring, however, it’s less about technology and more about leadership behaviour for us at this stage. The technology has helped with the basics, but it’s about leadership development and awareness of the talent cycle that will enhance our search for talent.

And I think the concept of the position description, is becoming more and more outdated. Organisations are implementing so much technology to improve the experience for the end user that a role is unlikely to look the same in six months’ time, let alone 12 or 24 months. So, a prescriptive position description is really redundant in today’s environment.

Keryn: I agree, and I’d add that. if you hire 100% against a job description, that's really boring for the candidate. There's no room for growth or development in that organisation for them. There’s an unhealthy tendency to want someone who will 100% match what their role is, right now, today.

An improvement we will see is people choosing niche technologies to support all the various parts of the recruitment process. And then slowly integrating them into all core tracking systems. The result is a real focus on analytics and people using that to help them tell the story of how the organisation is performing, from a talent perspective, and determine what you need to do next to evolve.

I think that will be a big improvement in the reporting analytics function. People were talking about it before but you just couldn't get the data needed to do it well.

5. What technology are you embracing?

Keryn: This question raised some very interested points. When I asked the room if anyone was using chatbots or artificial intelligence, there was a notable lack of raised hands, which supported my sense of the industry’s feeling about these technologies. We know they’re available today, people are talking about them, but we’re not seeing them really fully embedded in Australian organisations and companies yet.

Colin: I think that's the big challenge. We know that so much advanced technology is out there, and yet, hardly any of us are using it within our organisations. I think - going back to Keryn’s previous point, it's important to first identify the issue you are trying to solve, and then focus on a specific system solution to meet that challenge. Because today, rather than picking one large system that will solve everything, you can go to a specific issue or concern and find a small, fast product that can solve that and hopefully integrate with your existing workflow.

Keryn: Yes, and every piece of technology you invest in has to be fit for purpose. It’s not a one size fits all situation when it comes to HR tech solutions. You’ve got to find what’s right for your company and your industry.

6. How are you maintaining your company culture in a blended workforce?

Keryn: This is an interesting one. At the end of the day, whether we’re Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, or Baby Boomers, we’re all human and we all want to feel valued and respected, and do interesting, challenging work. We want a nice environment to work in, be given flexibility from time to time and be able to make a difference while having a work-life balance.    

When it comes to leading in this environment, it’s again not enough to adopt a “one size fits all” approach to creating a company culture via each individual employee. It’s about having a menu of options that people can choose from, that suits them and their lifestyle and their personal circumstances.

Colin: I have to admit, one word I really detest is “culture”. I just think it’s one of the most misaligned words across different organisations. For me, it’s less about culture and more about purpose, the purpose of each individual in an organisation. Asking, “What are we all here to do?” and trying to bring people along on that journey. That way everyone can align with their part of the purpose.

And as long as some elements of commonality come down through the organisation and across the different demographics, encouraging an understanding of purpose is powerful, as opposed to saying "These are our values, this is our culture, and this is how you all behave and act.".

If you missed out on the last Disclose. Discuss. Discover. check out the agenda for the next event.

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