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Updates from UNLEASH World.
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The last two weeks have been busy. Two conferences on two continents while still trying to maintain the normal day job might not be the smartest planning I’ve done. But all traveling and such is now behind me (yay!).
Before I dive into the summary of the two conferences, let me say this out very loud and clear:
It’s been so incredibly fun to meet many of you at these conferences, and you’ve all been so kind - thank you for all your kind words and encouragement.
It means more than I can ever express, and I’m not used to being recognized the way I’ve been at these two conferences.
That said, yesterday evening, I hosted a practical session on how to use ChatGPT.
I showcased how someone in HR could use it.
But that’s not what we are here for. We’re here to talk about UNLEASH World and the first day at the AI stage. Let’s get to it.
I first encountered the people behind Unleash back in 2013 when I spoke about the latest social media and recruitment trends at iRecruit in Amsterdam. (The link is in Swedish, and yes, social media was then what AI is now...)
Over the years, I’ve been to several of their events, and this week, I not only attended and spoke at UNLEASH World, but on the first day, I also moderated the HR & AI stage. And what better thing to do than summarize the four talks, the five speakers, and the insights I and the audience got from this first day?
How AI is Upleveling C-Suite’s Skills Transformation
First out we had Markus Graf from Novartis who discussed their approach to building a future-ready workforce through skills transformation. Novartis's workforce strategy focuses on five pillars: skills taxonomy, data landscape, mapping skills to people/jobs/development, skill-based employee lifecycle including rewards and talent acquisition, and becoming an employer of choice.
Skills are the centerpiece for enabling innovation in medicine and Novartis partnered with Gloat for skills data/AI to avoid building skills ontology internally. They defined a skills taxonomy and cleaned up their job architecture to map skills to around 1,000 jobs. They added proficiency levels to skills. They introduced manager dashboards to provide visibility into team skills, which helps drive development conversations.
They developed a skills console to provide workforce insights to leadership on current skills and gaps. This helps transform the business. They gave an example of using a skills approach in finance - they identified critical future capabilities, mapped specific skills to those capabilities, and created career paths in the system. This unleashed significant capacity without hiring. Adoption has exceeded expectations with 35,000 users, 500 projects staffed, and 200,000 hours spent on projects. The value and impact of the project is estimated at a whopping $8 million.
In summary, Novartis has focused on skills transformation across the employee lifecycle, leveraging AI and data, which has driven business value through better workforce planning, development, and agility.
Adopted skills taxonomy and mapped skills to jobs to enable data insights.
Leveraged AI-powered skills platform for development and agility.
Achieved strong adoption and workforce planning value.
A.I. Not the A.I.: Augment the Individual, Not the Artificial Intelligence
After Markus, Gustavo Canton entered the stage and, to my delight, talked about how HR must steer us through this transformation, with a clear emphasis on ethics and compassion to ensure that it is a good one.
He also gave insights on why it’s essential not to forget the human in all of this but also showed great insights into why AI matters.
Unfortunately, I messed up my notes from this session. Hence, the slightly shorter recap!
Navigating AI's Impact: Shaping Future Work and HR
Then we had Jesper Klitgaard and Alex Rylance from Netcompany discussing how HR can facilitate responsible AI implementation. AI is now more commercialized, shifting from abstract to practical everyday tools companies want to adopt. This provides opportunities for Netcompany and its employees. It is essential to guide appropriate use while embracing AI positively versus trying to control it.
Netcompany uses AI internally before client deployment in areas like information access, quality assurance, and content generation. While some jobs will be redefined, AI can augment human capabilities in many roles. Their take was also that we in HR must engage employees through the evolution transition of displaced workers and adapt individuals and businesses to use AI successfully.
Viewing AI as an augmentation, not a revolution, will enable companies to shape how AI redefines jobs positively. In summary, HR should provide guidance but embrace AI's potential, using it first internally and constantly engaging employees.
Provide guidance on AI use while embracing the potential.
Use AI internally first before client deployment.
Constantly engage employees through the AI evolution.
Merck’s Best Practices for Successful Workforce Planning and Skills Management
Last, bu absolutely not least we had Alexis Saussinan from Merck discussing how their strategic workforce planning approach using data and AI. Merck has evolved from just "counting heads" to modeling multiple scenarios to gain insights into future skills demands. They do ongoing 18-month rolling forecasts of costs, with HR accountable for personnel.
Plus, they focused on strategic plans for priority business areas tightly aligned with financial planning. They identify "must win" priority workforce focus areas by business line and horizontally across groups like manufacturing for strategic planning.
Merck models a "do nothing" scenario showing natural attrition and supply decline without adding costs to estimate workforce transformation potential. They run multiple demand scenarios through AI to account for uncertainty, asking leaders about the drivers and implications of each scenario.
It is critical to align businesses on goals, skills gaps, and priorities before acting. Their skills management technology integrates internal and external supply data at various stages to proactively identify options to close priority gaps. This feeds into manager and employee tools to develop talent.
They emphasized spending time up front to define guardrails for responsible use of people data, which enables efficient scaling later. In summary, Merck takes a proactive, data-driven approach to align leaders on priorities and develop talent to meet dynamic business demands.
Model multiple scenarios with AI to gain insights into future skills demands.
Get alignment on priority skills gaps and workforce focus areas.
Use skills data to develop talent and close critical gaps proactively.
All-in-all, it’s always fun to be in Paris, and it’s always fun to work together with Unleash! The most important aspect of the conference is that they truly listen to feedback. When I attended Unleash America this spring, one of my feedback points was there weren’t enough tracks about AI…well, they fixed that in Paris.
It’s AI and AI and almost nothing in between - which I think is the right thing to focus on! We need to see examples, need to discuss the future, and need to engage in this topic. Which I truly think we did in Paris this week.