29 March 2022

Workplace Stories Season 4, Skills Odyssey II: Delivering a Skills Marketplace

Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the sixth episode of our podcast: The Skills Odyssey II, Season 4 of Workplace Stories.
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson of RedThread Research and Chris Pirie from The Learning Futures Group chat with Meredith Wellard, VP of group learning and talent platforms at Deutsche Post DHL Group.
  • Meredith can barely contain her excitement with all the work they’re doing Deutsche in regards to Skills.
  • “I think this is the first time in my career that I genuinely feel I had real, real, tangible stuff to work with and do stuff with.”
  • That excitement comes from AI, data, and trying to do things locally when it comes to skills despite being one of the largest global companies in the world.
  • What is a career marketplace and why is it like Talent Tinder?
  • Meredith is a world traveler with the sails set to Skills and the navigational experience of not getting distracted by what she calls “the shiny things”—the sirens of old-fashioned HR Tech. Climb aboard and learn how Deutsche Post is sailing the Skills seas and what you can do to be a better sailor on your own Skills Odyssey.
  • A special thanks to our sponsors, Visier and Degreed, for their support of this season!
  • If you like this episode, leave a rating and a review for our podcast.

Listen

Listen to my podcast

Guests

Meredith Wellard, VP of Group Learning & Talent Platforms, Deutsche Post DHL

DETAILS

Something’s happened to this week’s guest, Meredith Wellard. And it’s actually something quite wonderful; you can hear it in her voice, animating and energizing her. It’s a mix of excitement at possibility—and almost relief that a lot of checks she’s been trying to cash all her years in HR, L&D and talent management can finally be honored. Her secret? It’s the immediate impact on her organization, Deutsche Post DHL Group (she’s an Australian living and working in Bonn, Germany), she’s getting from a new machine learning and data analytics-powered approach to Skills. She and her team—as you’ll learn over the sound of Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’ and your oars, as you race ahead on this leg of our almost-concluded Skills Odyssey—have used that tech to create a unique career marketplace. You’ll soon know why she wants to call it that instead of a ‘Skills’ one. It will eventually be the friendly, automated, and incredibly well-informed training and new job (or even new career path) digital assistant for all of its half million global workforce. No wonder she’s inspired: and we think you soon will be as well.

Resources

  • Meredith’s LinkedIn profile is here and her employer’s main website is here.
  • A useful scene-setter to the show on the Deutsche Post DHL website (in English) is here.
  • All three previous seasons of Workplace Stories, along with relevant Show Notes, transcriptions, and links, are available here.

Webinar

Our culminating final live The Skills Odyssey II webinar has been announced! This is where we will share our conclusions about the show’s findings, and we’d love you to join in on this discussion about what it means to put Skills at the forefront of all talent practices. Put March 22, 12pm EST, in your calendar; you can register a spot for free here.

In the session, we'll be diving right into a Skills mindset for talent management and recap the season's best moments so that you can apply ALL our collective knowledge and experience at your own org. So catch up with RedThread’s Dani Johnson and Stacia Sherman Garr, along with fellow podcast host Chris Pirie (The Learning Futures Group) and expert representations from our great Season sponsors Yustina Saleh, Ph.D.(Visier Inc.), and Todd Tauber (Degreed).

See you there!

Partner

Find out more about our Workplace Stories podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris Pirie and his work here.

Season Sponsors

 

 

We are very grateful to our second ‘Skills Odyssey’ sponsors, Visier and Degreed. Visier is a recognized leader in people analytics and workforce planning; with Visier, organizations can answer questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business outcomes through workforce optimization. Visier has 11,000 customers in 75 countries, including enterprises like Adobe, BASF, Electronic Arts, McKesson, and more. Degreed is the upscaling platform that connects Learning to opportunities; they integrate everything people use to learn and build their careers, Skills, insights, LMSs, courses, videos, articles, and projects, and match everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique Skills, roles and goals: learn more about the Degreed platform at degreed.com. We encourage you to show your support for their involvement by checking out both websites—and thanks once again to both organizations.

All three previous seasons of Workplace Stories, as well as our series on Purpose, which was a co-production with the ‘Learning is The New Working’ podcast, along with relevant Show Notes and links, is available here. Find out more about our Workplace Stories podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris and his work here.

Finally, if you like what you hear, please follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on your podcast hub of choice—and it wouldn't hurt to give us a 5-star review and share a favorite episode with a friend, as we start to tell more and more of the Workplace Stories that we think matter.

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

Even though we call it a ‘career’ marketplace in the back end, of course, it has a huge amount of value from a talent management perspective. And one of the things that we are very keen to build up is this ability for HR using the analytics and recommendations from our new AI to profile the role before the manager starts to recruit with it.

Aside from Skills and what it does for the business and how it gives people opportunities for growth, it also is super-engaging for the employees to know that they have that trust and openness available to them. I think it also holds managers a lot more accountable: as a leader, you cannot say, my people are not allowed out to leave. That's just old fashioned, so managers now need to be accountable for that. And then when you add on the diversity thing, and there's so many benefits that come out of this that I'm a bit in love with it, to be honest.

The biggest piece of advice I would have is do not get distracted by the shiny things. That's old-fashioned HR tech, when all they talk about is look what it can do, it looks beautiful… no. Get yourself understanding, one, what it is you really want to achieve and what data you're going to need to get that, then look at what vendors are out there that might provide you an opportunity for that. What we really have to avoid is that we create platforms everywhere that people ‘have’ to go. They won't go there; they will go to the things that come to them, and they'll go to the things that they want to consume in the flow of work, not as a separate thing somewhere.

I think this is the first time in my career that I genuinely feel I had real, real, tangible stuff to work with and do stuff with. And I'm just loving every minute of it: I can now talk about HR value contribution without having any rubbery numbers. And that's amazing!

It's just the right thing to do, right? It's just the right thing to let people get on with their careers, and be valid and be relevant and be developed.

You are listening to Workplace Stories, a podcast by RedThread Research about the near future of work.

Stacia Garr, RedThread:

I'm Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread.

Dani Johnson, RedThread:

And I'm Dani Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And I'm Chris Pirie, CEO of The Learning Futures Group.

The team at RedThread Research would like to thank Visier and Degreed for their sponsorship of this podcast season, The Skills Odyssey II. Degreed is the upskilling platform that connects learning to opportunities; it integrates everything people use to learn and build their careers, including skill insights, LMSs, courses, videos, articles, and projects, and matches everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique Skills, roles, and goals. Visier is the recognized leader in people analytics and workforce planning; with Visier, organizations can answer questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business outcomes through workforce optimization. Visier has 11,000 customers in 75 countries. For more information, you can find links to their webpages in the shownotes of this podcast.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

What we have today, and why Skills are so important, is that we can stop talking about performance potential, what's the difference, all of these criteria that people have—and we can actually start talking about what Skills we need and who has those Skills. This, for me, is absolutely changing the whole world of talent and growth in organizations today.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Deutsche Post DHL Group is a German multinational package delivery and supply chain management company. It's headquartered in Bonn, Germany, and it's one of the world's largest career companies. It began life as the German Post Office, and still today, the postal division delivers 61 million letters every day in Germany, making it the largest post office in Europe, but it's also now a truly global organization, with a presence in over 220 countries and territories.

In this episode, we get to meet Meredith Wellard. She is the VP of group learning and talent platforms in a company with over 500,000 employees in almost every country in the world. It's a talent ecosystem that is diverse and complex, and to say that is an understatement! It's also the perfect opportunity to experiment and chart a course for a future of Skills-based approach to work.

Meredith explains the efforts that she and the DHL team have made so far around building a Skills marketplace. It's already a reality for some parts of the organization, and a lot of lessons have been learned. Meredith is super generous in sharing what she's learned so far, including her thoughts on the critical role of friction-free data collection, ethical AI, and the necessary culture work in a world where, as she says, ‘data is the price of admission and Skills is the currency’. I think you're going to really enjoy and learn from our conversation with Meredith Wellard.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Meredith, welcome again to Workplace Stories. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about Deutsche Post DHL? I'm sure these are names that people may be familiar with, but it's an interesting history: can you talk about its mission and its Purpose?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Sure, hi Chris, yeah, absolutely. Indeed, many people probably have heard of DHL, probably less people have heard of Deutsche Post DHL: we are a family of divisions that operate all over the world under the guise of DHL Express or Supply Chain or Freight and Forwarding, plus we are the post for Germany. We have a Purpose, which is all around connecting people and improving lives through this globalization of trade and making trade accessible to people. And our strategy at the moment is, at least until 2025, all about delivering excellence in a digital world.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Tell us a little bit about the demographics of the workforce there? That's definitely relevant.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

So we have around 570,000 employees, maybe a bit more these days as we had quite a bit of growth during the COVID years. We operate in almost every country in the world. We probably have about 70% of our labor force is frontline or field-based. So, delivering parcels or sorting in warehouses or that type of role.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

An extraordinary number of employees!

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Yeah. It's a big one 🙂

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And range of jobs. So tell us a little bit about yourself: what's your title, and how would you describe the kind of work that you do?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

So I'm the vice president group learning talent and HR platforms. What that basically means is that I look after all of those experiences from a group level that impact the employee's life at work. So everything from our employer branding, our sourcing and acquisition activities, our EVP and our learning and growth activities, to talent and, in theory, to offboarding, but we of course are not off boarding people much at the moment

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Yeah, growing like crazy. Can you tell us, how did you come to do this kind of work? I'm not hearing a German accent 🙂

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

No I'm Australian, so yes, I'm from way down South, if you put the world in that way. And I actually have come up through the ranks of call center management: I did study arts and education at University, and then managed call centers for a while, moved over to HR and org development, and then did a bit of internal marketing and things like that until I ended up here with Deutsche Post—actually I joined them in the Middle East, in Dubai, and about 11 years ago moved to Germany.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

So a really global company, really global career. So maybe before we dive into a deeper discussion about Skills and why you're so focused on Skills and so on and so forth, what are the forces at work on DHL? What's challenging about your work today? Set it up for us.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

So I think, I mean, we are at one of the world's larger organizations, and we're certainly one of Germany's largest organizations. And I think we have a responsibility in the world today, not only to our own employees but also to the environments in which we operate, to ensure that we are preparing the world for the future. So ensuring that people are aware that change is so rapid and unforgiving at the moment that we need to be always ready for whatever's to come next.

So some of the stuff that we are thinking and talking a lot about, as many companies are, what does the few future of work look like—not just from a Skills perspective, but also from a structure, from a labor market perspective. How is it that people will work in the future, and what do we need to have in place already today to ensure that not only our own employees, that the markets in which we work are able to adjust and adapt to the new way of the world, whether that's technology, whether that's the digital space, or whether it's the geopolitical climate or whatever else is going on?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

So this is actually our third podcast season on Skills: it started as one podcast…

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

We’re obsessed!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Everyone seems to be obsessed with this 🙂 And one of the questions that we often ask is, what do you mean by Skills, because it seems to have a different meaning in all organizations?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

So it's quite interesting, because my initial studies were around adult education, vocational education, and assessments. In those days, and we are talking not to give my age away but we're talking at least a couple of years ago, in those days Skills were very much about this very precise and specific articulation of what someone should do in a certain scenario, right?

We've actually gone 360 on this: today Skills refers to anything that enables you to demonstrate an action at work, and that can be an experience, it can be an attribute, it can be a pure skill or it also can be a knowledge scenario.

It's really shifted. It's really gone super loose, actually.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Well, that's good. We've talked to some organizations that have very defined definitions of what Skills are. We actually did a round table a while back and half of it was caught up arguing about what a ‘skill’ is.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Which is so HR navel gazing on what we should call something rather than actually delivering the value!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:
Exactly, yeah! Talk to us a little bit about why you see Skills as an important thing right now.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

I think for me, this is really the best time to be in a talent, a learning or a people enablement role because, for many years we have–and I think why we were fixated on what we mean by skill or competency or this or that is, because we were struggling with, how do we pull the right and accurate data to reflect what we need to know about the people in organizations. So we understood that the most value that we can add from a learning or talent perspective is knowledge of the people, knowledge where we have a potential gap or risk that we might find exposed, and ensuring that we can close that gap with really targeted and value-adding interventions.

We always knew that's what we wanted to do. We struggled to get there simply because we were dealing with lag data, we struggled to get good analytics, there were no technical ways to support us on this. Even when we finally got talent platforms, we were heavily reliant on this ‘talent panel discussion,’ the nine-box matrix. And unfortunately, no matter how well that was done, and no matter how well rigorously it was maintained by HR, it's always had that subjectivity associated with it: it was always lag, and it always was this annual process, heavy, heavy, heavy touch activity.

What we have today, and why Skills are so important, is that we can stop talking about performance, potential, what's the difference, all of these criteria that people have, and we can actually start talking about what Skills we need and who has those Skills. This, for me, is absolutely changing the whole world of talent and growth in organizations today.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:
So earlier you talked about understanding the data and the Skills, and doing interventions, but you've also talked a little bit more broadly than just development. So can you talk a little bit about what you mean by intervention?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

I think when you have enough data that gives you enough perspective on what Skills you have in an organization—and more importantly, what you don't have—and additionally, what we now have access to is what's going on in the market, so these new platforms are using their machine learning to parse the external markets and pull in data points where we can say, okay, what, for the latest, I don't know, aviation engineers, there's a new set of capabilities that are being looked for. So we can proactively say, look at our own pools and say, right, do we have those Skills? Do we have enough of them? And even further, we can now look and say, how do we transition those who have adjacent capabilities?

We don't need to put people through entire programs anymore—we can literally say, that's a skill that's actually transferable, we think: what would it take? Maybe just an experience, maybe a different management, maybe a different structure, but we can do it differently to how we do it today. More targeted, more personalized.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

And I'm assuming that this type of thinking and this type of planning lets you react to ever-changing environments much more quickly.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Fast and not react; I think that's the key— that we no longer always have to be in this react mode and actually we can finally, thankfully, be there having an adult conversation with the business partners saying there may be a risk, and not based on something we think we know, but on something we know we know and that's exciting.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Well, let me throw you another hard question. A lot of organizations that we've talked to, we've also asked the question, do you focus on a small set of Skills, or do you focus on a larger set of Skills? And then there's also the ‘ontology versus architecture’ question. How are you all looking at the body of Skills that you're addressing?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

For me, this is something that each individual organization will have to approach differently, right? There are definitely organizations, and if I think about just for example, a police force, there's really a common set of core capabilities, they're probably quite structured in terms of how you grow and experience, and there's some legal aspects. I would imagine that they would have a core set of Skills that are not negotiable.

Then you have organizations like ours, which is super-broad and lots of transferable Skills, and lots of unique roles that only exist in one place. We say, we’d rather go for a very broad set of Skills that is then defined down at the management layer or the individual's level. We call it an open marketplace, so there's the Skills you can choose, tell us which ones you've got, and then we'll bundle it all up into some analytics and understand our profile.

Having said that, we also have an airline, we also have some quite structured areas, so we do have a job architecture framework that we overlay and we say, there's our job families, there's our functions and hierarchies. And we even had a set of reference jobs, but we used the ontology to recommend Skills to those reference jobs. So continually updated, continually updated and fluid: what we wanted was that fluidity.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

You mentioned something about how there's a focus locally, how things can be defined a bit more locally. Can you talk a bit more about what that involves?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

So at one level, it's simply about the fact that we have 220 countries, and something like 60 of those speak different languages to others, right? So it's just language. If you think about it, then, in terms of today, we have real challenges with the labor market in the US but not so much of a challenge in Germany. So the responses are going to be different. Then it could be something like, it's easy for an Australian to work anywhere in the world, so there's a lot of mobility for Australians but if you are from Yemen, for example, you're not going to get that same access. So it's about responding in a meaningful way to what the local environment needs, addressing their needs but at the same time, maintaining this DHL or Deutsche Post DHL consistency.

So when we talk about Skills, we use the same language, we use the same system, we use the same processes. But the way it manifests at the local level will differ depending on the environment and what HR defines—which means that the local HR right, down to the grassroots, needs to have a level of expertise in this area that maybe they certainly didn't have a couple of years ago and probably are still developing today. Which is why things like this podcast are so important, because it isn't a simple concept and it's not just, oh look, good idea—Skills, right? It's so much more than that.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

We would totally agree 🙂

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Yeah! 🙂

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:
And what's nice is I think that most of the people we've spoken to are very humble and they say, these are experiments we're running and there’s some progress we feel we've made, but there's still a lot of work to do.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Yeah, definitely.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research

You mentioned addressing things at a local level, but you also mentioned addressing them at the manager and individual level. So are your Skills defined by that manager and that individual? So are they defined on that team level and then roll up rather than coming down from the top?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

So the tool that we use really operates in a way that it sources the content for the Skills from the external marketplace; it recommends the Skills that match the profile the individual has, so either the reference job, if there's one that fits or the job title or the description that they have given of their role.

So it would say to me, you are the VP of group learning talent: so there are a set of Skills that you are likely to have. And then I go, I like that one, that's definitely me. I don't agree with that one. I put that one there, hmm-mm, There's one I want to develop and I create a profile, and the more profiles that are created, of course, the more accurate the system becomes and the better analytics we have and the more that we can influence the direction it goes in.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research

One more question with respect to that, how are you motivating your 570,000 people to provide the information about the Skills that they have?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Yeah, so we don't yet have 570,000 people on it just to be clear! That is still a long way away. But what we have found in the early adoption areas is there is absolutely no challenge to get people to do it. We are making it very easy for them by integrating it into the flow of their day-to-day activities. So we, for example, consciously made the decision not to make it a place where they have to go to update their profile, but that it comes to them and says, would you like to do some new learning? And while they're there, it says, okay, so you can even get better targeted learning if you fill out your profile. So they're already there when they're asked to do it.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So I think that's a nice lead into the career marketplace, because this is one of the things we wanted to talk the most about. I think probably what you just described is a nice introduction to what it is, but maybe we can take a step back and talk a little bit about why a ‘marketplace career marketplace’—what was it that got you to this point in this Skills Odyssey, and if you can also weave in how you involved others along that process?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

It is a little bit of a journey for us. I mean, about three years ago off the back of actually the job architecture being developed, we were having a conversation, myself and the VP for Comp and Ben about what would be some use cases for this career marketplace beyond the job grading and traditional activities. And we were talking about how we could link it to learning and creating learning pathways for people, and that's exactly where it started. As we were talking, we did a bit of research, we talked to a few other companies and we found this new concept out there that was technology that was using AI to create these Skills ontologies.

We'd been through the process a few years before of creating a Skills taxonomy for our business, just for finance and HR; it took us years, and I think it was used for less time than it took us to create it. [Laughter] So what we definitely knew was we didn't want to do that again, and we got talking to these companies and it was clear—and some of them were really genuinely startups, that they were doing this sexy stuff with AI that enabled this—and so we decided to do a proof of concept.

We chose three vendors to do that with: we got it out into a test audience of a few hundred employees, so people on the floor, just to see how they responded to it. And it blew my mind! I mean, we literally had employees who were saying things like when we were closing it off the proof of concept they were saying, don't turn it off, just leave it there, we love it!

My other favorite, which was one of the team members said, this is the first time in 20 years that I actually felt someone was looking at my CV and so forth and showing an interest. And I said, oh no. It was clearly something that was wanted by the employees, also from an engagement perspective.

We also were right at that point of starting our digital HR agenda, so we were getting a lot of concepts and ideas on the table, and someone had come up with this idea of it was like a ‘Talent Tinder,’ they called it, you know, swipe left.

[All laugh]

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

It was one of those things where Design Thinking's brilliant, the ideas that come out are superb. But we thought, yeah, we could probably do that using this technology, and we landed on a company that we liked that seemed to work for us. And then lo and behold, 18 months down the track, we've got our first experiences already been launched, we're now rolling it out to our next few thousand employees and by the end of this year, we want to have about 230,000 employees on the platform, at least for Skills profiles, learning recommendations and the first job recommendations. So basically based on the Skills, they will get recommendations around learning to close Skills gaps, and based on the jobs they follow, they'll either get job offers or they'll have a profile that tells them how ready they are and then get learning and development recommendations that close those Skills gaps there as well. And that's really MVP, like that's the first taster of it. And there's so much more we can do.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

It's quite profound, the word ‘marketplace’: to think that, now, how you exchange value for your work and how you go about your career is happens in a marketplace rather than for an employer, it's actually quite a radical shift, conceptually, at least.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

No, you're absolutely right. And I know people are using the term more and more now, but this idea that Skills is now the currency that we are trading—we used that from the very beginning. We were saying, one, if you want to trade your Skills, if you want to trade in this currency of Skills, then you need to share your data, so data is the price of entry and Skills is the currency. And if an employee raises their hand and says, yep, view my information, then they're going to benefit from this fully transparent and open marketplace.

That is really important to Deutsche Post DHL because we currently place around 60% of our open positions beyond the frontline, of course, within our structures, with our own employees. So that’s quite a high number that you fill your own roles with your own people.

Actually, we want that to be much, much higher, especially now when the labor markets are becoming super tight and the fighting for Skills that's going on right now is extraordinary. You can't pay your way out of that: you can't just keep increasing salaries and changing org structures to manage that, but we do have a chance to strengthen our own internal marketplace, which anyway is our biggest marketplace. So if we can set up this Skills process, if we can create this strong digital fundament, I'd like to actually use the concept of a digital twin from manufacturing and say, I want to create a digital twin for our profiles in our organization, and actually have it that for any role, we could almost identify who the next best three people are with no name, with no face, with no location, no gender, no age, no nothing, just give to a manager, ‘Here's your next best people for that role, based on our digital twin concept.’ And only then say, okay, now let's put a name to a face. So you can go through the recruitment process. That would be amazing in terms of engagement and diversity, and like all those things that we're trying to get a handle on today.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I have two follow-up questions to that. You mentioned digital twin and also kind of diversity together. And so my question goes around the idea of thinking about kind of how teams work and teams are structured: the idea that the person who was in the role before may not be the right one given where the team is moving forward. And so how are you thinking about not just replicating the past but evolving the organization and the Skills it needs in the future?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

That's a great question. I go back to, even though we call it a ‘career’ marketplace, in the back end, of course it has a huge amount of value from a talent management perspective, one of the things that we are very keen to build up is this ability for HR using the analytics from the AI, or at least the recommendations is probably a better word, the recommendations from the AI to profile the role before the manager starts to recruit with it.

So if you are the manager, I'd come to you and, and say, right, you've got a recruitment requisition in, let's talk about the profile of this role and use the recommended Skills from the AI—which remember is, looking externally and internally to have that discuss: your last profile looks like this. The current recommendation would be that you change that profile a bit because of changes in the market, and really have that ability to help managers grasp the changing nature of work. It’s not their expertise: they don't have that ability to access that information usually. But that just as a really practical example of how I see it changing the future of work at a delivery point.

But in addition to that, it provides this very sophisticated set of analytics around the Skills graphs: where you look at where we have four Skills in our business, maybe oversupply or undersupply, and what do we need to do to intervene and manage those? How can we move people across the skill sets? There's one on our own Skills graph, which, which I've already seen, there's one outlier. There's this little part of Skills that sit off to quite off to one side, which means they're not closely associated with any other Skills. It's fascinating to understand that is a group of engineers that we've got in our business, but we would maybe normally assume, because they are under the title of ‘engineer’ that any other engineer would fit that profile of somehow, but actually, no, actually it doesn't sit alongside, the Skills don't sit alongside other engineering Skills. Quite fascinating when you look at it like that.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah, definitely. My second question has to do with, you mentioned basically the exchange of data for information recommendations to employees, which set off my little radar here around data and privacy and workers’ councils. You are obviously in Germany and are right in the thick of that and I don't think we've had another interviewee who's quite in the same situation. So could you talk to us a little bit about what have been some of the data privacy issues with regard to Skills, and how have you all worked through those?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

I mean, I think that the most important thing, okay: we are in logistics and transport, right? The thing that we are so, so tight on, of course, is that we are compliant in all areas because this industry is a risk industry. So we've really invested a lot of time and effort and upskilling ourselves and understanding how AI and, and visibility on Skills can be managed from a data protection point of view.

And a lot of what we are looking at today really sits around this concept of consent. So giving people the opportunity to opt in or opt out, simplifying the consent process but with no trickery. We’re not marketing to our own employees, right, we don't want them to click yes to everything just because we want to track them with a couple of pixels. Like we really want that when they raise their hand and say, yes, I give my consent for this visibility that they understand what's going to happen when they do it. Like, it's all good because it anyway is our company data, we're not sharing it externally, but it does have to be done in a fully transparent way, otherwise you lose the trust of the employees. There can be abuse of the information if you're not careful, and it's definitely not what we want. We want this to be engaging and inspiring, not scary and intimidating.

So on the other side of it, there's a lot that we've also done to anonymize and really build this strong understanding of what it means to manage these large amounts of data. And we have an analytics team actually, who work with us alongside, so it's not within my own team, and I think that's appropriate as well that this analytics team are experts in managing this type of data and using it for how it's meant to be used.

And then on the works council piece, I mean, that's a really interesting one because we have a great relationship with our works council. It's a complex environment, for sure. And no one could assume that the works council would automatically say yes to all of this because it's so new, but my observation is there seems to be a positive view towards what it gives the employee, some natural concern around the new tech and how that's used. I actually think that's the role of the works council, right, to make sure that the employees are protected by that. It's something, it definitely is something to work on but I think with all the right intentions, everyone wants the best for the organization and their people, right? it's just following the right process and not trying to bully boy your way through. That doesn't make sense, but rather doing it in a proper fashion.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

In the pre-call you talked about trailblazers/pioneers, and then going on to final launch. Can you speak to those phases and why you decided to have those phases? And also, where would you say you are today in the journey?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

I mentioned the proof of concept already: when we did the proof of concept, we had a few hundred employees that trialled those platforms and we settled on one and then took that forward to implementation. So we had to train the AI, we had to set up the integrations, we had to do all of those normal things that you have in play. And that took us probably 12 months, because we were learning as we went. That was one thing we were really clear on, not to jump in when we didn't really understand what we were doing: this is really changing our world, and it's not a shiny thing to just for a few months, right?

And then we set up a process based on our agile working mode, which is that we will roll out the functionality in phases of three. So we will first go to a trailblazer group, which is rather around 200 or 300 employees, and the trailblazer will have a very high touch experience where we not only observe how they use the tech, but we also talk to them about how they're experiencing it in the context of their work. Because for me, the biggest change is not actually the technology; the biggest change is that I now receive a job offer direct to me, without my manager giving approval first.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Yes.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Same with learning, same with anything. Oh, I'm allowed to do that. And that's huge, that's a huge change.

So we do the trailblazers. Then we move on to, if that all goes well, and we fix any items that need to be addressed. We move on to a pioneer group, which are the first group of a few thousand who will actually work on the live platform on in their real work environment. So trailblazers are on our stage system and then they'll move on to the real platform. And then that's a group that's not so large that if we have to roll back, it's impossible, so this that we can manage it, but large enough that it will understand the group impact in rolling it out. And at that point, then we plan for the organizational rollout and it goes out to everyone, and that runs in a three then six-month cycle. So it's nine months, and it should be implemented.

The thing is that that runs, and then after the first trailblazer has finished and it goes onto pioneer, a new trailblazer starts for the next set of functionality. So it is three or four, even, trailblazers running at the same time, but testing different things and the same with pioneers and the same with the live platform.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Got it—little bit like the three horizons model, right?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Correct.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Working at different maturities of your technology. Have people in DHL Deutsche Post received unsolicited job offers—have you got there yet?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So the first set are already receiving their unsolicited job offers, well at least say they're not open roles at the moment. They're at the moment being referred to the type of role that you might go for.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Got it. Not specific job roles yet.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

The offers come at the end of the year. They're excited because it can be that me, in HR, I get offered a role in aviation, and that would never happen before. Or it could be that there was one nice story about a guy that moved from operations resource planning and something like this, across to our HR business architecture environment. So people are getting this chance now already to see that it's not about the function. I don't have to do this linear upward movement anymore. I can move everywhere, I can try different things.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I really like that from the employee point of view, but I also like it from the org point of view; it seems like somebody from operations could bring some really good insights into HR, know what I mean?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Exactly. And in our case, where you've got those divisions, right, the supply chain, there is nothing to say that because you grew up in your years supply chain that you don't have Skills that could work in freight forwarding. In fact, you probably can. So, it's just, we never did it. We all know I'm supply chain. I don't want to go there.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

It's going to be really interesting to see how this plays out and how successful people are and whether people embrace it. When the robots send me a new job, like, am I going to embrace that? And also, just how works out in terms of effectivity and job impact and career success.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

You're absolutely right. And actually, if you think about it, for me, I use the reference of our consumer experience, right? We are so used now in our consumer lives to being sent recommendations and suggestions for purchase. And what we're doing is basically replicating that if you don't want to consume it, that's also fine, but this is for them. I think people will want to consume.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You mentioned that this is kind of a big culture shift, basically saying, Hey, I don't need my manager's permission anymore to look at different jobs or even move. How are you handling that systemically in your organization, or how do you plan on handling?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

My God, no. We have a very large change initiative going on that operates at three layers. One is, of course, the system change, really rolling out the training and then the normal change. One layer is really about the enablement of the activity, so we've had to change our content strategy from a learning perspective, we have to change some of our rules and guidelines when it comes to things like stretch assignment.

Then the biggest piece is this culture change bit, which is tough, because it's going to take a while and, and there's going to be some pain points for sure.

It’s just let's see how it goes. I think it's not going to be an easy shift, but I think the benefits really outweigh the negatives.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

It also seems like something like this and all the data that you have can minimize some of that disruption: a manager that just lost the person can do the exact same thing.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Or even better, the manager will actually be able to, even before the end of this year, this will be a functionality we have, the manager will be able to look at the roles that they have reporting into them and say, for that role who are the people who have expressed an interest? I've got 10 people, I'm really hoping that they'll look and see 10 people, it'll be awful if they look and see nobody, and I know that's something to do with the manager, not the role. [Laughter]

But that, isn't actually that just on that, I think that is an interesting side perspective, right? So aside from Skills and what it does for the business and how it gives people opportunities for growth, it also is super-engaging for the employees to know that they have that trust and openness available to them. I think it also holds managers a lot more accountable, right? So as a leader, you cannot rely on a set of rules that say, my people are not allowed out to leave.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I think this is so exciting, because you're showing the vision of what this can be. And I know you all are still relatively early on the Odyssey, but, but even so the potential of, of what you're seeing already and, and really seeing is, I think, extremely exciting, so I'm sure others will be in love with it as well.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what you see as the future. We understand where you are now, but as you look, look out three, five years, and I know that's a lot of changes, but what do you see that maybe we'll be doing that we're not talking about now?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

So I think for me, the biggest changes are going to come from the fact that the world is changing, right? So the technology, the access to information, and social media and all this, it is changing the way that we interact with each other, it's changing the way, the speed at which things happen in the world. And if you see the way people responded to, for example, COVID, and now some of the recent things that are going on in the world, people are more and more starting to say, I need to take care of me and I need to take care of my people. And yes, I'm part of the community, and I want that, but I'm no longer going to be the one that stands waiting for my employer or my boss to tell me what I have to do. I need to look after myself.

So if you think about how that translates to work, people are going to want to continue to have this flexibility that they've started to experience in the last couple of years. If they don't have it yet because of the nature of their work, simply by the fact that so many others have it, they will start to demand it. And because the labor markets are tightening, and Skills are becoming more difficult to access, work is just going to change, and people will start saying, I can offer ala gig economy style. And I know that's a catchphrase at the moment, but I can truly imagine offering a skill that I have around managing AI-based skill architectures; as we transition through new technologies, faster than ever, that even the concept of skill and me describing myself as an expert in Skills ontologies or whatever—that's not going to last. I'm going to have to continually update and update and update my experience to be current, which means that I'm going to need access to experiences and learning and opportunities to dialog and listen to podcasts and whatever else happens to be: not wait for someone to give me that opportunity, but have that come to me in a recommended way—that I can now be reliant on my friendly little bot here to tell me there's a lot of information you might be interested in, and that I can consume it.

And that should happen in work, not just in the consumer world. Those two things start to blend, actually.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Maybe just thinking about others who are not quite as far on the Odyssey as you are: what advice would you have to them as they are getting started?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

The biggest piece of advice I would have is, do not get distracted by the shiny things. That's old-fashioned HR tech, when all they talk about is look what it can do, it looks beautiful… and no.

Get yourself understanding one, what it is you really want to achieve out of it, what data you're going to need to get that, and then look at what vendors are out there that might provide you an opportunity for that. And finally, look at how that's going to sit within your overall architecture, which goes back to something I said earlier, what we really have to avoid is that we create platforms everywhere that people have to go to. They won't, they won't go there; they will go to the things that come to them, and they'll go to the things that they want to consume in the flow of work, not as a separate thing somewhere else where I have to find it, keep a link in my email and click on the link and then go there and then I dunno what I'm doing, oh, I've forgotten my password.

No, all of that's got to go: we just have to make this super seamless for people to use, so plan all of that up front. Don't wait and then realize afterwards, oh, they don't have an API that can work within my architecture or, oh, deary me. The data points are contradicting the data points. No, like choose the right partner.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

What else should we have asked you about? I know we had a lot of questions. We covered a lot of ground. What did we miss?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

I think the thing I'm surprised you didn't ask is rather around that whole ethics of AI and this piece. And I think that's something that I get asked quite a lot as well, and I actually don't see myself at all as an expert in that space. I think that needs people who really deep dive into that to pick up on it.

But what I can say is, if you understand enough about how the algorithms are consuming the data, I think you can be quite confident that you are managing and training your AI to be as robust as possible. Of course, everything needs to be audited and I'm yet to see how, how, when, when housekeepers or whatever, going to come and tell me, I want to audit your AI. I'm going to go, oh my God! I think if you are intentional about what you're doing, at least then you can explain it, right? Yeah. If you can't explain what you've done, then you put yourself at risk, but if I intentionally fed it X, Y, Z information, because that is what we wanted to achieve with it and we kept an eye on it, and we validated it against user groups. I feel like that's at least an initial safe step.

That might be like wearing a hi-viz vest or something, but, not going to stop you getting hit, but it'll help you getting avoided.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I was going to say it's a really important point in terms of learning how to work with these new tools that are so incredibly powerful and we know that can be used for good and bad. So that's a really, really good point.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I think our final question for you is what we call the Purpose question. And we ask this of every guest that we have on the show. And that question is, why do you personally do the work that you do?

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

I think for me, specifically around this topic, it's because I've been in people management and HR and talent and learning for such a long time—I mean, I was there in the 80s, when we were talking about the pending war on talent that apparently didn't hit us until today, but it was back in the eighties it was somehow there.

And I think this is the first time in my career that I genuinely felt I had real, real, tangible stuff to work with and do stuff with. And I'm just loving every minute of it. I can now talk about HR value contribution without having any rubbery numbers, and that's amazing!

Also it's just the right thing to do for the people, right? It's just the right thing to let people get on with their careers, and be valid and be relevant and be developed. And yeah, it's a great space.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I like it.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

It sounds so much like it's getting HR out of the way and truly enabling folks, which is really the goal and the vision, but sometimes isn't what happens in reality. So getting to live your own vision.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Yeah, exactly. Before I retire, I want this done 🙂 Though I'm not retiring for a while.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So you've got some time: wonderful!

Well, Meredith, thank you so much for all your generosity in what you've shared today; I think we and our listeners are so appreciative of your knowledge and the work that you're doing. Thank you.

Meredith Wellard, Deutsche Post DHL:

Thank you. It was fun.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Thanks!

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Thanks for listening to this episode of Workplace Stories. Dani and Stacia: how can our listeners get more involved in the podcast?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Well, they can subscribe and rate us on the podcast platform of their choice.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

They can also share this, or their favorite episode, with a colleague or a friend.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You can check out the beautiful handcrafted transcripts at redthrearesearch.com/podcast, and see what else we have to offer as far as research goes.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Or Stacia, they could…?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Consider joining the conversation and community by joining our RedThread membership.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

A big thanks to our guests, on all our podcast Seasons, for sharing their insights and thoughts. Of course, we should thank our beloved listeners: thank you!

[Stacia Garr, RedThread Research & Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:]

Thank you.

The team would like to thank Visier and Degreed for their sponsorship of this podcast season, The Skills Odyssey II. A big thank you to our season sponsors: for more information you can find links to their websites in the Show Notes for this podcast.

This podcast is a production of RedThread Research and The Learning Futures Group.

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

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.

0 Comments

Share This