20 April 2021

The Skills Obsession: Learning the Many Languages of Skills

Stacia Garr
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the 4th episode of our podcast: The Skills Obsession.
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson of RedThread and Chris Pirie of LITNW interview Nuno Goncalves, Global Head of Strategic Capability Building at Mars
  • Listen as Nuno describes the journey of co-creating storytelling and how this skill is key to development
  • Will talking different languages of different skills sets be vital for the future?
  • Find out Nuno’s perspective on how to understand what is your strategy and how to use it to solve the skills supply and demand problem
  • How he used transferable skills to build and bridge skills within their organization
  • A special thanks to our sponsor, Workday, for its support of this season!

Listen

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Guests

Nuno Congalves, Global Head of Strategic Capability Building at Mars

DETAILS

“I think that in the future, what will be really necessary in terms of skills are people that talk different languages of skills… talking different languages of different skill sets will be something really, really important.” Why is it significant that become more expert seems so fused with speaking restricted languages? And what does it mean to have ‘intentionality’ about skills? How do you start to really understand the skills needs of an organization you join in COVID? This week, these and many other thorny but critical issues get exposed via our debate with long-time friend and highly accomplished CLO and talent leader Nuno Gonçalves, who is now starting to do at global confectionary, food and pet care giant Mars what he did at  European life sciences player UCB: implement a cross-company, future-focused skills strategy. It’s an excellent conversation with a truly passionate learning ninja who’s thought deeply about these problems.

Find out more about Nuno’s employer Mars

Connect with him on LinkedIn

Webinar

Workday will host an exclusive live webinar towards the end of the season, where you can meet the Workplace Stories team of Dani, Stacia and Chris, and join in a conversation about the future of skills and skills management. Find out more information and access content at www.workday.com/skills. 

Partner

We're also thrilled to be partnering with Chris Pirie, CEO of Learning Futures Group and voice of the Learning Is the New Work podcast. Check them both out.

Season Sponsor

We are very grateful to Workday for its exclusive sponsorship of this season of the Workplace Stories by RedThread Research podcast. Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing needs with Workday; its one agile system that enables you to grow and re-skill your workforce. Workday is a financial, HR and planning system for a changing world.  

TRANSCRIPT

Five key quotes:

If we say one of the things that we want to develop is digital commerce—it’s out there, we want to gain more market share on our digital platforms. What does this mean for us? What does this mean in terms of capabilities? And because we are looking at three or five years, we will not get to see it at an individual level; we’re going to see where we are at a job-role level. And we'll be done the same way, what do you need to do to be there in 2023 or 2025, will this job be done the same way or not? Will digital change augment the job, will it become obsolete? Will you be doing a digital branding the same way that you're doing right now, or will it evolve?

Then go out, see how your competitors are doing in terms of digital capabilities. How many people are they hiring? Are they hiring more than the previous years or not. Go see job boards and try to understand where these people go and see where they're hiring them from. So all of that will start to influence what is your supply… and it will start to give you a perspective of what is your demand as well, because if you understand what is your strategy, you understand what are the capabilities that you're going to need, you understand how many people you'll need, you'll have the capabilities and you'll have the volumes. And you know where these people are.

I think we're neglecting one thing that is really important, which is potential. Okay. If you're actually able to crack that code and decipher what potential means to you as a company, I would take, any day, someone that has probably 50% of the skills that I that I need right now, but 80% of the potential that I need than someone that who is a full expert, but will never do anything else but that skill set.

I think for us to be able to really even play the game of what will be the strategy, what the world will look like and all that, it cannot be just what I think the world will look like—you need to educate your decisions and your perspectives of the future. We talk about kind of prescriptive analytics and predictive analytics and all that, and that requires data and quality of data that somehow you need to feed from different systems, or you need to have data that are credible, and you need to be able to have the ability to master those data as well.

We need a lot of people, because this is not something that HR can do from their ivory tower and say, now it's digital and let's do a little bit of a digital dance here, and then everybody has those skills and then it's good. To be there at that table, you need to add value. And our value proposition is, one, we will bring strategic capabilities expertise; second, we need to evolve this predictive analytics, the analytics part, the data and the analytics; and third, we need to understand really well the business and their strategy as well. So this is what I first need to equip my team with, and start already as much as possible piloting some of the support that we need to provide to some of our segments.

I would put my money a lot on that hope, on the people that I have surrounding me. And when I say surrounding me, I say my boss, I say the, you know, the CEO of the organization, because I do believe that because we have that track record of doing the right thing, that we will continue to do the right thing and to become a better organization as we move forward.

 

Nuno Gonçalves:
Everybody's asking what will be the world in the future. And at a professional level, you need to be prepared for that—so what are the skills or competencies or what are the skills that you'll need one way or the other to succeed?

Dani Johnson:
That was Nuno Gonçalves, the global head of strategic capability building at food and beverage giant Mars.

Nuno Gonçalves:
The interesting thing is that this is not only at an individual level, but we're also seeing this at the HR level, and we're also seeing this with CEOs, where a lot of the strategic documents that I see, a lot of the strategic conversations, has a big part of the capabilities of tomorrow, the capabilities of the future.

Dani Johnson:
Mars is a privately held company with a portfolio of confectionary, food, and pet care products and services. They employ 133,000 people and generate $40 billion in annual sales, they produce some of the world's best love brands, including Dove Extra, M&Ms, Milky Way, Snickers, and they take care of half the world's pets through their pet health services brands.

Nuno has a really interesting perspective on skills, because he's implemented a skills strategy in one organization and is just beginning to implement a new strategy in a different organization.

Nuno Gonçalves:
If I look back to my 20-odd years career in L&D, I think we've been very tactical in L&D; we’ve been very tactical in talent—we’ve been very tactical in HR from my perspective. I think that the world is moving so fast, right? How can we equip ourselves to actually bring this intentionality? How can we keep ourselves to actually be faster?

Dani Johnson:
We think it'll be really interesting for people to hear his experience because he's just at the beginning of his second tour of duty, so to speak, he has some experience in doing it before, but he's applying it in new contexts.

Nuno Gonçalves:
I think this is not something that we can do, like HR can do from their ivory tower, but to be there at that table, you need to add value. And our value proposition is one, we will bring strategic capabilities, expertise; second, we need to evolve this predictive analytics, the analytics part, the data and the analytics. And third, we need to understand really well, the business and their strategy as well.

Dani Johnson:
Here’s our conversation with Nuno Gonçalves.

Dani Johnson:
Hey Nuno, we're thrilled to have you on our podcast, Workplace Stories by RedThread Research.

Nuno Gonçalves:
Well, thanks for having me, Dani; excited to be here!

Dani Johnson:
One of the reasons we wanted to talk to Nuno is because he's at the beginning of the skills journey at his new company, Mars, but he did a really similar tour of duty at UCB. And so we're interested in his perspective, since he's done it before, and because he's just starting again.

So we want to start by just asking you a couple of questions and these are, these are sort of rapid fire and don't require really long responses: the first one is, can you give us a quick overview of Mars, its mission and its purpose?

Nuno Gonçalves:
Mars is a company that has more than a hundred years, a family-owned company, and very purpose-driven. And I know that you guys have had on your last season, focusing on our purpose-driven organizations—Mars is definitely one of them. It's motto it's the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today, which actually talks a lot about sustainability and how we look to the future while we know that we need to take action today as well.

Dani Johnson:
Very cool. I think we all sort of recently learned that Mars is a candy company, obviously, but you also deal quite a bit in pet healthcare.

Nuno Gonçalves:
Yeah, we do. Pet care started a few years ago; obviously Mars is known by our candies, our snacks and treats. It's also probably known for our food. And for me, one of my favorites is what we now call Ben’s Originals which is rice—I love rice and it has always been the best rice ever. So it was good just now to be associated with some of the things that I do every day!

Dani Johnson:
Day. I give us an overview of what your work is—what’s your job title and how would you describe what you do?

Nuno Gonçalves:
So, the job title is a little bit of a mouthful; I'm the global head of strategic capabilities building for Mars. Basically what that is, is that we have been working on capabilities building with our Mars University, but what we wanted to do as well is to bring a little bit of what we call ‘intentionality.’ So we want to really understand what are the capabilities of the futures, those that will be strategic for Mars and strategic on how the economy and society will evolve, and how can we build towards that and anticipate the need one way or the other.

So it's an interesting role that combines both things—the identification and the standing of what will be this future of work, future of talent, meaning what will be the capabilities that we'll need to tomorrow, very connected with the strategy of what we call segments—our businesses, our enterprise strategy, kind of translating all that and understanding what are the key strategic capabilities that we will need to win, right? That we will need to play, of course, but the ones that we will need to win moving forward.

And then we have the building side with the Mars University, where we have roughly 11 colleges that try to build the capabilities that we need one way or the other—today, probably more short term. What do we want to do with this position is to anchor everything that we do in terms of capabilities building to our strategy, and probably longer term that will allow us a bit of a leeway to be able to build the capabilities at the level that we need when we need it as well.

Dani Johnson:
I love that; I love those two ideas. First of all, you talked about intentionality, which I think is really key when you were talking about skills and capabilities. And the second thing is you talked about strategy, which I think goes in hand-in-hand with intentionality, but it's great to hear that even your title includes, you know, an illusion to strategy, which isn't always the case with L&D.

Give us a sense of what problems you're trying to solve?

Nuno Gonçalves:
Speed and intentionality. So if we go a little bit toward exactly what we were just talking, I think there's two things is if I look back to my 20 odd years career in L&D, I think I completely agree with you as we've been very tactical in L&D, we've been very tactical in talent, we’ve been very tactical in HR from my perspective. So bringing this intentionality will hopefully move us one level up and bring a lot of purpose to everything that we do.

So that's, that's one thing is, is disconnection intentionality, definitely one of the things that that I'm, I'm looking at and trying to solve the other one is speed. Dani, the world is moving so fast, right? That if we stay in our chairs and really try to, you know, with our businesses and say, this year we will do this for you guys, and it doesn't fit the speed of the businesses. So how can we go faster? Now behind these two very simple words there's a lot of things, right?
So how can we keep ourselves to actually bring this intentionality? How can we equip ourselves to actually be faster? And that's probably, many more things that I'm trying to solve that I'll be happy to talk to you about on this podcast.

Dani Johnson:
That's really interesting. We were talking to Satnam Sagoo this morning, the head of learning at British Red Cross, and she mentioned the same thing; it’s a lot more of a cultural thing than I think a lot of organizations give credit to when it comes to skills.

Last rapid fire question for you: what is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Nuno Gonçalves:
So I would not go on the technical side, I think, you know, it is challenging, kind of, you know, capabilities, what is this and all that.

I think I would choose two things, Dani; one is making sure that we see beyond the obvious. And when I say we, the big we is your organization, right? A lot of my work, as I see it will be, and granted I've been with Mars for 60-90 days, but a lot of my work will be to show that future and storytell, the journey there. So that's probably the most challenging thing is to align on what that future will be as we are doing right now in these first 90 days. And then storytell, storytell, storytell, to the point that we build and co-create that journey together. So I would say that's probably, well, it's the most challenging, but it's also the most exciting, part of the job.

Dani Johnson:
I dig it—I think that's one of the biggest challenges organizations in general have, it's hard to develop a strategy that is going to change so rapidly, and then it's very difficult to identify the skills that you're going to need for that ever-changing strategy. So best of luck to you on solving those problems… they seem very large!

Nuno Gonçalves:
Yeah. And just, if I can: if we're always reactive, we will never be playing a good game, right? So if we're talking about skills, it's not only about skills, but eventually we'll talk a little bit later on this, but I think it's also around potential and how can we prepare for any future that we might eventually have.

Chris Pirie:
Really interested in the storytelling side of things—such a powerful skill for leaders to develop. Do you think your job is to tell stories as a way to recruit the broad organization into the journey to the future?

Nuno Gonçalves:
I think it's a key differentiator between being a Chief Learning Officer that is relatively in a stable environment, or because you're already very mature and you'll continue to tell the story that you've been telling for the past two or three or five years. Right now, we recognize that we have a journey ahead of us, and we can not do this journey alone. And then the only way that we see is, one, is that we co-create, we bring people to create with us and we create that journey together. And we go out there defend that journey excite people for what we're trying to do and hopefully over-deliver because the down part of the storytelling that you may need to make sure that one, you build the excitement, but you also need to make sure that you deliver on that excitement.

Stacia Garr:
Makes a lot of sense. So, this season is called The Skills Obsession, and so we want to spend a bit of time kind of just focusing specifically on skills. But skills is a broad concept; we'd love to hear what does that word mean to you Nuno when, when we say it, and when you think about it in the workplace context?

Nuno Gonçalves:
First thing that I do is that I always adapt to my audience, right, and the interesting thing is that more often than not, people don't really differentiate skills from competencies, from capabilities, from all that, right? So I first try to adapt—and if they do, if they are educated, then it's probably good to clarify. Now I can tell you how I define skills versus competencies versus capabilities, if that's of interest, but in storytelling, if I'm going to talk about capabilities and competencies and how my audience understands our skills, then I'm going to switch skills and that’s it, right?

So you said, okay, on the skills and kind of definition, right? The way that we see it to get today. And I don't think there's one single company or person that has cracked the code, kind of this universal around skills, right? On one side, we see what we call competencies. And competencies for us is a mix between skills, knowledge, and behaviors: knowledge, meaning knowledge about something behavior, obviously everything that you do and you demonstrate skills around your application of the knowledge and how you're mastering that knowledge one way or the other, right, and turning it into a skill.

So for us, skills are within the word competency. And if you have a mix of skills, behaviors, and knowledge on a specific topic and you increase your expertise on that topic, your experience on the topic, your level of competency will rise. So that is at an individual level, right? You have a competency, and a specific competency that has a mix between skills, behaviors, and knowledge. When I see it—and it's a big part of my job—when we see that at an organizational level, we call it capability: basically, if you have a set of people that have similar competencies, which means a similar mix of skills, behaviors, and knowledge on a specific topic, then an organization gains a capability around that topic; it could be a digital capability, for example.

So we differentiate competencies at an individual level, capabilities and organizational levels and when we see individuals inside the competencies, we see skills, knowledge, and behaviors.

Stacia Garr:
That's really helpful. And I think one of the themes that we're starting to see in this podcast is kind of this, this a distinction between individual and the organization and where these concepts of skills and competencies and capabilities sit across those different ones.

Dani Johnson:
Yeah—I was just going to say, Nuno, I think your point is really well taken; most of the organization doesn't care what you call them, they just want to know what they need to do, and so I think it's really insightful that you are distinguishing them on the backend where the sausage is made, but providing sort of a united front to the organization in general.

Stacia Garr:
Kind of building on this; skills have come into the lexicon as a hot concept, particularly in the last 18 months or so. We'd love your take on why you think that's happening; why this focus on skills when we had all these other terms that would seem largely adequate.

Nuno Gonçalves:
I think it's a lot about the uncertainty, Stacia. I think change is there and is probably exponentially felt by all of us with, with this pandemic that rushed and pushed a lot of transformations and a lot of change. And everybody's asking, you know, what will be the world in the future at a professional level? You need to be prepared for the world one way or the other. So what are the skills or competencies—what are the skills that you'll need one way or the other to succeed?

The interesting thing is that this is not only at an individual level, because we've seen some research around kind of new generations that are wanting to question more the skills that they will need in the future, but we are also seeing this at the HR level and we are also seeing this with CEOs where a lot of the strategic documents that I see a lot of the strategic conversations. And I would probably say somewhere between 90 to a 100% of all strategic documents that I see have a big part of the capabilities of tomorrow, the capabilities of the future.

I think everybody's trying to prepare one way or the other for a role during and post COVID. And definitely, I think that's one of the reasons I believe also if we add the second dimension, if you allow me there here, Stacia, is that if we look a little bit back and I'm doing a little bit of research here of the evolution of skills, you start seeing probably somewhere, even before the industrial revolution that people are we're specializing in one particular skill, right, or one particular skill set, right? Because you are a lawyer or you're a banker or one, because the world was much more linear. What we are seeing right now is that the world is becoming much more multiliniear, right?

So there's a lot of different swim lanes, one way or the other. And more than that, I think that in the future what will be really necessary in terms of skills are people that actually talk different languages of skills, and people that understand Art and then understand Technology and people that are HR, but also understand Legal or also understand any other skillset. So talking different languages of different skill sets will be something really, really important in the future from my perspective. I thought that was already a trend that now comes much more reinforced with what we see in terms of the pandemic as well.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. I think there's an interesting point in that if you'd look back again to history, a lot of the innovation has come from this intersection between skill sets, as you've said with maybe your lawyer who can also speak technology or whatever it is. But the desire for more innovation, the desire to change mindsets, to meet the real complex challenges we have, I think puts a greater emphasis on exactly what you said—that ability to take one skill set and overlay it with another and to create both new insight and potentially new products and services. So I think that you're onto something there; this demand that we're seeing is reinforcing the importance of what you said.

Chris Pirie:
Yeah. I mean, what I love about what Nuno just said is it made me think that skills in terms of how we talk about them, it's a language—skills is a language.

And I was thinking about the guilds and I was thinking about professions and how over time they evolve their own secret languages. It's kind of like a protective mechanism; you would identify a lawyer or you would identify an engineer by the language and terminology that they use. And so I'm seeing in one sense from Nuno’s description there that skills have functioned in the past to put people into professional boxes. And I wonder if what's going on now is we need to kind of break down some of those silos, and we need to find a common skills language to allow people to connect across the swim lanes as Nuno says. Very interesting stuff.

Nuno Gonçalves:
And Chris we both were with USC a couple of years ago, and there was a story that stayed with me and I think it will stay with me to exactly to what, to your point is that, at that moment I was with UCB, and as you know, one of the things that are very critical for us is cleaning these medical and clinical development, right? The development of drugs and new molecules. You might not know, but it's actually very, very kind of science, not only scientific, but very techie, right? You can see people with virtual reality glasses trying to understand it and you know, how enzymes behave and how you can copulate and put kind of two enzymes together, and all that. One of the people that was there actually said, and he was one of the founders of one, a very important drug that is called Tamiflu, and he said, I would love in my lifespan to actually be able to bring many more drugs so that we become healthier and prosper as humanity. Now, the thing here is that typically we take 10 years to develop a molecule. Can we find a way to actually accelerate that?

Obviously on one side you have all the regulators and all that, but on the other side, there's a lot of medical testing and a lot of trial and error, and what he said was we need to find a way to compute information so quickly into render information so quickly that we accelerate all that process one way or the other. It's not only trial and error.

Then he got to think about it. You know, what is the other industry that actually renders massive amounts of information? And he said, the movie industry—they render tremendous amounts of information one way or the other. So he actually put together people from R and D engineers and all that, and people from the movie industry. And it was so interesting—they could not understand each other, their jargon, the way that they speak and everything, they could not understand each other. So he said it took them a good six months to find a common language. And, you know, what was that common language? Origami, not Latin. That was because origami they could actually mimic what was the shape of a molecule, and the guys could grab that and actually put that in a computer and then start creating the algorithms one way or the other.

So talking the same language helps exponentially; I think it will be one of the key drivers for the future as well. And sorry for the long answer, but I think it was just the perfect story to illustrate what you were saying.

Chris Pirie:
It is a great story, and that was the Center for Converged Bioscience and it was really all about how you get people with different skill sets and disciplines coming together, bringing their own special knowledge and capability to solve a really hard problem. The first problem they had was language, and language around skills. Very, very interesting.

Dani Johnson:
Can I take a tangent off that discussion? You're talking about bringing people with certain skills together. One of the conversations that we've seen, and I actually just had this conversation is, a big theme on supply and demand—the skills discussion with respect to supply and demand. Some skills are in too short of supply and then you see crazy salaries and then some of them are too great in supply and organizations have to let people go. So how do you think we should think about this problem a little bit more holistically—this problem of supply and demand?

Nuno Gonçalves:
I'm not sure if it's how we should, but I'm going to tell you how I'm thinking about it, right, so it might be wrong; you can tell me.

So let me give you an example: so UCB, right, and without disclosing anything, all obviously profits are information—pharma industry is the industry that plans probably with the energy industry, that plants are probably kind of further away, right. We have a 10-year strategy that for us was relatively clear around drug development, R&D, medical go-to market and all that. And it's supporting all that. We had all the financials, scenarios and planning that we also had, because the strategy is an if then scenario. So we knew what were kind of the trigger points of the strategy for UCB. The same thing that we will know for Mars, right? And every single company has the strategy, so go there and actually understand what are the pivotal moments in the trigger moments of that strategy—the ones that will be tremendously important for this company. And then go try to translate that and understand what that means in terms of capabilities or competencies or skills as you want to call it, and go deep on this.

For example: if we say, one of the things that we want to develop is digital commerce, right? It's out there, we want to gain more market share on our digital platforms. What does this mean for us? What does this mean in terms of capabilities? And because we are looking at three or five years, we will not get to see it at an individual level; we’re going to see where we are at a job-role level, right? And we'll be done the same way, what do you need to do to be there in 2023 or 2025, will this job be done the same way or not? Will digital change one way or the other, the job will lead to augment the job, will it become obsolete? Will you be doing a digital branding the same way that you're doing right now, or will it evolve.

Then go out, see how your competitors are doing in terms of digital capabilities. How many people are they hiring? Are they hiring more than the previous years or not. Go see job boards and try to understand where these people go and see where they're hiring them from. So all of that will start to influence what is your supply… and it will start to give you a perspective of what is your demand as well, because if you understand what is your strategy, you understand what are the capabilities that you're going to need, you understand how many people you'll need, you'll have the capabilities and you'll have the volumes. And you know where these people are.

The other question then is what are you going to do about it? Are you going to build these competencies or these capabilities? Are you going to buy these capabilities? Which normally is very attached to what I call your time to competency—if you have a time to competency of 18 months, if you're a gap of competencies is too big, you probably need to go outside. If you can ultimately develop internally, you can eventually do it internally as well.

Dani Johnson:
So talk to me a little bit about that, because along with that discussion, we're hearing a lot about tangential skills. So in the past it's been, do you have the skill, if you do not have this skill—oh no, we don't have this skill or capability. Therefore we need to hire it from the outside because we don't have time based on the strategy that we have.

The pandemic has sort of thrown that into a little bit of question: as organizations have gotten much better at identifying the skills that the individuals have and working with them to sort of up-skill them, which is cheaper, the research shows and sometimes much more effective based on their tangential skills.

One of the examples is a telecommunications company who had to shut down all their retail stores—but when they shut down the retail stores, because of COVID, they had an immediate uptick in customer service needs, and so they took all of those retail employees and basically switched them over to customer service because it took very little time for them to ramp up. So give me a sense for,in your build, buy, borrow, bounce, and I think there was one more that you were talking about . How do tangential skills figure into that?

Nuno Gonçalves:
Yeah, we, we call it transferable skills. Let me give you another example of how we did this, actually. So if we go back to, to UCB and to the farming industry one of the things that he's actually very interesting is when a drug loses the patent, which means you lose protection—and imagine you have a multi-billion dollars drug that loses a patent in the 1st of January, and in some cases, depending on how competitive you use your landscape, that could mean losses of revenue of roughly 70 to 80% in 12 months—so if it’s a $1 billion drug in 12 months, you might be losing 700 million, right? It’s aggressive.

So one of the things that we were seeing, because we knew that there were some drugs on our pipeline that would lose their patent and their protection, we were understanding a little bit of, of what could be the impact and we were trying to understand how could we delay some of these with their, some extensions and all that, but how could we delay as much as possible. Because as you understand, with these numbers, a delay of two weeks represents a significant amount of revenue as well for us.

The other thing is—and we only have this perspective because we were doing this work in parallel with other division—is that we then put together the two projects that we were doing in two different divisions, and then we overlapped and then we say, okay, hold on guys; in this quarter, because we're losing revenue, we're going to have to decrease costs and we're going to have to decrease also the number of people that we have in this unit. At the same time, if everything goes well in our drug development, three months later we're going to need 100 or 200 or 300 people that have a similar skillset to these ones, right?

So probably if we were going to do this exercise a little bit more blind, without doing this analysis, we would probably have to let go of some people or put them somewhere else, and eventually hire others to the other business units. What we then said, listen, if this happens, because this was like three or four years ahead of us, if this happens and if everything goes, goes as planned, then we're going to build and bridge the skill sets from one unit to the other instead of actually letting go excellent talent and having to recruit others that ultimately has a risk of the risks that we know in terms of cultural fit, in terms of performance and so on and so forth.

So that for me is one of the benefits of this intentionality. Remember, in the beginning of the podcast that we were talking about, intentionality is let's make sure that we do things intentionally and then with purpose as well, which is something that Mars is very big on.

Dani Johnson:
So, okay—let me take a tangent off that one as well! In cases like that, where you're basically moving parts of the organization to other parts of the organization and re-skilling them, one of the biggest challenges that organizations are having today is that they don't understand the skills that their employees have, which kind of enables that mobility, it enables all kinds of stuff.

I'm wondering if you have a sense for the type of—and it doesn't have to be your own organization—but the types of data that are being used to discern those skills, rather than just, you know, one company we talked to sent around the spreadsheet and had everybody write their skills down, but I'm imagining there are better ways. How have you done it? Or how have you seen that done before?

Nuno Gonçalves:
I'm battling with this right now, because I think I've seen the most complex and the most simple and the most approaches to all of this and the thing here, Dani, is that the world moves so fast that if you're going to use something that will take you six months to update by the end of that, you actually do that you're already kind of obsolete one way or the other.

So I'm not sure I'm answering your question, but the question that I have in my mind is because I think it's not only about skilling or reskilling; I think we're neglecting one thing that for me is really important, which is potential. Okay. Because for me, if you're actually able to crack that code and decipher what potential means to you as a company, I would take any day someone that has probably 50% of the skills that I that I need right now but 80% of the potential that I need than someone that has is a full expert, but will never do anything else but that skill set one way or the other.

So, yes, I understand that we see kind of different companies and, and skills cloud and talent marketplaces, and making sure that we bridge opportunities with skills that we accredit and we credential the skills one way or the other, which I think is good. I haven't seen by the way, companies doing that in a way that I say, Oh my God, this is really the way, but theoretically it makes a tremendous amount of sense. Can we have people kind of referring or you know making, one way or the other, assessing your performance and making sure that you connect your performance with some of the social confirmation and accreditation of your skills ethic? I think it’s great, and it will be a combination of different ways.

On the other side, I think and I feel that we are neglecting potential. And because we don't know what are the skills that eventually we will need in five years from now, can we keep our organization with a workforce that can deal with anything—doesn't matter if we turn right or left, or if we have COVID-20, 21, 22, have something else happening in the future. So I would say both reskilling and potential; I'm not sure if I've answered your question.

Dani Johnson:
No, you absolutely did. I think a lot of companies are sort of struggling with that idea, which is where a lot of them are talking about some of the competency models and performance data that also feeds into where people go, and how capable they are to fill positions and do tasks in the future.

Chris Pirie:
I love Nuno’s point here about motivation and personal motivation; it’s like a whole other factor that we can sometimes miss if we're just focused on codifying and the structuring of some view or some model of skills.

And also what we know about the skills we have in the organization are typically done through the lens of existing organizational structures like job descriptions and so on and so forth. What I loved in our call this morning with Satnam was where they work with volunteers, and they don't have a lot of data about people they just asked ‘Who has this skill?’ And it turns out that people had not just the skill, but the motivation to apply it. And that was very strong in her case. So I like that idea.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. I think you, you raised a good point. There can be in our effort to kind of create structure in, like a can kind of fall down underneath that structure—yet, as kind of the data person here—I feel we need to have some structure, some data, some, some sources for this information. And so I'm wondering if you can talk about either your previous organization or at Mars, how you're thinking about kind of the data side of this, about the identification of skills and, and where do you get that information from and how do you verify or credential it and the like?

Nuno Gonçalves:
Well, two things. One, I'm with you 110%; I think for us to be able to really even play the game of what will be the strategy, what the world will look like and all that, it cannot be just what I think the world will look like—you need to educate your decisions and your perspectives of the future. We talk about kind of prescriptive analytics and predictive analytics and all that, and that requires data and quality of data that somehow you need to feed from different systems, or you need to have data that are credible, and you need to be able to have the ability to master those data as well.

And I'm going to be very transparent here. We are on a journey of data at Mars; we were on a journey of data at UCB. We were in a journey of data before at Sanofi, and I'm probably most of these legacy organizations that let me know, like Mars, that we've been here for a hundred years, we are all in this journey.

My take—and I'm saying this in my domain, I'm not at all on the business of Mars and all that—is that we are very immature on our ability, sometimes even to describe the past on descriptive analytics, right? And this is one of the things that will be strategically important for us in the next 12, 18, 24 months as I'm building that strategy. So this is a little bit of a below the hood for the strategy of Mars, is that our ability to actually move the needle here from this at least being good describing what happened, so that we can start diagnosing what happened so that we can strive to start being much more prescriptive.

That's a journey that we need to do. So right now, I've seen others, I think I've seen people cross-referencing performance systems. And it's not only elements of our performance management systems, but actually business performance systems with HR performance systems. I've seen people doing the credentialing piece. I've seen people just go to LinkedIn and use LinkedIn now, does it make sense or not? So what I'm looking for, and what I'm waiting for, is to something that actually grabs information from different parts of the organization and is able to cross-reference and one way or the other, we start inferring those skills with strong inference, predictable data as well.

And I've seen some companies that are saying that they do this; in true honesty, I haven't tested, I don't know if that's really the case.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. One thing you mentioned a couple of times that I'd like to dive in on a little bit more is you said we're on a journey, and I think that implies learning, yes, but people analytics and some of these other functions. So as you think about kind of the core team, the tiger team as it were, is where who's going to be focused here on skills. Who is that? Who should you, who are you planning to work with? Who do you think you should be working with?

Nuno Gonçalves:
So remember when I said that storytelling was probably a big part of my work? So the way that we see it, and so telling you a little bit of what I was able to see at Mars, right. I came in, I have 11 colleges with me. We are very vertical; we are kind of, every single college in their swim lanes and all that good stuff. So of course, and important stuff, but the question is, are we doing strategic stuff?

So we were, and we are very functionally-driven, because traditionally those academies, those, those university is, are very kind of topic driven, which means, you know, supply chain R&D and all that throughout the entire process and my on-boarding at Mars, I always heard, Oh, we are very, very functionally driven—where is our business? And it's actually a really good provocation, right? Where, where is our business? Because whether we like it or not, strategy comes from the business, and the strategy teams. And that's one of the things that, you know, you ask who we are already approaching and much closer to the strategy teams and to our businesses and believe it or not, they are eager to have us remember every single strategy paper talks about capabilities, building capabilities of the future. And we've been trying—but our organization, one way or the other, we are still not mature enough to have the deep dives and have the expertise to be able to even reinforce our HR strategy of the different segments and enterprise segments. So the business, the customers, we need to be much closer to them one way or the other, but that's a lot of people.

Now we cannot also neglect the functions, because those are the subject matter experts. Those will be the guys that will tell them, you know, if you want to have 12% more market share in digital commerce for one of your products that will increase your revenue by $1.3 billion, if you want to do this, you need to do things differently. You need to have a different skill set. These people, these roles need to have different skill sets. What are these skill sets of the future? How will we do brand planning in the future? How will we be doing brand positioning in the future? What are the biggest changes in skills and in behaviors and all that.

So we need a lot of people, Stacia, because I think this is not something that HR can do from their ivory tower and say, now it's digital and let's, let's do a little bit of a digital dance here, and then, and then everybody has those skills and then it's good. But to be there at that table, Stacia, and this is reinforced the worker says, you need to add value. And our value proposition is one, we will bring strategic capabilities expertise; second, we need to evolve this predictive analytics, the analytics part, the data and the analytics. And third, we need to understand really well the business and their strategy as well. So this is what I first need to equip my team with, and start already as much as possible piloting some of the support that we need to provide to some of our segments.

Dani Johnson:
About a lot of things. And we've sort of raised a lot of challenges that you've sort of come across in your positions. What gives you hope that we'll crack this nut?

Nuno Gonçalves:
It's a very great question. Can I tell you a little bit of a story? I left UCB at the beginning of 2020, so it wasn't good—great timing, right on top of COVID and all that! So I left UCB, and I was looking for other challenges, you know, kind of the second part of my career and what am I going to do? And it was the culmination of 12 intense years of moves from different industries, different companies and different geographies and all this stuff, and it was really good to actually do a little bit of a timeout.

Word travels fast, and I was having different conversations with different people, companies contacting me. And while I was not necessarily ready to jump on the first thing that would show up, I said, you know, listen, I'm going to go where my gut tells me to go—my gut has done good stuff in the past, I kind of tend to go with my gut in some important decisions. And the first conversation that I had with Mars, you know, those kinds of conversations that you get at the end of those conversations, and you get more energized at the end than in the beginning? This is really cool. You know, is it kind of very clear?

And that it kept on happening, happening second conversation, third conversation, fourth conversation. I said, listen, this cannot, you know, it's different people. Something's one way or the other there, is there something in the sauce, there is something in the water in Mars, right? And I decided to join Mars because of people because of how not necessarily how good we are—by the way, I do love the M&Ms, of course—but because it seems to be an organization that has really good people, that has a proven track record to do the right things.

And if you ask me around hope, I would put my money a lot on that hope, on the people that I have surrounding me. And when I say surrounding me, I say my boss, I say the, you know, the CEO of the organization, because I do believe that because we have that track record of doing the right thing, that we will continue to do the right thing and to become a better organization as we move forward.

Dani Johnson:
That was a perfect answer. Thank you for being here today, Nuno, and just a quick question, how can people connect with you and your work?

Nuno Gonçalves:
So I am a relatively shy extrovert, which is an interesting combination, and I tend to downgrade a little bit of what we're doing. And sometimes I'm having conversations with you guys and you guys say, you know, come and talk, and I say, you know, really is it really kind of podcast material? And I don't post enough, but listen, I think if there is interest, I am on Twitter, I am on LinkedIn—reach out. If you want to hear more, kind of give me a nudge; I might lose a little bit of the shyness, and start posting more and sharing more out there. And if you find it interesting, then I'll continue to do that as well.

Dani Johnson:
We'd like to finish with a question that actually ties back to our previous podcasts and some of our other work and that's around purpose. So we want to know why you do what you do—you individually, Nuno, what is it that inspires you to do the work you do?

Nuno Gonçalves:
I'm a little bit on a quest. I think it's evolving, because whenever you're younger, it's probably different as you mature. Back in 2018, I went to Stanford and spent six weeks there; it's a very humbling experience if you haven't done it, right, because you think, you had like 20 years of your career, and you've done good stuff and you know, you're a VP of whatever. And then you go to Stanford, then there's like 200 people and you're kind of the underachiever of those 200, right? And you have people that are driving the GDP of South Asia and all that stuff.

So what that taught me was people were literally trying to change organizations, trying to change the world. And that wasn't so much of a significant shift for me, because I couldn't see beyond my life. And you know when you're climbing a mountain and there's a little bit of a fog, and then you say, Oh, I'm almost at the top. And this is only what I see, and then you, you just pass the fog and then you see, Oh, shoot, there's not only much more mountains, but the mountain is much higher. And I think, I believe that's some of the work that I'm trying to do with startups and with some of the investment funds, I really want to help change the world. I'm not changing the world by myself, but I want to be there. I want to be in the room where we changed the world one way or the other, if I can contribute. That’s more of a philosophical perspective, but that's what I'm trying to do, Stacia.

Stacia Garr:
All of us here are on that effort—change the world through the work that people do in the workplaces that they work in. So thank you for being in the room with everyone here, and everybody who I'm sure is listening to the podcast.

Nuno Gonçalves:
It is my pleasure: thanks guys, thanks so much for having me.

Stacia Garr:
Thanks for listening to the RedThread Research podcast about the near future of people and work practices: please subscribe and rate us on the podcast platform of your choice, and share with your friends and colleagues. You can find additional materials, including our research and research agenda, at www.red threadresearch.com.

Chris Pirie:
We are very grateful to Workday for their exclusive sponsorship of this first season of the RedThread Research podcast. Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and re-skill your workforce. Workday is a financial, HR and planning system for a changing world.

Workday will also host an exclusive live webinar towards the end of the season where you can meet the team Dani, Stacia and myself, and join in a conversation about the future of skills and skills management. You can find out more information and access exclusive content at www.workday.com/skills.

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Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

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