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Impressions from Bersin 2012

Three themes were brought home to the 400-plus attendees at Impact 2012, a conference presented by Bersin & Associates last month in St. Petersburg, Florida: Transform, Personalize, Glocalize. These themes were highlighted from the kickoff keynote by Josh Bersin and continued throughout two full days of programming that used the themes as tracks for the learning sessions.

In his keynote, “Driving Agility: The Truths and Myths that Make a Difference,” Bersin noted that Impact 2012 was the sixth annual conference of its kind, and that its success and attendance have largely paralleled the performance of the American economy. He said that a global talent imbalance has CEOs around the world concerned, and that in fact Lloyd’s of London had assessed the talent shortage as a serious risk facing businesses. He shared a quote from the World Economic Forum: “We are entering the era of unparalleled talent scarcity, which will put a brake on economic growth around the world, and will fundamentally change the way we approach workforce challenges.”

In the first Glocalize session of the conference, John Campagnino, senior director of global recruiting at Accenture, spoke about how his firm has approached its workforce challenges. Accenture, which adds about 64,000 new associates to its global workforce each year, has evolved from a centralized recruitment function to a center of excellence with localized recruiting teams and programs. The firm leverages social media, professional networking, and especially employee referrals to find new employees who are most likely to be successful.

As part of the Transform track, a highly experienced panel featuring representatives from Motorola Solutions, Bristol Myers Squibb, and the American Red Cross explained “People Strategies for Agility: How to Manage the Blended Workforce.” Patricia Carroll, training manager at Motorola Solutions, recounted the company restructuring that has driven chaos and change in her learning organization for the past couple of years, and discussed how she uses strategic insourcing to supplement her learning team. Peter Jones, director of central learning services at Bristol Myers Squibb, noted that his company uses contractors and contingent workers across operations and around the world. Carol Robinette, senior director of talent acquisition for the American Red Cross, has a unique talent management challenge: Her contingent workforce consists of more than a million volunteers.

The engaging, high-energy keynote on Day Two was delivered by Dana Tomechko, vice president of human resources for NBC News. Entitled “Building an Agile Workforce in a 24/7 Business,” Tomechko reviewed the size and structure of her company’s workforce, and explained how HR supports the diverse business units and teams so they are prepared to respond to the rapid changes taking place in the world and in the news business.

She outlined HR’s three key tenets:

  • Hold no perspective sacred.
  • Be connectors.
  • Explore, even in the face of ambiguity.

After the session, Katie Thomas of Slalom Consulting said that she had garnered a “wealth of information” during the conference. “It’s a great opportunity to network, and I like the way Bersin leverages the conference to release new research. We look to Josh for a lot of guidance,” she said.

Attendee Ronna Weaver, representing Massachusetts-based Waters Corporation, a company specializing in liquid chromatography separation science, commented that her learning organization supports 5,000 employees in manufacturing, sales, and service, as well as knowledge workers.

“This conference has great information, and it’s good to know that many others have the same types of challenges I do,” she said.

Mary Sibley of SAP drew a standing-room-only crossed to the Plaza ballroom Thursday afternoon for “Going Mobile: What’s Working in Learning,” as she unveiled SAP’s new iPad application, SAPNow. Sibley’s team took a bite-sized approach to learning, adopting what they term the “sushi tray” layout, a visual map of small chunks of information. The approach brought benefits not only to the learners, Sibley said.

“The unexpected benefit of the bite-sized approach was that our learning objects were faster to roll out, and easier to update in the event of changes.”

Sibley went on to say that SAP has a BYOD (bring your own device) culture, and that her team is currently focused on how to make employees’ mobile phones a learning asset.

Cathy Hall, a member of the learning organization at AT&T, attended Sibley’s session. Hall commented that AT&T is deploying Android devices as well as iPads, and that she would describe the company as “pretty advanced on mobile, although it’s still very new.” She commented that her team is working on just-in-time learning and gamification.

“The conference sessions really get you thinking, and spark new ideas,” she said.

In their session on next-generation recruiting, Heather Lemke, vice president of talent acquisition at United Health Group, and Jeff Scolnick, vice president of talent acquisition at Eaton Corporation, highlighted:

  • The benefits that professional networks and social media bring to the sourcing process
  • Effective practices for using social approaches to recruiting
  • Leveraging employees as ambassadors for recruiting quality talent.

In “New Directions in Talent Acquisition: Technologies and Best Practices,” Red Hat’s L.J. Brock, RMS’s Amelia Merrill, and SuccessFactors’ Will Staney made this attendee wonder whether they ever sleep for all the social networking they do. These folks’ Twitter streams never sleep! Worth a look is RMS’s new employee recruiting website at http://www.rms.com/careers/.

Back home at Bristol Myers Squibb, Peter Jones is planning on turning his learning organization on its head. In a post-session interview, Jones commented that his key goal is “preserving learner capacity,” otherwise known as productivity. He’s exploring virtual, mobile, social, and gaming to ensure that no instructor-led class lasts more than two days in future.

He’s also developing a new role in his learning organization, that of “learning broker.” “The traditional learning and development department doesn’t have the right roles to support the kinds of learning people are doing now,” he said.

Jones envisions the learning broker as an expert on content management, quality, and speed to market, who will play a consultative role in helping individuals and lines of business find the learning they need. Better polish up those resumes!