Moving the Future of Work Forward

Gaining a competitive edge in the search for talent can be as straight-forward as embracing a future-thinking model of getting work done. In this episode of the Subject to Talent podcast, Vice President of AGS in EMEA Simon Bradberry returns to discuss how the Universal Workforce Model™ has expanded to introduce the Target Operating Model for a skills-based workforce.
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Bruce Morton: Allegis Global Solutions (AGS) presents the Subject to Talent Podcast, a hub for global workforce leaders to unleash the power of human enterprise. Thank you for listening in as we explore the most innovative and transformational topics impacting business today.

Hi, I’m Bruce Morton, the host of the Subject to Talent podcast. Today I am joined by Simon Bradberry. Simon is the vice president of EMEA here at AGS and is a real advocate for driving change. He has spent his career in the workforce industry all over Asia and Europe, overseeing growth and operational excellence across the globe. Simon and I recently wrote a book called "The Universal Workforce Model," which outlines a different future forward view of how businesses can get work done and a Target Operating Model for skills-based organizations, which we'll be discussing on the podcast today. Welcome back to the podcast, Simon.

Simon Bradberry: Hey Bruce, thank you so much. Yeah, great to be back and good to see you.

Bruce Morton: Good to see you. So, since you've been on the podcast a few times, we'll go ahead and skip our typical first questions that we do on the podcast and get straight into the reason why we're here today. The last time you were a guest here was when we launched the concept of the Universal Workforce Model. So, I want to ask you, how has the model evolved and what is now shaping the future of work?

Simon Bradberry: Yeah, thank you. It's slightly strange talking to you about this Bruce, isn't it? Since you and I talk about this all the time, and I think we probably share one another's knowledge and thoughts and views on this whole thing.

So, I think it's been really exciting over the last 18 months or so, seeing how things have evolved and how things have changed. And I think we reached a bit of a realization that when we did the book around the Universal Workforce Model, we were thinking: this is our language around how can work get done. And it's our verbiage and structuring it in a way that made sense to us to try and break things down to the fundamentals of understanding the underlying work, understanding the task rather than relying on a job spec and therefore what are the implications of that.

And I think what we've seen is that the world around us — we've seen lots of organizations coming to the same realization — but the verbiage that's perhaps more common has been skills-based organization, and therefore we've been working about, "Okay, how can we bring these things together to understand that actually this is all really one topic?" I think that one of the really interesting points we've talked about is that when you break down what we're getting to, some of it seems really blindingly obvious. We use this analogy, we used it in the article that was published recently, that wheels on suitcases moment to refer to it. What we mean by that is that if you look at the history of luggage, the wheel was invented 5,500 years ago. It was in the 16th century, several hundred years ago, that luggage (was being used) when travel became a thing. But it was the 1970s before anyone actually put wheels on a suitcase.

And today it's like, "Well, how on earth..." That wasn't a 10-year gap or a 20-year gap, that was hundreds of years. How on earth did everyone miss that? And now, when was the last time someone bought a suitcase, when they go traveling, that didn't have wheels on it? And the reason we use that analogy is because I think the same will be true of the world of workforce, how workforces are required, and I intentionally use the word workforce, rather than talent acquisition or contractor, because we're looking at the whole workforce. And what I mean by that is that the way that the world hires people is broadly based around looking at the responsibilities of a job and matching those responsibilities to someone's experience. And that just isn't the best way of doing it. The best way of doing it, or far better way of doing it, is understanding that underlying work and then figuring out, well, what's going to make someone successful at delivering that? And what's going to make someone successful is not necessarily the same as, have they done this before?

We're going to use multiple analogies as we go through. One of them would be if you needed someone, if the job was navigating to New York or Edinburgh, depending where you are, you could say, "Well, I need someone that's gone to Edinburgh before or gone to New York before, that's what I need." Or you could say, "I just need someone that's good at reading maps." And that's the distinction between the experience versus the skill set. And that move is going to make such a difference to organizations. It's going to drive productivity, it's going to make jobs more interesting, it's going to make far more availability of talent, as I believe we'll see a talent crunch over the course of the next year or two as economic conditions improve. So, it's a bit of a whistle-stop tour, but I would definitely say things have moved on. And, I would say that using common language, so that the communication and the concepts can be discussed across organizations in a commonly understood way. I think that's been a really significant change over the last 18 months.

Bruce Morton: Great. In the Universal Workforce Model, we introduced the role of the workforce business partner. Can you just share with the audience how that role itself is evolving and how that pertains to the Target Operating Model, as well as the goal of the workforce acquisition manager as well?

Simon Bradberry: Yeah, absolutely. Let me start with the Target Operating Model as an introduction. So why have we recently published a Target Operating Model for this skills-based organization? And the answer to that is the derivative of the conversations that we were having with organizations about the Universal Workforce Model was, "We get it. We agree. We understand the principle of task not jobs and matching to skills. And that means, if you're going to find the right skill, harmonizing your approach to the workforce." We introduced the concept of the workforce business partner aligned to the thinking behind an HR business partner, someone that transcends the transactional, that can support the business and make the right decision about the best way to get work done.

One of the things that we've just experienced, partly because we have introduced workforce business partners in our own world, in our own organization, and partly through conversations with other external organizations as we begin this journey, it is very much a journey, is that there's a delineation in roles between the role that is the advisory role of the workforce business partner that transcends the transactional and the execution role, the person that actually is going to take ownership of a requirement, because we still need to hire people. There are still human beings coming in to do work. It's just that the way that we figure out the best way of getting the work done and the best humans to get the work done is we're matching against what's going to make someone successful as opposed to; what are the responsibilities and what's their experience?

So that means that you need an execution role. That execution role is going to span all the different elements of the workforce. So, permanent recruitment, including internal hiring, gig hiring, contractor hiring and services provision as well. All of those have availability of skills. So, what we've done is we've realized, as the evolutions happened, that actually there's really two roles here. There's the workforce business partner, an advisory role, and there's a workforce acquisition manager that's in an execution role, both of them spanning the entire workforce. Neither of those roles really exist in many organizations today. When we wrote the book, as I know that you know, we didn't talk about the workforce acquisition manager, we talked about the workforce business partner as really the key move. And although it was something that had crossed our minds at that point, I don't think we'd really fully fleshed it out. And I think that's a really good example of the evolution of our thinking as we've been going through this over the course of the last year or two.

Bruce Morton: Right. How is technology, obviously you can't have a conversation these days without mentioning AI, so how is technology playing into all of this?

Simon Bradberry: So again, let me link the technology to the Target Operating Model conversation. Again, I'm sure we'll put a link to the articles that we've published at MIT Sloan and The Times HR Report: The Raconteur article that detailed the Target Operating Model. But just to bring that to life and link in the technology piece; in the Target Operating Model, we're saying you need a workforce business partner to transcend the transactional, support the business and advise. You need a workforce acquisition manager, as we were just saying, to execute on the roles. You need change, you need change management in there, because change will be absolutely constant and that ensures that you get adoption, behavioral change of new processes and so on. And you still need sourcing. You still need to actually find people and source people to come in and do the role. So, they're the four elements that make up the organizational design of the new workforce structure that we see.

And then all of that is supported by a different technology structure. You and I talk to companies every day. Some of them are existing clients of ours, some of them are prospective clients of ours in the future or organizations that we're just debating the best future models with. And almost all of them, in our experience, certainly in my experience, would say that technology for them, workforce-related technology, is complex and not as effective as they would like it to be. And I'm probably being a little bit polite when I say that. For some it's a total disaster and expensive and a great disappointment. So, the approach that we've taken is to say, "Well, this needs to be simplified," and really taking a step back and rather than incrementally trying to improve what's out there today, say, "What's a better way of doing this?"

And where we've landed with that, and again, we detail this in the book and fleshed out a little bit further, and it's a key part of the Target Operating Model that underpins the work in the book, is organizations have systems of record. They have their own core systems of record in areas like finance, HR and often they have sales systems, and I could go on, but certainly in the world of workforce, they'll have a permanent recruitment system, an ATS, and often an extended workforce system, a VMS. And they're all interlinked in one way or another, but they're their core systems of record. The challenge is that they don't do everything. They only do certain elements. They don't, for example, cover digital candidate experience. They don't cover external data access in real time. So, there's a wide number of areas that really need to be [covered]. They don't cover screening in many cases. They don't cover skills testing.

So, there's a number of other areas that we need. We need these other tools. And what we see at the moment is organizations often trying to implement and integrate multiple technologies from multiple different angles. And that leads to a chaotic situation where it becomes deeply complicated to get something up and running. It takes a long time and by the time something is implemented, it's potentially obsolete. So, we have a vision of the systems of record being integrated via a digital data warehouse and the same applying to the external systems, the bolt-on systems that are really giving the consumer grade experience and the up-to-date elements of those other areas that I touched on. So we see those two data warehouses talking to one another and exchanging information. So you've got an established link and then that simplifies the process, because you can link in the external system technologies and data products into an external data warehouse.

So, we call that an Intelligent Workforce Platform. It's something that we've been working on for a number of years. It is something that we are seeing adoption slowly around and beginning to see that concept take hold. But it's certainly something that we believe will continue. And it's a really good point, Bruce, an example of how big the scope of the concepts that we're talking about are and why we don't expect them to be overnight shifts and overnight changes. It illustrates how, this isn't just an HR issue, or a procurement issue, or even a finance issue. This is [also] an IT issue. It spans across a whole organization and therefore by its very nature, it's going to take time for things to be adopted. But what we want to do is give a North Star to organizations, to give something that companies can go, "Okay, I can see that. It's a one-pager. It's simple, it's straightforward. I see how the organizational design and the technology ecosystem interact with one another and sit together, and that's something that we can aim towards." And that's really the ultimate aim of the Target Operating Model.

Bruce Morton: Great. And looping this back to, as you were saying, all this underpins what is now called skills-based organizations or skills-based hiring. It's getting an awful lot of press right now, but how can organizations start the journey? Because if you dumb down the articles on skills-based organizations, it’s saying, "Oh, you don't need to ask for education anymore." And we know it's way, way past that, but how do organizations stop themselves from jumping in to, "Oh, okay, let's just refine our jobs specs and carry on as we were," to truly get the benefit of what's sitting right in front of us right now, for everything you said earlier and enabling organizations to truly take advantage of AI that is here and is coming at the speed of light?

Simon Bradberry: Yeah. Brilliant. Well, let me take those two, the "What's skills-based [hiring]?” first and then the “How do we take advantage of AI?” second. So I think you make a great point that, and certainly I've experienced this when I've read articles around organizations moving to skills-based, what does this mean, skills-based hiring? And the headline often is, "Well, education doesn't matter anymore." And that's an oversimplification, as you quite rightly point out, although it is part of it. And in fact, when I was talking earlier, I was talking about experience, and that's another example of actually... That's an oversimplification on itself.

What we're really talking about is, I'm going to break this down first of all to, so what is skills-based? Because often people are like, "I don't even know, what is this? What does it mean? Give me an example." So, here's an example. It's a slightly tongue in cheek example, but I will use it. It does illustrate the point in terms of the distinction. If you think of it from a social media perspective, professional social media, best example being LinkedIn, is essentially you talk about; "These are the organizations that I've worked at. This is how long I was there for. This is what I did when I was there. This was my reason for leaving," potentially, that kind of thing. That's essentially what you're detailing as relevant information on professional social media. If you compare that to, for example, online dating, social media tools, etc., when someone's on an online dating app, they don't list, "Well, here's all my previous relationships. Here's what I did during those relationships. Here's my reason for leaving those relationships." That's not what people... People talk about something else. They talk about, "Here's what I've got to offer. Here's what I could provide. Here's what I have to offer to make a success of a relationship, or to make a success with you."

And that's the same distinction, the distinction being it's about being successful in the future as opposed to a list of historical events. And that for me is an example of what we should be doing much more from a recruitment perspective is focusing on the future. And so I think that the starting point, therefore, where would organizations start? Well, one of the best places to start is to understand that a job spec isn't enough. So a job spec is obviously a list of responsibilities and actions in a particular role. We still need that for HR purposes, but we want to understand what's going to make someone successful in this role, as I alluded to earlier on. Well, that needs to be detailed. What are the relevant skills? What are the relevant competencies? There may well be qualifications, there may be certain elements of experience that are in there, but the essence being; what makes someone successful, not what is someone actually going to do. And I think that's a really, really good starting point in terms of understanding what that's going to mean for skills-based organizations going forward.

And then that means that going into hiring, we're looking at finding people that have got the relevant skills. We had one of our clients actually recently, for example, was talking about how the traditional hiring processes weren't working. We sat down with them and broke down exactly what was needed in this particular area in a marketing area, in a major international organization. They were crystal clear about what makes someone successful in their marketing department. We then revisited that success profile, that success overlay with the existing talent pool. And eight candidates were interviewed, all of whom were accepted by the people that were interviewing in the business. And previously, all eight had been screened out. Now that's a fairly extreme example, but it's exactly what happened. And now you've got a client that's gone from being very frustrated with the talent that's coming through to being delighted. And actually it was the same talent pool, but it was the criteria that were very different. So I think that's a really good example. It's a good example of a starting point actually. There's a whole lot of other stuff that needs to be done in terms of, "Well, are we going to have a common skills taxonomy," and so on across a whole organization, but you don't need to, to use a cliche, you don't need to boil the ocean on this stuff. You can start somewhere, get the success stories and take it from there.

The AI point that you raise is, again, I think this is a wonderful point, and in fact, if I take you and I on a journey back three years, when we very, very first started talking about; is there a better way to change the industry, to change workforce? And we were researching, and I remember we read books by John Boudreau and so on, and John obviously contributed to the book that we wrote as well. John's original work with Ravin Jesuthasan was around automation and actually understanding the underlying work, because otherwise you can't see the opportunities around automation. And actually, AI is very closely linked to that. So, it's kind of gone full circle, because we brought that, and we were inspired by that in certain ways in terms of the work that we looked at across the whole workforce acquisition process. But actually right at the very heart of it, right at the very beginning was if you understand the underlying work and you've got someone that's looking at that, you've got a role that's looking at that, that gives you an opportunity to look at automation opportunities, not necessarily automating whole roles, but basically automating the boring bits of those jobs, making the jobs themselves more interesting and making everything more efficient all at once, everyone wins. Well, that's the role that AI's going to play.

There was an article in The Economist in June of last year, where they were saying it's going to take 10 years for organizations, major enterprises to take advantage of the benefits that AI have to offer, because they're just not set up to look at these things. If they put up big picture projects, and it takes years for them to come through and actually the kind of micro opportunities of, "Okay, well could we do this little bit? Could we automate this little bit? Or that's something that's being improved over there." That isn't really the way organizations are set up. People are set up to not take risks like that and therefore opportunities are missed.

Well, in our model, in our Target Operating Model, that role sits squarely with the workforce business partner. That is a role that most companies do not have today, but they would be there to deconstruct roles, to support the business, to understand what the opportunities are and go, "Hey, have we thought about doing it this way? We actually could make this job more interesting, more fulfilling for the individuals that are going to be delivering it and drive efficiency." And it's there on a day-to-day micro basis, rather than being looked at on an exclusively a macro basis. So, the productivity opportunities that are there for organizations, I know that we agree, are absolutely massive.

Bruce Morton: Yeah, I think that's great advice. If the biggest advice about where to start is start. Start somewhere. Start small, and that brings us full circle really is in organizations, have you got suitcases and wheels in your company and you haven't pulled them together yet? I have another analogy for you that just this morning I saw a news feed, the Luxottica, the spectacle glasses company, they're just launching glasses with a hearing aid built in.

Simon Bradberry: Oh, wow.

Bruce Morton: Which makes all the sense in the world. So, in future people will say, "Could you imagine people used to wear glasses and hearing aids?" So it's just a good example for us for-

Simon Bradberry: It's a fantastic example. I wish I'd thought of that myself a few years ago.

Bruce Morton: Yeah, I know. Why hasn't everybody else thought of that before? I guess that's a technology thing as well, because they've realized now that whatever it is in the glasses, handles don't need to be in your ears. But anyway, digressing. So, this brings us to closing point of our podcast here. Great conversation as always, Simon. I really like the analogy that you kicked us off with. I think that's something people can take away from this. Just thinking, sometimes these things don't have to be complex. The answer might be right in front of us. Start simple. Do you need somebody that's been to Edinburgh before, or somebody that can turn on a GPS? So yeah, all great, great examples, great conversation. You mentioned a couple of articles, could you just share with the audience and we'll put it in the link as well when we post this out, but how people can track you down to ask more?

Simon Bradberry: Yeah, absolutely. As you mentioned, just to replug those articles, because I think they're a really good point, I'll just reemphasize them. The MIT Sloan article you and I wrote together, and that really summarizes where we're going with the Target Operating Model and how that is the organizational design and the technological ecosystem that underpins what we called historically the Universal Workforce Model, but a skills-based organization. That's that and that MIT Sloan article will be there. There was also an article that said Raconteur in the Times, which was an interview that was conducted with me and then translated.

If you want to get in touch with me, you can please get in touch with me via, we'll put the email address down there or the contact details there, but I'm obviously available via LinkedIn. And Bruce, I'm sure you'd be happy to be contacted as well. But always interested to hear from people that have got thoughts or perspectives. Interestingly, I read, someone commented on an article that's published on LinkedIn that was following up on some of the work that we'd done recently saying, "Well, it's not all about skills. There's more to it than that." And by the way, that is true. It is a complex landscape, but I have to also say that this is a really, really good place to start and move forward in terms of driving efficiencies and making organizations better. So yeah, love it if people get in touch with us and want to drive the conversation further.

Bruce Morton: Great. Really appreciate it, Simon. Thanks as always. Have a great day.

Simon Bradberry: Thank you, Bruce. Speak to you soon.

Bruce Morton: Cheers.

Bruce Morton: If you enjoyed this episode, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you have questions, send them to Follow us on LinkedIn with #SubjectToTalent and learn more about AGS at where you can subscribe to receive additional workforce insights. Until next time, cheers.