05 April 2022

Workplace Stories Season 4, Skills Odyssey II: SPECIAL BONUS EPISODE w/GE Healthcare's David Sperl

Heather Gilmartin Adams
Research Lead

TL;DR

  • This is the seventh, bonus 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 talk with David Sperl, head of HR technology and people experience at GE Healthcare.
  • David embraces GE’s purpose—improving lives in moments that matter—and he’s doing that through a Skills Odyssey.
  • “For every organization that goes out for Skills management, Skills assessment, we need to bring the people along and we need to make sure, again, that they trust the system, that they have a say on what’s showing up actually on their profile, and that they feel good about getting support out of the AI and out of the technology solution.”
  • David has learned that tech itself isn’t the answer; so what is?
  • A good baseline, data quality, and internal succession plan—Yes, that’s about Skills.
  • David and GE are already on their Skills Odyssey, sailing towards what hopefully is a tropical HR island full of rich data sets, so climb aboard and learn how you can follow in their wake.
  • A special thanks to our sponsors, Visier and Degreed, for their support of this season!

Listen

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Guests

David Sperl, Head of HR Technology and People Experience, GE Healthcare

DETAILS

In the Ancient Greece of Homeric times and mores, the concept of gifting, or gift-friendship, ξενία (‘xenia’) was central. Assuming your fellow Greeks would observe xenia allowed you to travel in the hope you’d be good for food and shelter for the night from strangers on your Odyssey; in exchange, travelers would leave a parting gift in thanks. At many points in The Odyssey, we see xenia in action, like when Eumaeus the Swineherd shows it to the disguised Odysseus, noting guests always come under the protection of Zeus. Well, we’ve reached the end of our own Skills Odyssey here, and so we thought it appropriate to give you, our fellow travellers, some xenia back: and it’s in the delightful shape of this bonus episode with our great final conversation with a CLO making experiments and achieving early results with a new approach to Skills, GE Healthcare’s very honest and informed David Sperl. It’s a conversation that covers his use of machine learning and analytics—again, underlining how key these practices are now in serious HR—as well as how dealing with challenges like replacing a zoo of older HR IT with one new global replacement just as is his division is being divested by its parent. He does a great job sharing learnings and best practice; it’s a bit of xenia in its own right—as Dani says in the episode, “That's one of the things that I really like about HR: once you solve the problem, you can share that with other people, because it's going to work different in their organizations anyway.” And as she goes on to say, in this Odyssey we've seen tons of people being very honest and transparent with us about what they're doing—which is xenia all of us can treasure. Please also note we have yet another gift to close the Season, though, which you will hear about right at the beginning. Now it’s time to head back to shore–but we’ll be back very soon with more things to inform, help and challenge you.

Resources

  • David’s LinkedIn profile is here and his employer’s is here.
  • As you may have heard at the beginning of this episode, we're keen to get to know you, our podcast listeners! Go to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps and fill out a short form to tell us about yourself. As our thank you, the first 30 listeners who tell us about themselves will get a code to sign up for a free 7-day trial of the RedThread membership so you can access our full research library and explore all the benefits of becoming a member. And if you miss that cutoff, you will still receive a complimentary copy of our research report, Skills and Competencies: What's the Deal? Head over to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps now!

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.

One last reminder to take our survey—there’s good stuff for you if you do. Promise!

I’d just like to add for our listeners that we’d love to get to know you a bit better.

To that end we’d like to invite our listeners to head over to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps – don’t worry about all that detail, it’s in the Show Notes — and tell us a little about yourselves!

There’s a short form that you can fill out in about a minute. As a thank you, the first 30 people who tell us about themselves will get a 7-day trial for a RedThread membership, so you can have a peek under the curtain of what RedThread Research.

And if you miss that cut off, don’t worrt—we'll still gift you a copy of our Skills vs. Competencies report!

So go to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps and tell us a bit about yourselves!

And now back to our show!

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

We started with a simple data set that we handed over job profile job description shop history. We've since seen a first assessment of our internal Skills—again, with a focus on AI and ML, that was sort of the focus we deliberately put out there for them—and the learning number one is Skills inference with a relatively limited data set is a good baseline, but it needs more granular data: maybe back to education, university degrees, training history keep documentation, whatever it is.

In the human journey, there are two big conversations—when you're getting hired or when you go into a performance review. These are both highly charged, emotional kind of events, but awe might be just about to create a third one… which will be, I think, really, really fascinating.

We had a very lax governance for HR IT, and that is a conversation you have to have multiple times with people that want to use technology to solve problems. And there's always that balance of best-of-breed solution that fits 95 or 100% of the requirements of a team, but if you want to bring it into a global ecosystem, you may only be able to give them like an 80% solution. So how do you balance that out between a global, consistent approach versus the best-of-breed solution that somebody may want?

Pilot. Instead of going out for a full blown solution straightaway, bite-size the solution or the approach that you're doing: don’t commit straightaway, to all at once—run a POC/proof of concept with a sub-group and see what does it do, does it work, or pivot if needed.

I think ultimately, the recommendation is always what you do now will be your base then for years to come. Because there's just such a fundamental effort and impact that Skills have on all parts of the organization so you might want to do this well and thoroughly and right and spend enough time from the start.

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

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research 0:11:

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

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research 0:14:

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

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group 0:19:

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, 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—skill insights, LMSs, courses, videos, articles and projects, and match 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 websites in the Show Notes for this podcast.

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We have learned that tech in itself is not a solution, right? Typically, what we've seen over the last few years is that somebody has gone out to say, Well, I've talked to the CEO of such and such startup HR tech company, that’s great, let’s implement that. And then we went and see , what use cases will we have for this tool that we want to implement versus now we're actually turning it around in a way that we should—meaning, let’s define what we want to solve for and then find the right technology to aid us in getting there.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Welcome to our bonus episode in Season Four, The Skills Odyssey II, of Workplace Stories; it’s always great to get a bonus, and this conversation is really no exception.

Stacia, Dani, and myself got the opportunity to sit down with David Sperl; he’s the head of HR technology and people experience at GE Healthcare. David and team are chartered with leading the digital transformation at GE from an HR perspective in 50-plus countries in Europe, Middle East and Asia. With GE's relentless focus on technology and transformation, you won't be surprised to learn that they're deep into their Skills experiment, driven by the need to attract and retain great talent and using the best and latest technology.

Not afraid of Big Bang efforts, David led a project to consolidate over 60 disparate employee systems into a single global rollout of their current HR system—a journey that's really informed his approach to deploying and innovating with technology moving forward. His approach starts with a clear line of sight into the problems and the business value of solving them; in this case, we're talking about mentor matching, a job and project marketplace based on Skills, and coaching and career guidance. In exploring promising technologies to address these goals, David has developed a clear set of questions that he and his team asked themselves and their vendors before setting off on their voyage. They also have a relentless focus on governance and stakeholder engagement, and he shares that with us, as well as his laser-like focus on providing a consistent and integrated experience for employees by designing with the user in mind. You'll also hear David's three rules for successful deployment, and why experience negotiating natural gas futures and a law degree can be helpful experiences and Skills for operating HR at scale!

I really hope you enjoy this bonus episode of Workplace Stories, and that our conversation with GE Healthcare's David Sperl can help you navigate your own Skills Odyssey.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

David, welcome to Workplace Stories—thanks so much for coming and joining us today. We are so excited to have you and the insights that you're going to be sharing with our audience today.

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Hey Stacia, hey Dani, hey Chris: thanks for having me on your podcast 🙂

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Well, we are going to begin, as we always do, with some pretty rapid introductory questions to allow folks to know who you are and the organization you work with. So, can you start by giving us a quick overview of GE, its mission and purpose?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Absolutely. So for those of you who haven't heard of GE, GE is around 129 years. We’ve got about 160,000 employees in more than 100 countries so, in short, it's a large corporation, US-based obviously. And we've got three main business units: aviation is one, think aircraft engines; energy is the other, like power generation; and I'm working for the third one, which is the healthcare business unit. And our purpose is a timely one, if you look at the last couple of years, which is ‘improving lives in moments that matter.’ To me, it's very personal—obviously, like for many of us, I think such a moment that matters in a medical situation, many of us have had that before, like an ultrasound scan during pregnancy, a family member on a respirator during COVID, a CT scan for tumor assessment. So that's what we are doing.

Now, as a summary, and that outlook at the same time, last November, exciting news broke to us as well—we’re going to be spun off from GE in early 2023. So we're going to become a standalone company with all that comes with it. And it's certainly an exciting outlook.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yes, definitely, a new future, a new horizon for you all, which is exciting. So that's great to kind of summarize this new direction and help folks understand GE, and GE Healthcare in particular. But can you now tell us a bit about yourself, your title, and how you describe the work that you do?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I absolutely do, and I love sort of your comment on the title—we’ll get to that a bit later on in terms of why it's important on the Skills journey! But this is me, David Sperl, I'm the HR technology leader, employee experience leader, here at GE Healthcare, based out of Vienna, Austria, so Europe based and with GE now for 16 years. Although I am what we call a boomerang, I left GE, worked in the financial services industry, and then decided to come back to the company.

Mostly I have been in HR business partner roles for Europe and Asia-based clients. So that's how it started before really jumping into my first large scale HR project, which was the implementation of a large HCM suite, Workday, for GE, where let the workstream for the healthcare business. And then ever since I expanded my role, and sort of dove into the HR technology.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Interesting, and you came back and did that work after you boomeranged, so after you've been in the financial services industry, very cool. So talk to us about how you came to do this type of work: this is one of our favorite questions, because I don't think we've spoken with anyone who has a linear path. So how did you come to do this work?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Yeah, I can definitely say that none of this was planned at all. So I studied law in Salzburg, in Austria, and during my summers, actually, I worked as a receptionist in a hotel—to digress a bit here, guess what was the most frequent question from our American guests? It was ‘where can I take The Sound of Music tour?’ And it is incredible that almost 60 years after the movie was released, the tour is still set out.

[Chris sings ‘The Hills Are Alive…’ All laugh :)]

So that's a bit of the setting that I started with. And I was a lawyer by education at University, I then became a natural gas contract negotiator by training with my company and then somehow I ended up in HR. And from there on, it was in essence working for two great leaders in the last 10 years at GE Healthcare, Andrew and Katja, that coached me to challenge me and put me into situations that I didn't know I wanted to be in, but coming out with great learning experiences. So it's a natural curiosity that I would say I have is what got me here.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I have to admit, I don't think we've ever heard the ‘lawyer to HR’ path before.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

You obviously haven't worked at the companies that I've worked at!

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Okay, let me be more specific—the ‘lawyer to people analytics’ path. Definitely the general player to HR path.

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

There’s a first for everyone, right?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So tell us a little bit about what's hard, what’s the opportunity in the work that you do?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I think not being in technology from the start, it's definitely something that I've always looked out at it, say. And technology, especially HR technology has evolved so much, and developed so quickly over the last few years, so it's sometimes a challenge to keep up with incredible speed. If you really don't full time, have a look at the market. And then as you dive deeper, and you get excited about certain technologies, it's certainly a question of prioritizing what you really need first, just because the suite of offerings is so big. So what's more important than prioritize versus what is nice to have?

And then on the flip side, I'd say we all have gone through countless sales pitches by solution providers, right, who suggest fixing all of your problems was just one new tool. So getting that feel for hey, what's the sales pitch and what's really reality of helping you solve a business problem through technology—that’s something that I'm working on. And I think the more you talk to the solution providers and talk to other companies, that helps, and I really want to give a big shout out here to some of the thought leaders, experts and even professionals in other companies that were willing to talk to me and educate me on how they do things, and what worked and what didn't. And I think that's a great appreciation in the global ecosystem here that people help one another.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I kind of love that you mentioned that, David: we’ve seen a lot of sort of collaboration across organizational lines with this particular question. That's one of the things that I really like about HR: once you solve the problem, you can share that with other people, because it's going to work different in their organizations anyway. So we've seen tons of people being very honest and transparent with us about what they're doing—thank you for being one of those.

Organizations have different ways of defining Skills; we’ve had several arguments with the definition of Skills, and would love to understand, from GE Healthcare’s standpoint and your standpoint, how do you define Skills?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Great question, Dani, and I think like many other companies over the years, in GE Healthcare we had various teams and organizations establishing a competency model, done skill surveys, employees were assessed and measured and elaborate development plans put in place, but we really hadn't taken a scientific approach to that—meaning we, the HR teams, the learning teams, went off in a myriad of different directions without a clear underlying Skills taxonomy. And that's something that we figured over the last year, year and a half, hey, this is a gap that we have and we need to address that. So instead of manually measuring competencies or Skills at a snapshot in time, we really want to go the other way around now and say, what is our Skills taxonomy? What are the Skills operations? And how do we get to a permanent assessment of our Skills in the organization down to each and every single individual?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Just a small task: I’m surprised you're not done with it already 🙂

David, talk to us a little bit about the essential Skills, especially right now, in GE Healthcare. Obviously, you've had a tumultuous two years, just like everybody else, but what are the Skills that you feel are the most necessary?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We are seeing two main drivers for us, which are driving us to go after Skills in a more elaborate way right now. One is, like everybody else, attrition went up significantly and in our exit surveys that we do with all the leavers, we've heard, “Hey, I don't feel I grow and develop in this organization and I am lacking career opportunities.”

And that's ironic, right? I mean, we're a company of about 160,000 employees, with constant churn so there's bound to be opportunity, so that means there is lack of visibility and lack of curation as to how do people see what is there for them next. So that's one. The other one is our people leaders—they are currently the bottleneck in developing people. As an employee, you have to rely on your people leader, their visibility to next roles, the development and how good a coach they are, especially early in your tenure, plus the network that you may not have built out early in your career.

That's all factors at the moment that are driving lack of career opportunities, and we want to use technology to aid those conversations so even if you are reporting to a sort of an average people leader, you still see all the opportunities out there that GE offers. So, all in all, from attrition to internal mobility, that was one driver that made us go after Skills right now. And then the second driver is the speed of technology and the advent of AI to Skills management. Over the last two, three, maybe four years, but certainly over the last 12 months, there's so much out there in terms of offerings, and in terms of small mushrooms growing quickly, that we wanted to go away from a manual competency assessment in pockets of the organization—and those are outdated the moment you start implementing any solutions based on it, right, because there's churn, there's people coming in, people leaving. So Skills inference based on data seems to be a logical move for us, and those two are the drivers for us to grow around Skills.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Let me ask you a question about that because earlier, you mentioned Skills taxonomies: in some of the organizations that we talk to, there's a pretty big difference between the way that they're talking about ‘taxonomy’ and the way that they're talking about ‘ontology.' Do you make that differentiation at all?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We do. And as I said, we are learning on both ends at the same time. So I think the nomenclature may not be as elaborate yet across your organization, but we are aware of the specifically under learning and as you look at it, the Skills taxonomy is something that we are going to look at hard and develop. We are looking and I think we'll talk about that a bit later on with an external company as a data as a service solution, that their Skills taxonomy for their AI and we're trying to see in parallel how does that work out? Is that a conflict, or is that actually a good overlay that we'll get to? The jury is still out there, in a couple of weeks, but that's sort of how we're looking at it.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I know in our prep call, you mentioned that you're about a year and a half into The Skills Odyssey—you’ve been working on this for about a year and a half. What are your early findings? What have you found so far?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

The start of this journey was undoubtedly the big overhaul of our HR system back in 2020. And I said earlier, that was my biggest project that I was running, which was the implementation of Workday, and that replaced a number of homegrown and purchase tools. And many of those didn't speak to each other the way they should, it was all dispersed. And I like the anecdote how this all started, essentially GE’s CHRO at that time asked the IT team, how much do we spend on HR IT? And it turns out after weeks of digging, they were not able to tell the whole picture.

Chris Pirie, Future Learning Group:

Nobody knew!

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We had a global on-prem HCM system, with self-developed tools, a performance management system: we were proud that it was even mobile enabled back then. We had a learning management system off the shelf, and LXP that was self-developed. So you get that story—it was a mess. That’s probably how I’d look at that.

And that was one goal for us to say, let's simplify this. It was a long journey. In about three years, we replaced about 60 tools and we ended up with a Big Bang go-live in 160 countries with 10 Workday modules—it was a massive undertaking. And that got us to step into the ability to think about how we want to add Skills management into that overall new picture. So that's how we started: we had a major impact on our people leaders as well with Workday, because we said, we changed the way we work as a company, we want you as people leaders to actually do more by yourself, take the decisions and do the transactions in Workday, some call that manager self-service.

That's how we started. So that transition is still behavior change and still ongoing, I'd say a year and a bit into the Workday implementation. But fast forward a bit and now we have a global tool: we can build on that, to add Skills and we can do and what we are already doing already forecasting models and a bit more in terms of workforce planning. That's more on the people side, so headcount planning and projections, if you will. And now the next step will really be to amp that up with Skills across the globe.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

It's amazing how much prep work you did—I’m still reeling from the 60 tools that you got rid of, and the 160 countries that you're in, that's a very large undertaking! How important do you think that was, in getting all your bases on the same system, to the work that you'll be doing moving forward?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

It just made decision-making easier, I'd say. I mean, in theory, you could still go out with our prior tech stack to say, let's look at loads and fuel 50s, and whoever on Skills, but it will just be much harder to dock them on to both at an enterprise level for strategic workforce planning and then for the individual level, with the user interface, to our employees to actually benefit from their own Skills assessment that we are doing. That’s something that we're aiming to go for over the next 12 to 18 months, depending on how much work we'll have to do on catching all the technology as part of our spin off now from the GE mothership, which is a considerable amount too—there still about 100 tools left to be called even after removing 60. So, a bit of work ahead of us.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Really interested in some of the things that you did culture-wise to make this change. This is a gigantic change, you're talking about getting managers to be self-serve and then there are all kinds of things that need to happen on the outside of the technology too. What’s going on there?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I think the culture is something that we found, we may have not gotten right from the start, frankly. So the manager self-service with Workday is not getting us the data quality that we need because many times our people leaders just go the easy way and say, well, which job type do I click, that's reasonably enough and I'll take that. And that will ultimately limit the effect and the impact of the Skills assessments that we're doing based on job history, job profiles, etc.

So we may have to walk that back a bit, and I think many other companies found the same thing so I'm a bit disappointed that we didn't pick that up from the start. But I think that's certainly something that is driving one of the cultural elements here. As a people leader, we want you to own stuff and HR should actually be focusing more on using the data that we provide them to help guide and coach people. Again, it's a journey on the HR side and an untrained muscle that argue that we don't yet have so much.

But I think the other one is we have learned the tech in itself is not a solution. So typically what we've seen over the last few years is that somebody has gone out to say, well, I've talked to the CEO of such and such startup HR tech company, that's great, let's implement that. And then we went and see what use cases we will have for this tool that we want to implement versus now we're actually turning it around in a way that should—meaning, let's define what we want to solve for and then find the right technology to aid us in getting there.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

This is the perfect transition: David, you said tech in itself is not a solution, and one of the aphorisms that I like is, ‘fall in love with the problem, not your solution.’ And if we're not careful here in Skills, you’re going to end up with another 60 systems spread across your enterprise, because a lot of the innovation is happening in kind of small places. But maybe to drill down on Skills tech at GE Healthcare, let's start at the beginning: what problems were you trying to solve specifically, as you started to run these experiments around Skills?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

As I said earlier, the main driver at the moment is really internal mobility and the fact that our leavers would tell us, hey, I don't see career opportunities. And that was a major argument with our CHRO to say, look, we need some funding and some resourcing, to actually do a pilot, and then see if the pilot is any good and then expanded across the global organization.

That's where we are now for the moment, and the second element is that enterprise-wide view that I mentioned, we didn't have—we still don't have—a good understanding of what Skills do we have in the organization, where do we have relative strength, visibly our competitors in the AI or ml/machine learning, artificial intelligence space? And where do we lack the market and where do we, just maybe where do we miss Skills that are nestled in the market, but we just don't have any visibility to that. And being inward focused, and without any tech, essentially, have to drive in the direction that you think is right and may not be right straight from the start so that's why we're starting out: we have started out with Workday Skills Cloud, that's an integrated solution of work that we tried out a rudimentary offering, I would call that, and it essentially suggests Skills to each employee based on their job history, and you get to click and say yup, I confirm the skill, much of it, like LinkedIn, to some degree. And we thought great, let's see what we learn what we can do with that data, and made plans for it and then naturally, we came away disappointed, because only 20% of our employees really had taken the effort to list their Skills. So it's a pointless exercise if you want to do it at aggregate level.

That told us, hey, we need to be doing something differently—ideally, without any input from the employees so let's assess based on job history, based on job profiles, job descriptions, maybe learning history, but no manual clicking in of your employee base. And that's what we're piloting at the moment.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

So basically, is it your plan to give employees like to take a best-guess driven by a set of machine learning algorithms, and then give employees the chance to edit an update, and have some transparency around it?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Yeah, correct. And we would be looking at a data-as-a-service-solution with TechWolf.ai, who are Europe based—that was important for us from a data privacy perspective, as we also talked to our works councils who tend to have that as a very sensitive topic. And that solution is taking the job profile, job description, shop history, into their AI and the aggregate with labor market data, to essentially help us understand what 20-30 Skills each and every individual would have. And then we put that in front of the employees to validate, because there may be Skills that people say, Well, I don't want to be associated with them anymore, because I've switched careers—like if somebody brought in the lawyers and legal concerns, I prefer to imagine I’m way beyond that, I would click those out. And that's essentially what we want our employees to do as well—that’s the vision, at least, for the future.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

These projects tend to be something of a team sport, especially if you're going to get everybody on board. Who were your allies, what groups in GE Healthcare were involved in your initiative?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We started off rather small, with about 2000 employees in our digital teams globally spread out on the AI and ML. And to understand how are we comparing our teams internally and also externally. What we found important was to involve business leaders straight from the start; you’re solving a business problem, you're not doing it in isolation, so having two business leaders in our digital organization be part of that in the steer code to understand what are we solving for was important—certainly the HR team for the group.

Again, there's learning and bring them on board early to help them hey, this is not magic. And this is an iterative process was important to us. Our people analytics and workforce planning teams, small but mighty, I may say, they’re important here too, and certainly our IT partners to make sure that how do we connect into that solution back into our systems was key. And then last but not least, this is about Skills, so talent management and learning have to be part of the design phase to get a feel for how can we use that ultimately, again, back to internal moves, and then also moving people across and help them learn and develop. As I briefly touched on earlier, in Europe work councils are important. And for such a sensitive topic of personal Skills, we see a lot of interest, but also a lot of good challenging questions, and even concerns that we need to address. And to give you a flavor, we’ve been asked, how do we make sure our employees trust the underlying AI?

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Great question!

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

—how transparent can you be, and how transparent can your suppliers be, your partners your tech providers be? Will AI ultimately make decisions on behalf of HR people leaders? Or what if an employee doesn't want to be associated with certain Skills anymore, or who has access to the data—so that those are a lot of questions that we started to engage with our works councils and ultimately, I do think we'll have to come to an agreement to say here is what's in-scope, what we can legitimately use in terms of AI for HR, and what's out-of-scope, or require maybe a revisit of any agreements.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

You hinted already that you didn't have a fantastic response to your first efforts to capture Skills. Can you talk a little bit about that approach? And why do you think it didn't work, and what did you learn from that?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Yeah, any manual work for more than five people at any given point in time probably is bound to be outdated, as soon as you actually need it.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

The David Sperl rule of HR tech!

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I'm sure there are smarter people than me who have made a similar rule, so I'm quoting somebody that I don't know here. But it is definitely something we know and it still hasn't held us back to actually do manual assessments, right? I mean, in a commercial organization, somebody says, hey, we need a competency model to walk you from a sales specialist all the way to a strategic account management role.

And we still do that, but it all lacks that automation, and that anytime and on demand assessment, and this is what we figured you can't keep up with it with Excel files that are designed for 2000 people to be filled in, it's messy. We tried it out, and I think Heather Whiteman, who you had on in one of your earlier podcasts, she was actually implementing a full-blown technical career path, as we call it, for the GE Digital team with distinct competency, self-assessment, mandatory assessments. But back at that time, it was manual, too, so it never really took off; it was a good baseline. But then it somehow didn't go where we wanted it to be because it was outdated the moment employees moved roles, or our people leaders could never catch up.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I'm really curious about what's ‘good enough.’ So from a data perspective, we see organizations that are doing just the top Skills that they know the company needs, and then we see others that are like, No, you got to do all of them. As far as data, whether you collect that data by hand, as you just said, doesn't necessarily work well, or whether you're using an AI tool, not all that data is going to be correct. So from your standpoint to sort of assess or make decisions on Skills, what's good enough?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

That's a fantastic question. We’re still struggling with that question. In the pilot, what we learned is that our data quality is good, but is it good enough? I'm not entirely sure. As I said, they are people leaders who may not have put people in the right job, so there's a bit of noise in the system. What the pilot that we are currently working on with TechWolf is hopefully giving us is a definition of what does good enough look like: what is the noise that we're willing to endure, and what is requiring us to go a level deeper as to what data do we use in order to increase the details and the accuracy of our Skills?

Giving you an example, if I look at job history/job profile, that gets you so far in terms of Skills. If you were to add the learning history, maybe in the tech space, software development space, any GitHub documentation, you all of a sudden become much more granular into what really has a given employee done and worked on that can help you infer the Skills? And that’s, again, a question of, Do we want to do that? That's back to the works council question, can people trust that and do they want us to do that? But also, if that's a requirement for us to really have meaningful data, then we may as well, but we have to have that conversation.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Maybe just a point of clarification, because I think probably all of us have at least a decent understanding of what TechWolf does, but maybe our audience does not: could you talk a little bit about what TechWolf is or does, and the value that you see it brings, and also how the how that integrates with Workday and Skills Cloud and some of the other infrastructure that you've already built, because I think that might make it a little bit clearer for people why these issues are real concerns?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

So let me briefly describe: TechWolf.ai is a data service solution—they essentially have an AI that's running independent of Workday or SAP or whatever other system of HCM record you would want to use. We are handing over, manually at the moment for the pilot, data on our employees, as I said, job history, job description, job profile, job title and sort of the hierarchy, hierarchical level. That’s going over to their AI; what they do is aggregate data with labor market data that is a gigantic data scrape on their end, on the AI, that screens every single job posting that's out there, and distills the Skills that are asked in those job postings for each and every single row into their Skills ontology. And with that, they feed that back and say, this individual, based on our AI, based on the market assessment, would have these 20-25 Skills, and aggregates that further the more data you give them to get a really proficiency is that early stage, or maybe expert level of proficiency of a certain skill.

They do that, and then we'll feed that back into our systems; at the moment is just an enterprise level view, so there is no feed on the individual level back into our systems, but we look at it through business intelligence tools like Tableau or whatever. And you get to slice and dice the data for your enterprise—or in our case, for 2000 employees in the digital teams—to understand how does that all compare against each other and against the external market.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And so just to underscore what you just said, at the moment there's no ability for you all as an enterprise to click down on to an individual and their Skills—but is that part of the vision in the future, or at least for the individual themselves, to be able to do that click down?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

That's definitely in the vision, and we can do it already—it’s just limited to like a handful of people who have access to that BI tool. So we are deliberate about that because of the fact that we didn't want to raise expectations with our employees, right? You go out and say, hey here's the great stuff that we're doing and then in the pilot, we find out, well, the technology isn't giving us what we actually want. So we said, let's do that on the back end and take all these back end solution so there's no user interface, it is truly a report through BI systems and that's what we're looking at. The vision, as you pointed out, Stacia, is really every single employee should have visibility to and a say on their Skills that find their way into our systems so that the benefit would be hey, I can do a talent marketplace for each and every employee to help them understand what are career opportunities for me based on my Skills—where can I find a mentor based on my Skills in my location that volunteered to partner up with me? Or a project marketplace, where project leaders could put up projects and say, Hey, if you were to join me on that project for 15-20 hours a month, these are the Skills that you would develop. And with that being much more intentional for our employees to develop certain Skills.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Yeah, got it—interesting. We talked before about a landscape of multiple tech solutions: how are you combining the tech that you're using for this project, and what challenges do you have in terms of integration?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

So the integration is on the learning management side. As I said, integration on the HCM side has happened with Workday; when we looked in earnest at our learning management systems, we are inconsistent and it's a very nice way to say because we ended up with 20 LMSs and LXPs, mushrooming.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Never heard that before!

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Yeah, I know 🙂

So the next big project is to make that a smaller number—ideally, one. Again, many of the 20 are outdated, and we need to consolidate that into one LMS and ideally one LXP over the course of the next two to three years. I would argue you call this our true Skills Odyssey over the next multiple years, but I'm like your listeners. I'm hoping we're not needing 10 years to finish it.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I'm sure there's plenty of LMS providers that can help you with that 🙂

You said before, I believe, that your pilot project is about to end sometime and that your initial phase of your Odyssey ends in March. Can you tell us what are the takeaways so far and what will you call a success at this point and where will your focus be in the future? Do you have a sense of that yet?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Indeed. We have been working through three sprints by now with TechWolf, and we started with a simple data set that we handed over: job profile, job description, job history. We've since seen a first assessment of our internal Skills—again, with a focus on AI and ML, that was sort of the focus we deliberately put out there for them—and the learning number one is Skills inference with a relatively limited data set is a good baseline, but it needs more granular data: maybe back to education, university degrees, training history, keep documentation, whatever it is, that's our learning number one.

The second learning is that data quality is important. We do at GE have a standardized job hierarchy about 20,000 jobs, an insane number, and obviously as those are designed for all of GE, from aviation to healthcare to energy, the job descriptions are highly generic. That means, again, if you read those, there is very little on tangible Skills that come out of a generic job description so that's something we'll need to work on as a standalone company so that they are truly designed and texted for us as a GE Healthcare company.

Now, again, we have pockets in our organization where job types aren't accurate, based on manager self-service, and people leaders just trying hard, but maybe not fully understanding what needs to be done. That’s again, a hindering factor on the data quality side so we'll address that as well. And then the third learning is that working through the questions of building an internal succession plan based on Skills, focused on critical roles in the organization, is a concept that we're trying, that looks promising—so instead of really having a people leader say, Well, this is my critical role and here are the three people that I've put on five other succession plans already, because I think they're good. We want to do that automatically so that people that may not jump up and jump to some people's minds, but are actually the hidden stars, that we uncover them.

And it's sort of the third learning: be open to the unknown, and find ways to have good outcomes and help change management with the outcomes.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I've got an off-script question here, but I'm sort of intrigued through what you're doing: have you been through the point where an individual person in GE Healthcare gets to see what the machinery thinks is their skillset? Have you reached that point in your experimentation?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We haven't yet, but that is on the roadmap for the next sprint with TechWolf—to go and share with a few individuals. And we actually selected the pilot group, because they had done a manual assessment of Skills a couple of months ago, so we will be able to do a side by side for testing purpose to say, hey, is tech outcome any way similar to the people leader assessment? Which and if it isn't, I think the big question will be who do you trust more.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I think this is going to be a really fascinating point on your journey and I'd love to hear when you've gone through that, because it's such a personal thing; just put yourself in the shoes of somebody who is being told what their Skills are. I mean, it's got the potential to be disastrous and it's also got the potential to be elevating. And I think how it's presented and how that experience is managed, is a big piece of learning that we collectively have to do. Do you just send somebody a piece of paper, or is this a conversation with a leader? I mean, I think this is a where the rubber meets the road, in many respects.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Chris, I think that's a really interesting point and one that I don't think has solidified until our conversation with you, David. Like, there’s good enough for the organization where the organization can make decisions, and then there's good enough for the individual and those are two really different things—you kind of have to have your ducks in a row for the individual in a way that you don't necessarily, if you're looking at the 10,000 foot view, because you can still make large-scale decisions, we need to hire more people here, we need to move these people to here. But for the individual, it's personal, and if you don't have their buy-in, then…

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And think about what the analog to that is: the conversations that we've had around Skills so far in the human journey, when you're getting hired, right, or when you go into a performance review. And these are both highly charged, emotional kind of events and we might be just about to create a third one, which will be, I think, really, really fascinating stuff!

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I fully agree. And that is definitely the change management that we need to do in organizations and every organization that goes out for Skills management,Skills assessment: we need to bring the people along and we need to make sure, again, that they trust the system, that they have a say on what's showing up actually on their profile, and that they feel good about getting support out of the AI and out of the technology solution, and are not worried that this may now mean hey look, with that Skill profile, you have to be out of the door in a few months.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Yes—that I’m not ready for the future. It’s really going to be a fascinating aspect as people try this out.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I have slightly potentially different perspective.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

What? 🙂

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Come on—that never happens!

[Laughter]

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So Dani, you made the point that it's really personal for the individual and it needs to be right for them, I think is a summary. And I wonder if that really is the case? Because if we think about how tenure is changing with employees, like it might be, if this gives me some decent insight, but I have already a reasonably strong sense of what I want to do, or how long I want to be at this organization, it may not matter for me as an individual if that Skills data is totally right, as long as it's generally directionally correct. And if 10 years are very, very long, then that may be even more important, if we don't actually have an organization where the work can be designed to fit the people versus the other way around than, then maybe it doesn't matter.

Where I think it starts to get really interesting, though, is some of the talk that we've heard about, for instance, using Blockchain and kind of portable profiles, where you take that Skills information, or take the Skills learning, with you along your career journey. And we're hearing that kind of at the edge of sophistication and not necessarily anything, obviously, that David has mentioned today—but if we fast-forward five years from now, that could be something and in that point, I think you're absolutely right, that the accuracy of this data becomes a whole lot more important. But for right now, particularly depending on tenure, I wonder if that's really the case.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I'm thinking like a bad Yelp review for a restauranteur; it’s gonna be a death sentence and I think this is gonna be really highly charged and very personal. And I think how its presented, and the context is presented in, is going to be as important and we're going to ask you about culture, David, as well might be a good place to go next. How are you thinking about culture around these new systems to make it successful?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We definitely are designing with a user in mind—so in that conversation of how do we make sure that we bring each and every individual along, that is an important element that we'll have to get right. And we have actually just hired somebody that has good experience on employee experience and customer experience, so really the design phase of our user journeys, that's a big part of what we want to add to our Skills journey, not just Skills in isolation but what's the benefit for our employee?

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

You should come back with that person in six months’ time, and tell us what you learned.

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Give us a year and I'm happy to come back! But it's back to the conversation, right, that tech in itself isn't the solution so we’ll have to design it first to actually get to the point that we want to. And there are three things to be successful in that implementation, in my view: first of all, work with the leaders that buy into the vision so you can pull this off as a leadership team. The second is that theory only gets you so far—we can talk about what-if and how-to and what would a employee need, but really going with a pilot and tested and have a few hypotheses to validate and talking to other customers and what worked for them and what didn’t, what other companies even—that’s learning and then in the success element, in my view, too. And then the third one is that we need to showcase the benefits and outcomes, so that's clearly the change management that we've just talked about.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Got it, got it. Well good luck on that aspect of the journey—really, really interesting. One quick, quick off-piece one on this one is, are you thinking of focusing on specific job roles or specific areas of the organization as a next phase, or the departments or the skillsets that are really the hottest issue for you to get clarity on?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

We do have a list of priorities, if you will: we started off with our AI and ML teams, just because it's a super-hot market, it’s a globally hot market, and it's good learning for us there. I think the second would probably be in the commercial space—what Skills do you need and how do you actually understand what is the successful sales person's profile? And how can you learn from each other, because there is immediate impact on the commercial on the sales end right on the revenue side for us. So that was probably the number two team that we'd be looking at.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Let's look to the future just a bit, and want to ask what future tech do you see being involved with your Odyssey into Skills—assuming this TechWolf pilot goes well, what are you looking at after that?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I would love for us to democratize coaching for our organization, for each and every employee based on their Skills, and there's technology out there already much more bringing the right people together at a lower price point than we typically would be doing now for executive leaders and sort of select talent. But it's something that I think, again, where technology can help broaden the expertise down into the organization. But I can also say, given the workload of catching the tools from the GE mothership in the next 12 to 18 months, that will be further into our Odyssey, and more wishful thinking for the time being.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

That absolutely makes sense and I think it speaks to, Dani and Chris, something we haven't really talked about before is how do you connect all of this Skills insight back into coaching and the taxonomies that maybe being used for to coaching?

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

There’s a whole season in that 🙂

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

There's a whole future! Yeah, interesting, thank you. Moving on, kind of thinking about the challenges associated with bringing it all together, what do you think the challenges are that you'll be facing?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I can say our challenge at the moment is that we had a very lax governance for HR IT. I talked about the multitude of LMS systems we have in place, as dispersed system, you converge once, and then it all goes-diverges and you have to bring it back again, so the intent now as a standalone company is we want to centralize decision-making to be able to design for a consistent global user experience. And that is a conversation that you have to have multiple times with people that want to use technology to support their and solve their problems. And there's always that balance of best-of-breed solution that fits 95 or 100% of the requirements of a team, but if you want to bring it in into a global ecosystem you may only be able to give them like an 80% solution. So how do you balance that out between a global, consistent approach versus the best-of-breed solution that somebody may want?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah. Just thinking again about—and I know you said that catching all the tools from the mothership will be the immediate priority—but just thinking specifically about Skills, are there any other areas that you're planning to expand your efforts?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

It's definitely in the workforce planning arena where you can add Skills to better predict, not just headcount but really include more granular and complex forecasting based on Skills and ultimately come to prescriptive analytics for the organization.

Again, that's more a vision and an outlook, but where we are now, I feel good from a workforce planning perspective; add on that Skills element will give us a ton of things to learn and see how we can go about that.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Well, let's add a little bit more to that future vision and outlook and question about what do you see as the future? What do you think you'll be doing in a year—ah, we talked a year, you’ll be spinning out! What do you think you'll be doing maybe in five years that we're not talking about today?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

I'm not a good crystal ball reader—I would even argue that a year out anything beyond is speculation and you may as well roll the dice. But what I'm sure of is that the two major events in the last two years have forever changed work in society. One, the obvious one is the pandemic and its impact on where we work and how work gets done. The second is, I believe the war in Ukraine has just shifted geopolitics for decades. And I'm sure that will be implications for businesses as well—the resilience of their teams, either close to a conflict or mentally close just for families and friends, and the whole question for moral and ethical decision making: does my company continue to do business in Russia at the moment? That's a question that's out there that I know that many employees think about, and I do believe that's here to stay.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Well said.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Just kind of stepping back on our conversation today, if you had to summarize the advice that you'd share with others who haven't yet started their Skills journey, or their Skills Odyssey, as we call it, what would that advice be?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Learning from others is always a good start, Stacia; that’s how I've picked up a lot of my knowledge, that’s how we've avoided for sure mistakes that others have made when they told us don't go down that route or don't do this.

It's always a balance, because everything you do needs to fit for your organization, but that’s for sure something I would recommend to everyone. And it can be done through reaching out to colleagues and friends and thought leaders, attend HR conferences…

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Listen to a podcast!

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Oh, listen to a podcast—that is a very radical idea, yeah a Skills Odyssey one, I think I can definitely recommend that 🙂

So learn and understand is one, and then the other one is that I would recommend is to pilot. Instead of going out for a full blown solution straightaway, bite-size the solution or the approach that you're doing, don't commit straightaway, to all at once—run a POC/proof of concept with a sub-group and see what does it do—does it work, and pivot if needed.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I'm just going to point out this is coming from the person who launched an ERP in 160 countries 🙂

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

It was a pilot!

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I feel like there's had to have been some real learnings.

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

There were definitely learnings through it, and it wasn't certainly wasn't me, it was a whole group of people; I get the irony of that, Stacia, thank you 🙂

But I think ultimately, the recommendation is always what you do now will be your base then for years to come. Because there's it's just such a fundamental effort and impact that Skills have on all parts of the organization so you might want to do this well and thoroughly and right and spend enough time from the start.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So to suddenly go from levity to potential seriousness, we always wrap our podcasts with what we call ‘the Purpose question.’ And our purpose question is, why do you personally do the work that you do?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

That is an easy one; I wonder who would not want to work for a company that is improving life in moments that matter?

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Hmm!

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

It's a real opportunity, isn't it?

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

It definitely is.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah. Well, David, thank you so much for your thoughtfulness, for your generosity and sharing your insights and learnings. And I think we've especially appreciated the focus on the tech and the data—or at least I'll say I do. That's always my shtick, but we really appreciate it. So thank you!

David Sperl, GE Healthcare:

Thank you for having me.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Thanks, David: great to meet you.

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 could check out the beautiful handcrafted transcripts at redthreadresearch.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!

Unknown Speaker 52:2:

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.

[Dani & Stacia:]

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.

Heather Gilmartin Adams

Heather is a senior consultant at RedThread Research. Trained in conflict resolution and organizational development, Heather has spent the past ten years in various capacities at organizational culture and mindset change consultancies as well as the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelors degree in history from Princeton University. She has lived in Germany, China, Japan, and India and was, for one summer, a wrangler on a dude ranch in Colorado.

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