The fallout of COVID-19 has been significant for companies as HR teams scrambled to cope with the implications for their people and business models. As the dust has settled, life has needed to go on with the business-facing new challenges, whether that is an increase in demand or figuring out new ways to keep things running.
To do it, HR leaders are having to encourage their current workforces to adopt a different mindset, one centered on flexibility and what’s best for the business as well as themselves. COVID has created a great deal of uncertainty, but problems can be mitigated through encouraging an open mind and creating meaningful discourse around career mapping and reskilling.
Reskilling or upskilling is something you hear a lot about these days. The focus for the current workforce typically falls into one of a few areas:  
  • Preparing people for the challenges of tomorrow
  • Making people more flexible to deal with the current situation
  • Helping employees create new paths forward
Doing something that creates any one of these things, as a result, is a win-win for both people and the organization, but executing it is easier said than done. Rhonda Hall, VP of HR and Organizational Development for University Federal Credit Union reminds us, it’s important to keep in mind that effective reskilling and career mapping is a journey, not an exercise.
“When HR folks are talking about reskilling employees, the main focus should be two-fold: what serves the employee best and what serves the business best,” Hall said. “It is the careful balance of these two things that will ultimately result in success for all. Skewed too heavily toward the business, and you end up with a disgruntled employee. Skewed too much toward the employee, and you end up with roles and people in roles that the business can’t support long term. When walking the reskilling balance beam, be upfront that reskilling isn’t a “one and done” experience. It should be gradual, with levels in mind, and iterative.”

The Keys to Career Mapping

Patience is indeed a necessity in effective career mapping. The fact is, employees are dealing with a lot right now, from the uncertainty around the economy to the ongoing stress around health hazards and social issues. To keep them engaged in thinking about their future within the organization, career mapping and reskilling conversation have to be personal and transparent.
“Each reskilling event for each organization, for each position, is customized and could be any or all three of these (the bullets listed above), at any time,” Hall said. “If people think of this as a linear path, they will be frustrated. If the thought of in a cyclical manner through, satisfaction is possible. For me, transparency is the key. An organization has to be willing to be transparent, to tell it like it is, help people understand what that means for them, and then together, through two-way dialogue design a path that works for that role and that employee, and they may be different for different roles and people.”
HR professionals can likely guess the impact of not doing this. It’s likely that without some engagement and improvement to the employee experience in how they’re growth and path forward is discussed, HR teams, are going to have to spend a lot of time on recruitment and talent acquisition when things to return to something resembling normal.
“COVID has rocked our worlds,” Hall said. “Employees are being asked and given opportunities to flex their mental skills like never before. Shame on the company that doesn’t take the time to learn how that experience was for each employee.”

The Conversation

Hall suggests that companies should be looking forward to the individual dialogues that career mapping creates. The questions they should look for answers to include things like:
  • What did you like and not like about shifting to support another area?
  • Did you feel prepared to be successful at the beginning?
  • How did you learn the new role, processes, and systems?
  • What about 30 days and 90 days into it, did you find that you did enjoy certain parts of the work? Which parts?
  • What fears did you have coming into that new/expanded role? What about now, what fears do you have now that you’ve been there for 4 months?
  • What else interests you? Where else would you like to learn more?
An organization that takes the time to learn what that experience was like for their employee, how they handled the change, and where they see themselves now and in the future is an organization that will increase their employee engagement and in the end have more satisfied employees. But Hall warns this process is not entirely down to HR.
“The caution I have is that this isn’t HR’s role, this is Leadership’s role,” Hall said. “Leadership should be skilled and trained by HR to be ready to have these conversations and to be able to create a report out of what they learned to be consumed across the leadership team with HR at the table. It is in this manner that we as leaders grow to better understand our employees’ passion, strengths, and opportunities.”
Career mapping conversations aren’t always comfortable, requiring a patient and an empathetic approach that puts the employee at the center to help them see the possibilities.
“Enter into the conversation with a desire to understand what the experience has been like for that employee,” Hall said. “It’s the basic ‘seek first to understand’ approach that will make this conversation most effective. Approach with admiration, empathy, and be inquisitive. Don’t judge their experience or their reaction to their experience, but hear it, honor it, and learn from it. If you listen deeply, beyond what is said, but also to what’s not said, you as an HR person will learn so much more and will be best poised to help that employee through this and future transitions.”

Building Business Resilience

For some businesses, coping with COVID-19 has meant re-evaluating their operational models. Supply chains have been disrupted and the budget to dip into the talent pool for a solution eroded. Even for those who have seen business boom or had little impact on what they do, it’s made clear the risk of not examining operational effectiveness and preparing for the unforeseeable.
A report from McKinsey & Company has taken a closer look at the talent landscape following the impact of COVID-19 and relays a message of needing to reskill and upskill the workforce to deliver on post-pandemic business models.
For all the talk of automation, AI, and remote work disrupting the workforce coming into 2020, it’s been a human factor (Coronavirus) that actually did change the way we do things and in the end, it’s the human factors that are going deliver results in the future. Companies need to invest time in developing talent strategies that develop the digital capabilities of their people, along with their cognitive and soft skills to create a workforce that is adaptable and capable of rising to future challenges.
“Developing a digitally ready workforce requires assessing your company’s current talent in terms of both hard and soft skills. You also need to understand their passion for learning and curiosity,” writes Yoland Lau for Forbes. “Support continuous, ongoing learning within your team, and help individuals develop the best personal learning pathway. Developing digitally ready talent isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey.”
As of right now, there is something of a talent supply and demand imbalance. Gig economy workers, for example, may need to find work in related industries but under different conditions. Think of an Uber driver turning to something like Shipt or Amazon for example. More and more consumers are turning to e-commerce, meaning there may not be as much need in sectors such as retail or even hospitality and already we’ve seen stories of hospitality workers turning to things such as senior care as a new avenue of opportunity. That adjustment, however, takes a significant amount of reskilling and training for them to be effective.
It’s possible that some jobs which were offshored in recent decades may be brought closer to the point of sale in an effort to increase the effectiveness of supply chains. The automotive and manufacturing industries have already been on an automation journey for some time, but developing a digitally capable workforce closer to home is needed in order to make that new business model work.

The Learning Investment

Businesses have been ramping up their investment in developing a learning ecosystem, an environment where a variety of learning tools help drive employee development. At this stage, budgets dedicated to learning should not only be protected but further increased to sufficiently meet the needs associated with the development of new business models.
As organizations identify the skills their new models rely on, they then have to tailor learning journeys that will help their people tackle the challenges the organization faces. Those critical skill gaps may not be easy to bridge, so, as the McKinsey report emphasized, be prepared to test different strategies and develop iterations.
Amazon, for example, recently partnered with Merit America, a non-profit dedicated to helping middle-skill workers chart a path toward skilled technology careers. It’s part of its Career Choice initiative which aims to help prepare hourly employees for career opportunities in tech fields. Amazon employees can now take advantage of Merit America's training programs, which pair job-focused online learning with career coaching and mentorship. 
"The mass displacement of workers that has resulted from the pandemic represents an unprecedented opportunity -- and responsibility -- to reimagine training and hiring, and ensure that the most vulnerable Americans don't get left behind," said Rebecca Taber, Founder, and co-CEO of Merit America. "This program reflects Amazon's commitment to investing in its people -- in ways that can not only close critical near-term skill gaps but also create opportunities for their employees in the long term."
Andjaro was founded by Alexandre Ramin, Benoit Ozan, Ivan de Pontevès, and Quentin Guilluy in 2015. Their motivation: to re-balance the management of employees spread across multiple sites. The idea is simple, yet powerful – big corporations can lend employees to other sites of the same group instead of making temporary or fixed-term staff hiring, thus saving costs and improving HR efficiency for organizations. 
So far, their platform has clients like Accor Hotels, Groupe Flo, and Sodexo, among others, and it has already powered more than 50,000 staff movements within client corporations, with seven-digit savings for them.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Quentin Guilluy, one of Andjaro’s founders, and asked him about his company, his tips for other founders, Paris’s startup ecosystem, and his vision for the HR market.
Andjaro was founded in 2015. How have your objectives and goals changed since the company has grown?
We founded Andjaro with my 3 co-founders to have a positive impact on the job market. We first wanted to uberize temp agencies, thinking technology would bring a new paradigm. I think we were mistaken in our approach, not our goal: Andjaro brings flexibility to large organizations while securing permanent jobs. We are very proud of it.
What first got you into entrepreneurship?
Opportunity! The opportunity to create a solution to the problems of tomorrow’s economy was my entrepreneurial impulse.
Is Andjaro the first company you founded?
Andjaro is the first company that I founded. We matured it for several months before launching the company in August 2015.
What do you think will be the next major shift in human resources in the next 5 years?
It is clear that the next breakthrough is towards blue-collar jobs. I am not saying this because Andjaro’s main target is companies employing blue-collar workers. I am saying this because, for 20 years, HR tech has concentrated its effort towards white-collar jobs. It is interesting to note that white-collar jobs only represent 20% of the working population. Entrepreneurs have seen this gap and now want to have an on the largest possible crowd.
Would you give any advice to first-time founders? What about any advice for yourself 10 years ago, knowing what you know today?
Today, France is a leading player in European entrepreneurship and the ecosystem is rich, strong, unified, and surprisingly friendly. If I were to give some advice to my peers, it would be to ask more experienced entrepreneurs to discuss the problems they encountered over coffee.
For me, moments like this of knowledge exchange have been decisive. For example, my meeting with Cyril Marschal, founder and CEO of LuckyCart, over a drink on the terrace when I was a young employee, allowed me to go from an idea to a specific project, giving life to Andjaro.
Experienced entrepreneurs have experience of both the glory of starting up, as well as the hard times, which gives them an understanding of a startup’s situation at any given time. Their thought processes, their experiences, and their understanding of the ecosystem are therefore precious assets to ask about and move forward. They will not be afraid to expose the weaknesses, interrogations, and truths that are the most difficult to hear, because they themselves have gone through this process. It is vital to listen to their advice, as it could lead your startup from failure to success.
Who are your business idols and who inspires you most? 
George Mallory is perhaps one of the people I admire most and identify with.
George Mallory was the first man to attempt to reach the summit of Everest. His story is fantastic. It is certainly the greatest mystery in the history of mountaineering. He was last seen some 100 meters from the summit of Everest. What happened next, nobody knows. Except, perhaps, a Kodak Vest Pocket camera, with which he was climbing, waiting desperately for someone to find it. 
No one knows if he reached the summit. I find this myth, this sense of effort, this taste of the grand prize absolutely admirable. His taste for the impossible is something I admire a lot.
Do you think that founding a startup is for everybody?
I recently found my high school teacher’s report card. Trust me I was not a special kid, did not go to a well-known school, and do not come from a wealthy family. As far as I am concerned, you do not need to be special to launch a startup. What you need is a very strong drive, not skills.
Which town, city, or region in Europe do you believe has yet to be discovered, has its own secret ‘entrepreneur’ sauce, or has a unique environment for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Dunkerque! More seriously, the North of France. It is a region that for many years has been committed to an ambitious policy of developing the initiative and entrepreneurship of its inhabitants through several actions. Furthermore, in 2012, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region was the first region to be labeled ‘European Entrepreneurial Region’!
Moreover, Lille is a really strong member of the French startup nation. The home of the French textile industry, Lille has developed its digital substance. The first incubator and accelerator for startups in the sector, EuraTechnologie is the perfect illustration of this sector migration; this center of excellence dedicated to information and communication technologies has invested in two former textile factories. Its strategic position in Europe, less than 80 minutes from Paris, Brussels, and London, allows it to take advantage of the dynamism of those three capitals. 
You are based in Paris. What is your opinion on the environment for creating a tech company there? 
Paris is an accelerator of opportunities. In fact, to accelerate these ‘opportunities’ over the last few years, more than a billion euros have been invested in supporting startups! To encourage the emergence and development of future “unicorns”, Paris offers a wide range of assistance, from financial aid fpr innovative project leaders, to accommodation and support.
Paris’ ecosystem is strong and well connected. I love being an entrepreneur here even though I think France should decentralize its ecosystem a little more.
How did you finance Andjaro up to this point? Do you plan to achieve additional funding in the future? 
After raising €5 million in 2018 from Balderton Capital and, we just raised €13.4 million in Series B a few weeks ago. This was a new round of founding launched before the current health crisis, led by Idinvest Partners via the MH’Innov fund, joined by the investment company Sofiouest, We Positive Invest, the Arkéa group’s societal innovation fund, as well as funds managed by Alliance Entreprendre and SWEN Capital Partners. This new round of financing will enable us to pursue our business development strategy by targeting new sectors and developing our technology and services in Europe.
What are your plans for international expansion? Which markets are most important for Andjaro and why?
We will look at how the situation will develop in the coming weeks and months. Indeed, plans have changed a bit, as it might be more difficult to cross the borders physically.
Before this health crisis, we had planned to open offices abroad with a more intense pace of deployment. That has fundamentally changed. Today, it is a collaboration with our clients that we will set up first, by accompanying them in markets with similar employment constraints, i.e. in Western Europe such as Belgium, Spain, Italy, and Germany, which are becoming our priorities.
And finally, what is your long term vision for Andjaro?
We want to impact the job market. We will be happy when the percentage of permanent contracts has increased everywhere that we are implemented.
In his more than 40 years in the HR industry, Skip Spriggs has seen tremendous progress on myriad HR-related challenges. However, one segment has remained stagnant: diversity and inclusion.
“D&I is the only business issue I’ve seen where we’ve made little to no progress,” says Spriggs, whose leadership positions have included president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council, CHRO at TIAA and Boston Scientific, and chief diversity officer and senior vice president of HR at Cigna Corp.
Skip Spriggs
Spriggs attributes the inertia to two factors: First, most companies don’t set goals around D&I.
“If we have an issue around a shortfall in sales,” he says, for instance, “we do the diagnostics, put goals in place, hold the management team accountable and, if they don’t meet the goals, they don’t get their bonus.”
But very few organizations are inclined to follow a similar strategy for boosting D&I; those that have found success, he notes, have relied on goal-setting.
The other complication is the lack of disaggregated data—a trend that has resulted in too many companies painting a false picture of D&I progress. For instance, Spriggs points to the #MeToo movement. As part of their response, many companies aimed to hire and promote more women, which, in turn, allowed them to claim rising D&I numbers.
“But then you have the black population listening to the executive team saying they’re doing so much better on D&I, but the numbers are moving higher because of the hiring of white women,” he says. “Brown and black people aren’t moving at all, and we know it.”
That disparity can create an unproductive environment, he adds, which—when coupled with the systemic racism that is pervasive in corporate America—continues to stymie career development for employees of color. For evidence of that, he notes, look no further than the Fortune 500—where only four companies are headed by Black CEOs. And, you have to expand to the Fortune 1000 to find the singular Black woman holding a CEO role.
Spriggs shares that the CEO of one of the nation’s largest retailers once mentioned he was looking for a diverse candidate for an open seat on the company’s board. When Spriggs asked for his ideal find, the leader replied that he preferred a seated CEO—which inherently limited the pool of picks.
“ ‘If you’re looking for a black CEO of a Fortune 500, you have four to choose from—and they’re all oversubscribed,’ ” Spriggs recalls telling the CEO. “So I said, ‘Forget about the title of the person you’re looking for. Let’s talk about the skills and competencies: Do you want someone with international experience? Someone in a certain segment like sciences or retail? Someone with experience running P/L or marketing?’ When you look just for the title, systemically, you eliminate a large portion of the population.”
To root out systemic racism, Spriggs says, companies need to not only start setting goals and measuring progress for D&I but must also be transparent with their employees—both about progress and pitfalls—to support an authentic commitment to creating a diverse workforce. Transparency is especially important now, as employees pay closer attention than ever, given the widespread racial-justice protests in the past few weeks.
While such unrest isn’t necessarily new, the number of non-Black allies supporting the cause is Spriggs notes, which in part has been fueled by how social media and other outlets have exposed the realities of racism.
“My generation has tolerated less than my parents’ generation, and my kids aren’t going to tolerate it at all. When I talk to my 20-something kids and their white friends, they talk about where they’re going to protest on the weekends,” he says. “And it’s because of what they’ve seen on these devices in their hands; the cell phone has made it impossible to hide injustice.”
Employees are bringing that recognition to the workplace. So, if a company purports to care about diversity, Spriggs notes, but its senior leadership team is all-white, employees are going to take issue.
“I think the best business leaders are transparent about what they do good and transparent about what they don’t do so good,” he says, “but whether you’re transparent or not, employees will see through it.”