Soft skills rising up the priority list

Data analytics are helping to drive so-called soft skills up the priority list for businesses.

The world of business is slowly changing as “soft” people issues gradually migrate to the core of business strategy.

Ingrid Waterfield has been named one of three new directors of KPMG’s initiative which offers clients advice and support on people issues and her appointment and the initiative itself are testament to that ongoing change.

People Powered Performance practice has developed over the last year and provides joined up solutions on issues ranging from recruiting and on-boarding senior leadership teams and redesigning HR functions, through to implementing culture change programmes and driving employee engagement initiatives.

“KPMG is historically not necessarily known for people issues. We’re seen as being more focused on consultancy work on auditing and tax issues,” says Ingrid, who is a Performance, Reward & Employee engagement specialist at the company. However, she adds, issues such as auto-enrollment pensions have brought a broader focus on additional benefits and how these all join up to promote greater employee engagement.

One big issue is agile working, which is the area Ingrid is focused on.  She is keen to support organisations develop a form of agile working that works for them and see the opportunities it might open up, for instance, to offer 24/7 services employing a more diverse range of staff who may prefer to work remotely in the evenings.

Ingrid leads KPMG’s work on the Agile Future Forum and the company has recently developed an agility readiness survey which has been assessing leading businesses. She says one of the things that has emerged from their research is that people need to understand the boundaries of what is doable and what isn’t with flexible working. “If companies have no rules they will end up with no cover on occasions. It has to be a give and take situation with flexible working,” says Ingrid. One of the organisations she is working with asks its employees to demonstrate the business case for any flexible arrangements they are asking for. “It makes them think about it from the organisation’s perspective,” says Ingrid.

She adds that it is important any targets around flexible working are realistic so that they can have real impact. She says developments such as shared parental leave and employees having more caring responsibilities as the population ages will boost the demand for flexible working. “The 9 to 5 mentality will erode eventually, but it will take longer in some sectors,” she adds. To promote culture change, she says, senior leaders need to role model flexible working and communicate positive messages about it.

Flexible working ties in with another issues Ingrid has done a lot of work on: female career progression.

She recently led the “Cracking the Code” gender diversity research on the health of the female pipeline in UK organisations in conjunction with boardroom diversity campaigners The 30% Club and business psychology firm YSC. She says that many organisations have initiatives in place on female career progression, but they don’t really measure their success. “The women I have spoken to never cite them,” says Ingrid. “Potentially in such cases the company is just paying lip service to the idea of female career progression. It is important to get the senior leadership to understand the business drivers of diversity and flexible working and if that requires companies putting clear targets in place and being able to measure success.”

Agile working will be a key focus for People Powered Performance in the next year and KPMG expects more organisations to join and use its assessment tools. Another focus will be inclusive leadership and how this filters down from senior management to general workforce culture. “People issues used to be seen as soft and fluffy HR things, but that is not the case. We promote evidence-based decisions and data analytics is empowering this agenda. We can now show evidence for the business case on people issues,” says Ingrid. “People at the top of organisations tend to like numbers so it is important for them to link business performance to people data and show targets are being delivered. There is real power in this approach.”

She cites a retail bank KPMG has worked with on customer satisfaction. It showed that the best performing branches were where there were higher numbers of part-time staff, older, female staff. “They were thinking about boosting graduate recruitment, but realised they should perhaps make sure their profile matched what customers wanted and that perhaps older workers might have greater life skills that meant they dealt better with customers,” she says.


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