16 November 2021

Workplace Stories Season 3, Skills Odyssey: Building the Skills Plane While Flying

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

TL;DR

  • This is the 4th episode of our podcast: The Skills Odyssey, Season 3 of Workplace Stories
  • Dani Johnson and Stacia of RedThread and Chris Pirie of The Learning Futures Group interview Christopher Funk, Senior Vice President – Talent and Performance Management Platforms at Citigroup.
  • What is a skill? How does skill differ from competence? What is the value provided by Skills management? How are skills measured? These questions are answered in the podcast.
  • There are two approaches to defining skills: foundational level requirements (transferrable) and internally augmented set of requirements/ global requirements.
  • While skills data is incredibly important, we must acknowledge that Skills is a really slow cycle to measure – and can take several years.
  • This is communicated to stakeholders, and measurable data is presented whenever available. It really is a long game – that’s worth it in the end.
  • The Skills Odyssey is a revolving door that brings about more questions than answers. However, for a critical concept such as “Skills”, the more the questions, the better.
  • A special thanks to our sponsors, Visier and Degreed, for their support of this season!

Listen

Guest

Chris Funk, Senior Vice President of Talent and Performance Management Platforms, Citi

DETAILS

Setting up this week’s conversation, Dani promises that this one’s a “must-listen for anyone who's trying to figure out how to make Skills work in their organization.” Bold claim? Not when you realize we’re talking about what a 200,000 person, multi-billion-dollar financial services leader is trying to do with Skills both operationally–and with the help of tech from HR system market leaders like Degreed and Workday. That’s the project as far as our guest, Christopher Funk, Senior Vice President – Talent and Performance Management Platforms over at Citi, is concerned, for sure. It’s a very honest, very detailed, and very open conversation from someone already a way across the seas of The Skills Odyssey.  We invite you to decide if sharing such practical knowledge really does make it a “must-listen.” As Dani also says, we’ve all been in too many conversations where 45 minutes is spent arguing over if: “Skills are a skill or a competency or a capability or a trait or a characteristic”; Christopher’s got a useful answer for that one, too. So overall, we’re pretty sure Christopher cashes the check.

Resources

  • In the episode, Christopher says he is happy to make connections and drive the conversation through LinkedIn (as his commitments allow, obviously). Citi (the name preferred for the financial services firm you may know better as Citigroup) his employer, is here.
  • We’d recommend, if you haven’t had a chance yet, to catch up with the first Workplace Stories season on Skills, which we released February thru June 2021, entitled ‘The Skills Obsession.’ Find it, along with relevant Show Notes and links, here—where you can also check out our intervening season on all things DEIB, too.
  • Find out more about our Workplace Stories podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris Pirie and his work here.

Webinar

As with all our seasons, there will be a culminating final live webinar where we will share our conclusions about the show’s findings: you can register here.

Partner

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

Season Sponsors

 

 

We are very grateful to our season sponsors for ‘The Skills Odyssey,’ 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; you can learn more about Visier at visier.com. 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, and thanks to both of our season sponsors.

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:

We keep it simple, maybe naively simple: we talk about Skills just as terms are used to indicate the needs or requirements of the job or role, the abilities or the expertise of an employee or a candidate and the topics addressed or developed through a piece of learning content. So, you see right away we're talking about jobs, employees and learning and development.

We've thought about it in terms of two different, I'll say approaches, to defining Skills. One is, ideally, we will have a complete set of what we're calling foundational or role or job level requirements. These foundational requirements would apply at a role or a job level, and will be generic enough—and I'll say generic in the industry sense—to be transferable and translatable both inside and outside the organization. So, a project manager has an industry accepted definition of Skills required for a project manager, and that would be what populates our foundational role-based set of requirements. Add on top of that, what we're calling an internally augmented set of requirements, that has to do with whether they be Citi specific programs or initiatives, what specifically to Citi want or expect from their project managers, what do individual organizations within Citi want from their project managers, and be able to layer those requirements on top of it foundation? And then you can extend that even further to say, as we have global initiatives, whether they come from learning and development, whether they come from risk and control, whether they come from any other part of the organization, we can define Skills at that level, and deploy them across the organization for populations that fit into the target population of that. So, I think what I'm getting at, and I think you asked about context and that type of approach, is that all drives the context between skill A and skill B, role A and role B, employee A and employee B. And we haven't gone through and really defined exactly what a specific skill is. We've just applied it to different roles and employees and parts of it.

Our core HCM houses the job architecture and talent acquisition, and we also have our learning experience platform, which houses I'll say the employee profile and all of the learning content, and the learning experiences. So, getting the right data to pass through and having, especially when you're dealing with an organization like ours that may have 4 or 5,000 different job roles, how do you get those job role definitions to feed into your learning platform and propagate the right role requirements within that platform to drive learning? How do you pass proficiencies from a developmental type of system? I, as an employee, may select 50 different Skills, 25 of which I'm developing and don't currently hold, 25 of which I do have. And what passed along to that HCM system—where do you draw the line between what goes to your HCM and what stays in your developmental model?

You can begin to take the inputs of the employees and the inputs of the role requirement plans to get to a space where you can measure ‘have’ versus ‘needed’ a little more quickly than ‘develop’ versus ‘developed and brought back to their role to improve productivity; filling those gaps takes a little longer.

I don't think I brought many answers to this conversation, maybe more questions than answers? But I think it's something that we're all trying to work through. And the more questions, the better.

Chris Pirie:

Welcome, or welcome back, to Workplace Stories brought to you by RedThread Research, where we look for the ‘red thread’ that connects humans, ideas, stories, and data helping define the near future people in work practices. The podcast is hosted by RedThread co-founders Dani Johnson and Dani Johnson, with a little bit of help from myself, Chris Pirie of The Learning Futures Group: we’re excited to welcome you to our third podcast season, which we call The Skills Odyssey.

Our first podcast season focused on what we call The Skills Obsession, where we asked ourselves why so many organizations and leaders are currently focused on all things Skills. We learned that the shift to Skills-based practices was something of a journey—an Odyssey, if you like—and we decided in this season to go deeper and find more examples of programs, strategies, and experiments. We’ll be talking to leaders who are starting to run experiments and programs using the Skills concept to rework how we think about all aspects of talent management; we hope to learn why they've embarked on the journey, how they're progressing, and what they hope to accomplish. We'll seek to find out the approaches they're taking, the challenges they're encountering, and the successes or potential successes that they're having—and we'll definitely meet some amazing talent leaders along the way. So listen, it might just help you think through your own Skill strategy, and it will certainly be fun.

We are very grateful to our seasoned 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 Uber—you can learn more about vizier at visier.com. Degreed is the upskilling platform that connects learning to opportunities; they integrate everything people use to learn and build their careers—Skills, insights, LMS, courses, videos, articles in projects—and match everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique Skills, roles and goals. Learn more about the Degreed platform at Degreed.com—and thanks to both of our season sponsors.

Dani Johnson:

Today we talk to Christopher Funk, Senior Vice President of Talent and Performance Management Platforms at Citi. On top of that hefty title and all of the responsibilities that it entails, he also says that he's been chasing Skills and Skills management for the last couple of years. Christopher talks through the goals that Citi has for this focus on Skills, which includes things like career mobility, talent, acquisition, more effective learning and development, and a more adaptable organization. He also talks about how his group interfaces with several other HR groups in order to make this Skills strategy accomplish the things they need it to. Like a lot of companies who've taken initial steps into Skills initiatives, Citi has a mindset of experimentation and they're continually learning from their efforts. Christopher walks through some of the experiments they're running and gives us an idea of what they've learned so far.

One of the things that we really liked about this particular episode is Christopher's candor when it comes to the challenges he's facing, and what he and his team have learned from it. So, for example, while Skills data is incredibly important to any Skills effort, Skills is a really slow cycle to measure – it’s not something that can be done in a three-month experiment. So, he talks through his ideas and some of the smaller experiments that they're doing to accelerate getting that data. We love the detail that Christopher provided; it gave us a candid view of some of what it takes to switch from a more traditional way of thinking to a Skills mindset. This episode is a must-listen for anyone who's trying to figure out how to make Skills work in their organization.

Chris Pirie:

Chris Funk, welcome to Workplace Stories, the RedThread podcast. So, could you give us an overview of Citi, it’s mission and purpose?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Sure, I’ll give you the short and quick! Citi is a global bank; many may be familiar that we’re in 90-plus countries on the ground, we do business in 160-plus countries across the world. We are aligned around our consumer bank, which is the retail branch bank and cards and mortgages and lending, as well as our institutional bank, which more focuses on the larger clients, trading /investment/exchange. But regardless, across all our businesses, our focus is always on the customer.

Chris Pirie:

And in the context of the bank, what's your work? How would you describe the work you do, and how did you get there?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Sure. I am an HR person that actually reports up through the chief learning officer; I’m the head of talent performance platforms by title. And what that means is I work with our talent and performance teams to ensure that the technology and platforms that we have in place support their strategies and integrate with our HDM, which is Workday, and then both the up and down stream systems that feed that. So in addition to that, I've also been chasing Skills and Skills management for the past few years, really to understand the state-of-the-art the state of the industry and Citi’s appetite, and readiness for Skills and Skills management.

Chris Pirie:

So right at the coalface of everything we're talking about in this Season. How did you get to where you are in your career today? What led you to this kind of work?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I can't tell you: I didn't expect to be in HR! (laughter) I come from an operations and technology background and when I joined Citi, gosh, too long ago, I came in through a rotational management program, and my last rotation was working with the learning team in North America, doing resource management. And we were just starting a transition from the traditional kind of brick-and-mortar/in-classroom training to a more virtual facilitated types of training. So, I got into resource management through that course, putting together a training management system that was right-sized and right-placed for our trainers, and really started thinking about Skills. Then at that point, it was about who has the skill to be able to facilitate a class, so a really big chunk that's clearly defined and just making sure those are balanced. Fast forward through learning content management system implementation, LMS evolutions, the implementation of our learning experience platform, really the tie that kept all of that together is the importance of what I'll say ‘tagging’ of Skills across content, across employees, capabilities: the needs of the role have just led me up through this organization.

Chris Pirie:

Fantastic. Hey, I have to say in the pre-call when we were planning for this, you had a great metaphor, which was standing on a diving board waiting for the pool to fill up before you jump in— (laughter) I hope you're going to use that metaphor again in the conversation! I’m interested to know apart from, you know, diving into an empty pool, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you're doing today, because that's, I think, where a lot of the insights lie.

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Precisely—and it's exactly that, it’s timing, right? So, as you're looking at emerging technologies as Skills and Skills management is, it's very much a, when is the right time to take the leap, right? So, the analogy “standing on a diving board and waiting for the pool to fill” definitely applies. And I think the other added complexity, or at least raising of the stakes is, as I'm standing on the diving board, I'm inviting everybody up onto the diving board with me—getting them on board with Skills and Skills management, and then having to ask them to wait until we're ready.

Chris Pirie:

I'm sure we're really going to get into this, but are you implying that the technology's not ready yet? Or the promise of this is somehow off in a distant future?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

That's a tough question. For a global organization with over 200,000 people, spanning across a hundred countries and many different languages—no, I don't know that the technology and the scalability is there at that level yet. Also, as an organization that meets all of those characteristics I just called off, I don't know that we are, yet: but in parts of the organization, we are in – smaller, more manageable numbers – the technology is. So, it becomes a question of, you know, how do we dip our toe in the water to keep that metaphor coming and carrying forward with the technology to the organization?

Chris Pirie:

Awesome. Well, this is exactly why we wanted to speak to you—those toe dips, and what you're learning from those experiments that you're running. So let me hand off to Dani to ask you some questions about the context here.

Dani Johnson:

Christopher, in our prep call we talked a little bit about why we called this session “The Skills Odyssey”. Obviously, nobody knows where this is going to end up, everybody's at the beginning of this. And so, we're really excited to talk to people that have started down this path just a little bit, as you know, we're talking a lot about Skills. And so, I would like to understand from your point of view, and from Citi’s point of view, how you define a skill?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

We keep it simple, maybe naively simple: we talk about Skills just as terms are used to indicate the needs or requirements of the job or role, the abilities or the expertise of an employee or a candidate and the topics addressed or developed through a piece of learning content. So, you see right away we're talking about jobs, employees and learning and development. What we don't exclude or include, necessarily, are traits and behaviors and competencies but we know that those are important, but I don't know that we draw a line between whether they're a skill, or just some other type of attributes that helps me understand those three things that I just talked about. So, we're keeping it loose, and we're not trying to over-define what we should put in what bucket.

Dani Johnson:

I actually love that; I’ve been in many conversations where we spend 45 minutes arguing over if it's a skill or a competency or a capability or a trait or a characteristic, or all those things. At the end of the day, I think the three that you mentioned: needs and requirements for a job, abilities and then what you need from learning content or what you're trying to accomplish anyway, so what does it matter what it's called? Talk to me about why Citi is focusing on Skills right now. What brought you guys to this?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

We started this conversation a couple of years ago: Workday and their introduction of Skills Cloud. Having said that, we have not moved to the Skills Cloud yet, but it immediately piqued our interest to say, “Hey, we see this body of functionality evolving on platforms that we currently have our hands on, and then let's bring ourselves up to speed with the state of it, and let's validate that the platforms that we do have in place are headed in the right direction.” Fast forward to a few years later, and we're still in that very same place, just learning and waiting to take that big leap from a global perspective, but there are also changes in the market, changes in the countries that we operate in, that necessitate a better alignment and management and development of the Skills of our employees—whether they be in the risk and control area, whether they be in the management area. So, we see it as a need in both the immediate term, and more importantly in the long-term.

Dani Johnson:
So, you're talking about long-term, and immediate near-future: what is the promise of Skills, or what are you hoping to accomplish with Skills?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

At a very high level, and these are all big statements; It's enhancing career mobility and the ability of an employee to move through the organization; enhancing our ability to acquire the right talent into the right roles; being more efficient in driving learning, and development through the organization; and ultimately leading to a more adaptable company. So, very lofty goals there.

Stacia Garr:

One of the challenges a lot of organizations face as they're doing this work is defining Skills, and some go for ultra-specificity, and others go for generality. Which of those perspectives – or maybe somewhere in the middle – has been most useful to you at Citi?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

We've run from top to bottom there, too, and we definitely have people in our organization who share both opinions and it may sound like avoiding the question, but the way we've found ourselves moving forward is with both. There is a need to be able to drive Skills through your organization from the top-down, which necessitates a more general approach across roles, across organizations—but we understand, especially with an organization our size, that as you drill down into a specific business line or business area, you are going to have to get specific. You don't have to start by having everything defined, but we've taken the approach of being able to launch either at a top-down or a bottom-up.

Stacia Garr:

When you think about that, when you are more specific or more general, how, where, and in what context does that vary?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

We have, again, as we've thought about Skills, we've thought about it in terms of two different, I'll say approaches, to defining Skills. One is, ideally, we will have a complete set of what we're calling foundational or role or job level requirements. These foundational requirements would apply at a role or a job level; and will be generic enough—and I'll say generic in the industry sense—to be transferable and translatable both inside and outside the organization. So, a project manager has an industry-accepted definition of Skills required for a project manager, and that would be what populates our foundational role-based set of requirements. Add on top of that, what we're calling an augmented internally, and augmented set of requirements has to do with whether they be Citi specific programs or initiatives, what specifically does Citi want or expect from their project managers, what do individual organizations within Citi want from their project managers, and be able to layer those requirements on top of the foundation. And then you can extend that even further to say, as we have global initiatives, whether they come from learning and development, whether they come from risk and control, whether they come from any other part of the organization, we can define Skills at that level, and deploy them across the organization for populations that fit into the target population of that. So, I think what I'm getting at, and I think you asked about context and that type of approach, is that all drives the context between skill A and skill B, role A and role B, employee A and employee B. And we haven't gone through and really defined exactly what a specific skill is. We've just applied it to different roles and employees and parts of it.

Dani Johnson:

Can I jump in here, Stacia, with another question? Some of the organizations that we're talking to are approaching Skills as Skills, like every single skill in the organization, and then others are focusing specifically on critical Skills. How is Citi approaching that aspect of Skills?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Again, I'll say both. When we think about critical Skills, again, critical Skills can be granular too, right? The smaller you define the piece of the organization and define critical Skills for can dictate that. But again, getting back to that augmented approach, where we can have initiative-based type of skill definition, one thing we're thinking through in our organization is forward compatibility—so we may have a forward compatibility initiative that's rolled out across the organization, and to that we will align a handful of Skills. We will create development materials and learning materials and roll that out to specific populations. And we can take that skill or skill plan or skill definition and align it with that population and roll it out that way. In addition, and again, we're not there yet. We're looking for that industry-accepted definition of the role in the job-based level to be able to populate the foundation.

Chris Pirie:
Just to check that I've understood it: for an example, there's a new technology that's going to have a big impact in a particular segment of the bank and you want to make sure that people are prepared for that technology when it comes and working alongside the technology, so you want to define how that's going to impact the skillset that you've currently got today and put initiatives in place to close the gap. Is that the kind of program you are talking about?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Yep, correct. Absolutely. And by layering those on top of the given population, it doesn't require me to go into individual job roles and deal at that job role profile level: it allows me to overlay across the individuals that are aligned with that. And that gets into people who are doing, I won't call it side jobs, but in the same way that I'm focused on Skills in addition to the talent and performance platforms, we have people in business in country that are also country heads, who play valuable risk and control roles, and we want to be able to target them as a cohort or as a group without augmenting their core foundational set of role requirements.

Chris Pirie:

Oh, that's interesting— so they’re almost like examples of what might be needed in the future, just out of their side projects and their own particular interests?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Yup.

Dani Johnson:

That’s cool.

Stacia Garr:

Do you worry that doing it that way with it, with the overlay that you won't be specific enough, given the context… so my thinking is, is that you, one skill that may be transferable might have a very different type of application in one role versus another, and maybe in role B, it's much more aligned to where the future is of the organization so if you're trying to understand kind of the Skills in the context that we need for the future, are you worried that it's too generic or that you won't have the insights you need in the future?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

So, are you talking to the definition behind the tag?

Stacia Garr:

I think I'm talking more to the practical application of the skill: I assumed that the definition behind the tag is reasonably generic, maybe I'm wrong? (laughter)

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I think when it comes to that, it is how critical is the skill to your organization, right? Because with every definition comes additional investment, so how much do you want to invest in the accuracy of the definition of the skill which leads to the accuracy of the assessment of the skill, or at least a shared understanding of what that skill means, at least as we've thought through it today. And again, everything is subject to change in the future, not every skill requires the definition behind it: some Skills aren't important to the organization to go beyond it as a tag or a term, people take it as they understand it, and they assess it for themselves as they understand it. But if we get to a skill that is critical to our organization, critical to regulators, critical to lines of business, then it may necessitate additional investment in agreement and definition of exactly what that skill is. It may necessitate the next step of developing an assessment that provides the required level of validity to the proficiency that's assigned.

Stacia Garr:

I love that clarification, because it goes to Dani's question earlier of are you trying to eat the whole elephant, or are you just trying to divide it into pieces?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I think that gets to technology maturity, and just this whole concept. So, we're thinking about it in that layered sense, just the ability to layer on these additional foundational-plus-augmented types of profiles, a perfect system for that doesn't exist. We're working with some providers today to start to build in some of that functionality, but it's still way down the road. And the same goes for a skill “A” with the definition that sits behind it and, or a set of assessments that sit behind that skill: it varies across the different platforms, how effectively that can be done, how scalable it is, how efficiently it can be deployed.

Stacia Garr:

I want to go to tech in just one moment, but I had one additional question here, which is about the level of capability within the Skills. Are you all assessing that as well, right now? Or at the moment, are you just trying to get your hands around these different definitions?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

We are in self-assessment, and manager assessment is available for all Skills that we have—again, without necessarily a definition of exactly what's meant by that skill. So that's kind of where we're starting. And I think that's a huge leap over where we are today, but then as we get to a skill or a need within the organization that requires us to have a third-party assessment rolled in and has the proven validity of their proficiency, that we want to be able to put that in. But at this point it's manager assessment/self-assessment.

Stacia Garr:

You foreshadowed tech, so we'd like to go there a little bit more directly. Can you talk to us about the tech you're using, and how it's helping with Skills?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Sure. Primarily, and I'll say the only place within our organization that we've, well… I say the only place we do have a couple of little self-developed Skills systems that align with the traditional kind of micro-tasking or project-based marketplaces that are out there. So, we have some of those in, but within our HR learning and development area, it's Degreed. So, we've been partnering with Degreed since the mid-2010s from a learning experience platform perspective, and then what started out within their platform as topics has evolved into Skills, and continues to evolve, into a very robust implementation of Skills and Skills management. And we've been working with that to prove our thoughts and develop the technology. In addition to that, we have Workday as our human capital management system; they do have the Skills Cloud that we're working towards activating, we’ve had to get over some hurdles from an information security perspective across all of our countries so we're working for that and working with various third parties to potentially provide role and skill requirements at the industry-level assessment capabilities in interview guides, et cetera.

Stacia Garr:

You mentioned that you have both Degreed and a Workday: can you talk to us about your vision for how those two play together as it relates to Skills?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Sure. Degreed is our front door for learning, so all of our employees go there, and it'll house the employee profile initially while we're bringing Workday up and they will use that to develop their own employee profile—we will use that to define what all caught what I was referring to as augmented initiative-based skill plans and learning content pathways. And then as we bring Workday up, and as we begin adding skill and role requirements at the foundational level to our jobs’ hierarchy, we will connect the two, Degreed and Workday, to pass back and forth.

Stacia Garr:

You mentioned Degreed, Workday, and then you have various third parties that are providing this stuff as well. Are you using an aggregator for that data, or are you using one of those systems as the system of record?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Yeah, so, and again, this will transition, right? So, it has to do with one, the technology being there from the provider and also the capability of our in-house implementation of each of those technologies to be ready to accept it. So, at the outset, Degreed will be the system of record from a Skills perspective, and then we see as the talent acquisition piece gets rolled in, and as the foundational role definitions begin being added, that may transition over to Workday. There'll still be a role from a learning and development perspective from an employee profile perspective, then it gives us the ability to select what's the best employee experience in maintenance of these.

Chris Pirie:

I have a follow-up question as well because you said a lot in that last statement and that's about the international aspect: you mentioned you have employees in a whole range of countries. Have you come across blockers, issues in terms of local legislation, or challenges to the technology when you're operating internationally? Or has that not been a blocker?

Christopher Funk, Citi:
That hasn't been a blocker to date, at least no more so than any other platform we put in; you can work through the different locations and ensure that the right level of data is captured and stored in the right way, or not stored, to meet those country needs. What we're finding is a bigger issue is language—translating a term in English to one in other languages or however many languages you want to support. That's another big piece is if you go out and you search across the different platforms, there's not a perfect translated set of Skills that we found yet. So, I think it's just more language based.

Dani Johnson:

Well, let's start down that one a little bit more, Christopher. We know a little bit about data: what are some of the challenges that you're having with integrating this tech and making this tech speak to each other?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I mean, integration is one, it depends on how many different systems you have talking—again, for us, it's our core HCM which houses the job architecture and talent acquisition, and we also have our learning experience platform, which houses I'll say the employee profile and all of the learning content, and the learning experiences. So, getting the right data to pass through and having, especially when you're dealing with an organization like ours that may have 4 or 5,000 different job roles, how do you get those job role definitions to feed into your learning platform and propagate the right role requirements within that platform to drive learning? How do you pass proficiencies from a developmental type of system? I, as an employee, may select 50 different Skills, 25 of which I'm developing and don't currently hold, 25 of which I do have. And what passed along to that HCM system—where do you draw the line between what goes to your HCM and what stays in your developmental model?

So, integration in that sense, and then the other piece is, is aggregation. I think we talked about it a little bit when it comes to working with various third parties for assessments, for potentially Skills requirement profiles, how do you aggregate that all into a single system if you have different providers? We decided early on that an aggregated type of approach seems like the most promising in that difference, if you look across learning—taking that learning content model, right? We have different learning content providers to specialize in domains, whether it be finance, whether it be technology, or another place, we should have the same type of approach when aggregating Skills and Skills definitions, skill assessments, so providing that sort of aggregation at that level. And I think that's another, maybe a potential area in which the technologies can be enhanced moving forward is providing that skill aggregation in the same way that the learning experience platforms provided that the learning content aggregation.

Dani Johnson:

Well, it sounds like an easy thing to do! I'm surprised you guys aren’t done with it already 😉

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Right!

Dani Johnson:

We really like talking to people at the beginning of this journey because the organizations that have sort of jumped in with both feet kind of have a spirit of experimentation—they don't have to figure it all out before they just kind of wade in and figure it out. In our pre-call, we talked a little bit about experimentation. We’d love to understand some of the experiments that you are running with respect to Skills.

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I was thinking about this too, and I have a couple of days to talk through. One is validating the model, right? So, we have this whole idea that there's a shared currency that is Skills that is shared across the organization, and if you could just get your handle around who has what Skills and what Skills are required will that miraculously allow us to become this, this efficient, adaptable organization using the tools that we have at our disposal right now? That was the first place we started, and I think the big piece and not being able to test the full end to end, right, moving people from, from job A to job B and getting that adaptability. It’s, if we provide a place for employees to see Skills that are required for their roles or other roles will that be enough to get them to populate and maintain their Skills profile? So, putting it out there and saying, if you build it, will they come? That's one thing that we’ve done. And as a standalone driving, just let's say development or a piece of getting the right content to them, it hasn't really had that Big Bang. The second piece that we've looked at is developmental opportunities—so you think about whether it's a skill that I'm building or trying to acquire, is there an opportunity to apply what I've learned to make that skill my own, or is there an ability to apply a skill that I have to keep it fresh? So that gets to, I'll say it dipping our toes into the talent marketplace, but simply from a development perspective—development and keeping, keeping it fresh.

That has had better results. So, once we provide that and to the means, people spend more time populating their Skills profiles, and we've seen the completeness and the accuracy go up.

Chris Pirie:

Not necessarily in our questions beforehand, but I'm sort of interested in your stakeholders in the organization—managers, or role owners, or people who have an interest in this: how have they responded to these tools and these initiatives? Is it something that has to be explained or do people get the possibility?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Yeah, it definitely has to be explained, and we have the same conversations of skill versus competency. What is a skill—that's where we start every time. So, we have this, I will call it a playlist, but we've definitely had these grounding ideas that we talked through for the first time, every time. And that's, “What is the skill?” What is the value provided by Skills management, how do you measure, how do you manage a catalog, all of these things? We start there, and then I'll say some of the groups, L&D, definitely, talent acquisition had been along for this ride for quite a while. So, you know, they're pretty advanced, but as we go and expand out beyond that, into the individual lines of business, we're starting from scratch and kind of bringing them up to speed. I think they see the promise, but there's also, especially when there are parts of the organization that have been trying to do this for years and they understand what the challenges can be, and I think we've talked through a lot of this.

Chris Pirie:

Who are the targets for this kind of evangelism work? Early stages of any kind of new idea, new technology, new approach requires evangelism, so what you describe as the ‘pitch’ that you have to give: do you find yourself talking to business leaders on this topic, or is it people who are kind of down in the human capital type roles?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

We've mainly focused on the HR areas to start, with the exception of one or two areas within the organization that have been doing this type of work for a couple of years now. So you have an organization that does, I'll call it ‘resource management,’ but it spans a number of different functions underneath it, it's around 2000 people and they have been going through an annual process that is Excel-driven to gather and identify critical Skills and have people cell-free: we’ve lifted that and put it in, and that's where we've been able to do some of our experimentation is using that correct. Our approach is, let's put the foundation in place, let’s put the plumbing in place from a technology perspective to be able to support from an L&D to start, and then moving into talent acquisition and then workforce planning and talent management. Once we have that end to end, we would move out into the businesses, but we don't see this as a Big Bang type of approach—it would be initiative-driven, and then it would be what organization has either been doing this, and it's ready to transition into, or what organization has the greatest need. And you can look at those walls like a contact center or branch bank as having a large number of employees that share similar roles and requirements: that would be a good place to start.

Chris Pirie:

Got it. Well, as an evangelist and someone who's out ahead and pushing this in an organization, what lessons have you learned that you think would be worth sharing with our audience here? Are there things you wish you'd known five years ago, 10 years ago—what would you say?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

It's slow, it's complicated—but I think that the promise is a pretty easy promise to communicate. When it comes to deploying, it's better to start small with a smaller organization. I think we mentioned critical Skills, right, starting with identifying critical Skills that apply across an organization and going from there and adding layer after layer to build that out. Governance has been something that we've spent a lot of time on; I won't get into that today, but governance and communication, ensuring that people go into this with the same expectation, ensuring that the people who have the ability to define Skills or align Skills with plans or roles or initiatives, are properly trained and in control, because once you deploy, it becomes a maintenance challenge. I guess it's the right word? Opportunity?

Chris Pirie:

Yeah, the implications can be quite profound if you get it wrong in terms of people's jobs and people's livelihoods, so that totally makes a lot of sense: transparency, good governance and targeted approach?

Stacia Garr:

So, Christopher, you've talked about how some parts of the organization are more advanced and farther along on this journey, which means maybe they've experienced some results or metrics that you are, or were, sharing. So, I'm just wondering what kind of results you've seen so far?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

So, the early results that we've seen are engagement and indefinite improvements and engagement across the target populations of going in and completing their, their profiles, rating themselves on the profiles, reviewing and in the case of looking for developmental opportunities, engaging with those opportunities and going through the selection process to be able to perform the opportunities. With this type of experiment though, the cycle time is pretty slow, right? So, if it takes you four months to get the employee profiles populated and rolled out from a scale perspective, another month or so to do the opportunity postings, another two months to let people go through those opportunities, and then evaluate them once they've taken, whatever they've learned back to the workforce, we're talking years before we can see whether there's been any impact. So, we've seen promising early indicators as far as engagement and uptake of the opportunities within the system, but the jury is still out on whether they bring that knowledge and that skillset back to the organization. The other challenge there is the various systems that you need to pull data from to be able to do that type of analysis, and that's something that we're still working on.

Stacia Garr:

So, when you've been communicating with stakeholders, has that kind of timeline been something that you've also been communicating? Because we all know that things that are measured in years, not quarters, can lose steam and enthusiasm.

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I think they're all aware of the slow development. I think when it comes to seeing more immediate results is you can begin to take the inputs of the employees and the inputs of the role requirement plans to get to a space where you can measure ‘have’ versus ‘needed a little more quickly than ‘develop’ versus are ‘developed and brought back to their role’ to improve productivity and efficiency. We focus on the ability to identify gaps first, and then the development and filling those gaps takes a little longer.

Chris Pirie:

What about organizations that you admire that are doing this kind of work? Are there people that you take a cue from, or you collaborate or thought-partner with?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

We've been working with Ericsson, and they're going through a similar type of approach; again, Degreed is one of their primary tools and technologies. We have different approaches, but we're all trying to solve the same problem. And I think they're just as if not, probably further along than we are.

Stacia Garr:

We just did a podcast episode with Ericsson, so folks can listen to that and kind of see some of the cross-collaboration or cross-insight sharing, I guess, that, that comes out of that. What else should we have asked you about that we haven’t?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Skills assessment and validation! I say that half in jest, but it's important. Having the core data and having a self-assessment is, like I said, leaps and bounds beyond where we are today; but in order to deploy this, and when you think about it from a talent acquisition standpoint or a job—I don't even want to go into the performance space because again, our validation, isn’t there yet—to be able to use it from a performance perspective in talent acquisition, from a selection perspective, I don't even know that it's there. But definitely from a candidate identification perspective, having that self-assessment is, is at least a big step in the right direction; I think Skills, assessment and validation are something that in order for us to get more accurate and more scientific with, there's a lot of work left to be done. And that gets back to that aggregation of third-party providers that are expert in these domains that can potentially break a more valid type of assessment to any of that.

Chris Pirie:

But it's not like industry associations or technology vendors, are they examples of this kind of thing?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I think it could be all of the above—whether it's the government publishing job reports of what the Skills for the next 10 years could be across the US or across Europe, or across Asia or third-party providers that are experts in certain domains. I think the combination of all of those come together for that.

Stacia Garr:

Well, thank you so much for sharing all of this—an incredibly rich conversation. If people want to continue the conversation with you and learn a bit more about you and your work, how might they connect with you?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Probably the best way is LinkedIn. I think you have my LinkedIn information, or we'll have it on your site; that’s probably the best.

Stacia Garr:

And then the final question that we ask every guest is what we call the purpose question. And that's why you personally do the work that you do?

Christopher Funk, Citi:

Well, I think it's just in general, work is about building relationships. And I think that's the most rewarding piece, right? The people you work with day in and day out—I think that the problem or the role could change but the people are always the most important. As far as the work that we're doing in the skill space, I think it's about providing development opportunities and insights into career growth for our employees; while there is definitely value to be gained from the organization to align the right employees and with the right Skills in the right roles, I think it's more about the employees identifying what they want to develop and what areas of the organization they might want to work in, and how do they get insights into what's available and with what gaps they have and need to be filled.

Stacia Garr:

Wonderful. Thank you, Chris: we have so appreciated the time today, and your generosity in sharing! A lot of details—really appreciate it. We think it'll help others who are on The Skills Odyssey.

Christopher Funk, Citi:

I don't think I brought many answers to this conversation, maybe more questions than answers? But I think it's something that we're all trying to work through. And the more questions, the better.

Chris Pirie:

You bet.

Stacia Garr:

Thank you, Chris.

Written by

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 Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

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

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