HR Best Practices: Getting Budget for your Key Initiatives

It’s that time of year again! The calendar year is almost over, and 2021 planning is on your mind. You’re interested in rolling out an HR program or technology that will help move your organization forward. The next step is to procure funding for your new program. But what’s the best way to approach your finance leader and make the ask? What kind of information is most important to these stakeholders? Our Q&A with Reflektive’s CFO Travis Wentling and Senior Finance Manager Jason Lau – both with experience at Reflektive and past companies such as SiteCore, NetApp, and Mixpanel – includes tips that help you make a compelling business case.

What is top-of-mind for you when considering requests for funding?

There are 4 questions I ask myself when a colleague submits a budget request:
– Is this project aligned with our company’s strategic objectives?
– Is the project cost-neutral, or does it create cost savings?
– Is there a one-time cost or a recurring cost we need to account for in future quarters?
– How long will it take before we see the positive impact of this investment?

What types of HR projects are you most likely to support?

In my experience, finance & HR teams work very closely together and a strong partnership is critical. I actually think about “HR projects” as people initiatives that aim to retain and engage our people. I meet weekly with our CHRO, so decision-making is a partnership rather than a standalone ask that I’m not aware of in advance. I highly recommend the heads of HR and finance to meet regularly.

In my view, there are three core areas of HR and all typically require investment.
– Building a strong HR foundation (HRIS, benefits, compliance, etc).
– Recruiting (ATS)
– Developing and growing our employees (L&D, Performance Management, Recognition, etc)

I’m most likely to approve budget requests for programs and projects that fall into these categories.

How do you decide to fund HR initiatives?

I try to understand what problem the initiative is aiming to solve. Two problems that are top of mind for me are:
– Automating and scaling a manual process today (i.e. time and money HR spends on manual tasks that can be streamlined and improved)
– Attrition risk

For the “time and money” pain point, I can see a very compelling case if our Head of HR tells me that her team member is spending 33% of her time managing compensation analysis instead of something more important like coaching and developing our managers across the company. In my opinion, that’s not a good use of company resources. I’ll calculate what 33% of her salary is and if the HR leader can tell me that there’s a solution that costs less than this amount, and enables her team to focus on strategic projects, I’m pretty likely to say yes!

Attrition risk is also really important to us. This is because employee churn is so costly. Per Gallup, the conservative estimate for replacing an employee is one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. Tools and programs that allow us to understand attrition risk – and hopefully prevent it! – are really valuable for us.

Oftentimes, HR teams don’t have extra budget to invest in new programs. What are some ideas on how I can get funding?

Labor costs – including employee salary and benefits – are one of the biggest line items for companies. They can account for as much as 70% of total business costs. When roles are not backfilled right away, this delay creates a budget surplus you may be able to tap into. Though headcount is a fixed cost, some finance business partners are willing to reclassify budget to variable costs to fund your HR initiative.

It’s also important to highlight future cost savings by investing in a solution today. Although there may not be any budget available now, it still might make sense to invest dollars upfront to avoid the need for future headcount.

Finally, budgets can also be combined across functions. HR leaders should partner closely with the heads of other functions to help them understand the value of the initiative and see if there is a way to jointly fund the initiative across two or more functions.

How should HR professionals request funding from finance leaders?

There are several ways to put your best foot forward in asking for funding:

Build a strong business case: Finance people are skeptical! Don’t oversell your program. Come in with a crisp, clean story on why you need something and what it will accomplish. Linking your ask to a strategic corporate initiative will also increase your chances for success.
Share data: Any information is really valuable to us. For instance, share metrics on attrition at our company versus the industry average. Or if your desired software tool has helped companies save 100 hours of HR time, we would love to know that too.
Do your homework in advance: Share with your finance colleague that you’ve looked into multiple vendors. Let them know the solution you’ve selected, and why you’re recommending it.
Keep in mind your company’s budgeting cycles and timelines: Ensure you have ample time to share your proposal with your finance partners in advance of their budgeting process.
Share your rollout plan: Let us know when employees will start using your program or tool, and any key activities that need to be completed. This helps bring your program to life, and indicates that you’re taking a thoughtful approach to your program.
Try to offset the costs: This may be easier at larger companies. But if you can say, “We’re saving $X on this, so I’d like to direct that budget to my proposed initiative instead,” it becomes a lot easier to fund the investment.
Help us get comfortable with your proposed program: Share any helpful tidbits about the initiative or software that you’re recommending. For instance, if you’ve used the tool before, or have former colleagues who work at the company, I’ll be more comfortable spending money on the technology.
Partner with IT for new software investments: Your IT team will explore what is required to deploy the technology, and flag if there are cost, security or other concerns. They will also explore viable alternatives already available to you. For example, we have two project management tools at our company: one used by product and engineering, and another used by our front-line business teams. While we did push back on having two similar tools, we ultimately decided that supporting different use cases was worth the investment. It would be challenging for someone to request a third project management tool, though!

We have a template to help folks make a compelling case for their project.

Final question: When is the best time to ask you for funding?

Earlier is always better! It can take time to get the buy-in and approvals needed for any large project.

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The Importance Of Adaptability

Organizations that move faster are more successful. Decades of research have served to reinforce this point. This is even more important during a recession, where companies that aggressively invest outperform their competitors. As the effects of a recession are compounded with a pandemic, the importance of speed is enhanced. Conditions are changing on a weekly basis, making it extremely difficult to craft long term strategies. As strategies are developed, companies need to effectively adopt them as new information comes in, which is even harder when a workforce has a significant remote component. Perhaps not surprisingly then, people who feel that they are working from home most effectively during the pandemic are those who are most adaptable.

Organizational and individual adaptability shows up in behavioral data. At the communication network level, we can observe changing structures and patterns – are people connecting more with coworkers with who they haven’t communicated before? How much does communication shift from intra-team to external communication on a weekly basis? Individual data also can show significant changes – do work days always start and end at the same time? Does the response time to messages change significantly?

In our analysis of work data from dozens of global organizations, we’re able to break this notion of adaptability into its behavioral components: flexibility and organizational flatness.
At its basic level, the flexibility metric captures to what degree people on each team have similar behaviors and networks. In general, it’s better for these behaviors to be differentiated because if a particular way of doing things fails the team will likely already have models that will still work. Team members can communicate this, change their behaviors, and then continue to experiment under this new model.

This doesn’t just require different behaviors. The team’s culture also has to embrace different ways of working and sharing these paradigms internally to improve. If a team is consistently able to demonstrate that diversity, diffusion, and continued adaptation, they will be very successful in a wide variety of circumstances.
Organizational Flatness
Overly formal and hierarchical cultures are universally slower except in life or death situations (think military). In the vast majority of organizational contexts, the stratification of communication slows execution and information flow. This can be measured from communication data in a fairly straightforward fashion.

Many organizations increase flatness by connecting front line employees with leadership, and this is supported in many of our case studies as well as research. As an example, one of the world’s leading multinational technology firms was facing broad cultural challenges as a result of overwork and an overly hierarchical culture. The company was also in the midst of a new office buildout and therefore considering a restructure of the organization to improve culture, drive efficient communication, and build trust with employees. To help inform their re-org strategy, the company leveraged Humanyze to identify organizational behaviors related to meeting culture and cross-level collaboration, as well as understand the impacts of physical location and proximity.

The analysis revealed that the primary culprits behind the long working days were long meetings and physical separation of key teams, while minimal collaboration between different age groups and tenures was hindering them from being a flatter organization. As a result of these findings, the company reduced the number of meetings and implemented maximum meeting lengths to leave more time for teams to get their work done and interact informally with other groups in the organization. They also plan to restructure and relocate key groups in the new office to promote a better, more adaptable culture with efficient communication. You can read more about it here.

In another example, a leading pharmaceutical company wanted to better understand the role of managers within the organization, as well as the impacts of different managerial behaviors. The company partnered with Humanyze to analyze collaboration patterns over a 3-month period, and measure them against team performance KPI’s and employee responses from a recent manager survey. Overall, the communication patterns pointed to a hierarchical structure where managers and leadership served as the primary “connectors” between teams and departments, which also resulted in much longer working days for these leaders compared to the rest of the organization. The findings also revealed that top-rated managers (based on survey results) of high-performing teams structured their workdays in blocks of time dedicated to different tasks and balanced their time spent with leadership, direct reports, and colleagues outside of their team(s) evenly. By allocating specific blocks of time to things like meetings or emails, the most effective managers freed up longer stretches of the day for focus work and “informal”, spontaneous interactions. Further highlighting the importance of managerial behaviors, analysis also revealed that teams tended to mirror the working styles of their managers. Those with managers who exhibited these types of behaviors were also better at structuring their day and more connected to the broader organization. These insights provided the company with a blueprint for optimizing manager workstyles and a data-based strategy for driving a flatter, more efficient organization at all levels.

As these case studies demonstrate, however, to reduce hierarchicalism buy in and action from the top is essential. While flexibility can be promoted in a bottom-up fashion, that’s nearly impossible for flatness.
Why Now?
Increasing adaptability may always seem to be important, but in the current environment, it’s absolutely essential. Investments in adaptability yield benefits in the medium and long term, and companies that don’t build an adaptable culture will find it extremely difficult to catch up.

In one recent example, a major US bank pulled their entire IT organization off other work for 3 weeks to overhaul their systems to support different working patterns. In their case, that meant going from being 100% in the office to supporting work from home while maintaining high levels of security. Now in different regions they’re able to pivot between the office and work from home effortlessly, with no disruption to the business.

It’s important to note, however, that they lost 3 weeks of productivity because they hadn’t invested in this beforehand. Put a different way, their yearly performance is likely 6% lower because they weren’t already adaptable. If they already had diverse collaboration patterns in place, IT wouldn’t have had to scramble. The question moving forward is whether or not they can maintain it, and it’s here where constantly keeping an eye on flexibility and organizational flatness metrics is essential.

Overall, everyone has had to adapt more than normal during the pandemic. If we embrace the uncertain, embrace reacting to changing conditions, we can make it sustainable for the long term. This requires organizations to support and embrace that behavioral diversity, and sustained effort and measurement to understand which parts of the organization need more help or resources to continue. Only through that adaptation can we grow beyond the pandemic and move forward into a more dynamic work environment.

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Time, Place, People: Designing The Digital Workplace

A look at the three basic design values of any digital workplace tool, according to the creators of Google Workspace.

Working remotely Google Workspace
The more intuitive and flexible the technology, the better it is for adapting to a new environment.

With the growing importance of digital workplaces, enterprises and institutions everywhere are making decisions about communications tools that will affect their organizations for years.

COVID-19 hasn’t just changed the rate and scale at which we’re going digital. It’s changing how we create and share information, and how we relate to other individuals and teams. These are lasting changes—our digital, virtual contexts are almost certain to remain in some form even after “work from home” evolves into “return to office.” Compounding the issue, no one can fully say what those changes will be, any more than they can say when the global pandemic will end.

That is why examining the basic design values of any digital workplace tool is so important. Choices about which email, chat, video, and online collaboration service to use are both highly personal and affect how an organization works, possibly for decades. The more intuitive and flexible the technology, the better it is for adapting to a new environment.

People rightly start by looking at the tools themselves. Do they exist in ways that are appropriate to online life? Or are they older tools from a world of files, versions, and vendor lock-in that have been repurposed for online work? Digging deeper, what were the experiences and values that informed the original engineering choices of these digital tools’ creators? What did they learn in their own foundational periods, when their fateful choices informed how their collaboration tools worked?

Those questions of engineering choices are harder for most people to come by. To address them, I recently spoke with some creators of what has become Google Workspace (previously known as G Suite). Flexibility, customer choice, and ease of use were, of course, all elements of their work. In every case, though, there was an even more profound learning about good digital design: The most basic things in life—time, place, and other people—are the most important. If you respect these basics, great things happen.

Below, we take a look at the three principles the creators of Google Workspace say are the basic design values of any digital workplace tool.

1. Make it easy to collaborate—don’t just add features
Google Docs began life more than 15 years ago, with a mission to develop a document creation, collaboration, and sharing tool for the growing online world. It was an underdog against what were then the standard software applications for word processing (as it was called).

“The thesis was that convenience and collaboration would win out over a ton of features continually added to an old system,” said Sam Schillace, one of the early founders and leaders of the project. “JavaScript in the browser let us make it incredibly simple to share and work together anywhere. ‘Convenience and simplicity’ turned out to be a good basic thesis.”

One great insight from early customers is how important that convenience is. As Schillace noted, “People are busy. They don’t have time to get in the weeds with a tool that’s supposed to help them be more productive and efficient. To that end, we made Google Docs really simple to work together, and really reliable (which is also something to not have to think about). And that change was enough to move folks to the new model.”

2. Ensure presentations are accessible from anywhere
Presentations are clearly one of the social aspects of work, but not in ways that are immediately obvious. Besides being a part of meetings, they frequently require multiple authors and sources of input, and lots of tinkering in their creation. Chris Nokleberg, one of the first people involved in the development of Google Slides, says that’s why being able to stay connected from any device was so important.

“Almost from the start, we learned from users that accessibility from anywhere was our most compelling feature,” he said. “Slides are very information-dense things, with lots of images, charts, and diagrams—getting all of that to run in a browser was magical. We really started to see the potential when we saw that a dozen people could look at something in common from whatever device they were using.”

3. Let human experience guide product development
It’s well known that Google’s global scale, and our ambition to organize an unprecedented amount of information, compelled us to invent a number of technologies that have become fundamental to cloud computing and the modern internet. Less well known is that from early in our history we were avid users of video conferencing. That provided unexpected insights and benefits, which continue to affect the way we develop Google Meet, our video conferencing service in Google Workspace.

“There’s something special about making sure you’re keeping humanity in a digital world.”

Daryll Henrich, VP of Engineering, Google
Daryll Henrich started at Google in 2005 and was later responsible for building out Google’s video conference fleet, using third-party equipment. “Even then, most meetings were video meetings,” he recalled. “The cost was out of control.” That led to developing an internal solution that was far cheaper, easier to use, and accessible to all.

The real breakthrough for Google, he said, “was realizing that the product wasn’t about the hardware, it was the experience. You’d be in a meeting and, except for a little three-digit code in the corner of their video that said where the room was, there was no way to tell—and no need to tell—where anyone was. We were all just Googlers, working together.”

“I’m convinced that [breakthrough] allowed us to be humans with each other in a deeper way, in an otherwise very data-driven org,” Henrich continued. “It’s how we quickly became a diverse global organization. There’s something special about making sure you’re keeping humanity in a digital world.”

Needless to say, much has changed since our engineers first started building Google Workspace, but these foundational insights have been no less important. When Meet announced noise cancellation, for example, it was in the service of helping people connect more authentically. A new comment interface in Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides builds on the sense of dynamism and collaboration in team-led creation. A new status indicator for online and offline work ensures people can participate the way they need, from wherever they are.

Time. Place. People. If you give these essentials maximum freedom, great things can happen. In choosing technology for the future, it’s important to first consider the foundational thinking behind the product.

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The value of resilient leadership Renewing our investment in trust

OUR challenge as leaders won’t end with a COVID-19 vaccine. Underlying societal issues that have long been simmering below the surface are raising questions and imperatives that will last long after a COVID-19 inoculation is developed. The implicit social contract between institutions and stakeholders is rightfully being questioned. Individuals are frustrated; many don’t believe they are being heard by their leaders in government or by corporate institutions—or being treated fairly and equally.

As recent research indicates, these trends were already latent, and just accelerated by COVID-19. For example, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 77% of US respondents (as of February) strongly or partially agree that large companies have been guilty of making a quick profit;2 the May 2020 update indicates that just 38% of global respondents believe that business is “doing well or very well” at putting people before profits.3 Further, millennials’ belief that business is “a force for good” continues to decline: Just 51% of millennials say business is a force for good, a steep drop from 76% three years ago. Amid the pandemic, only 41% of millennials feel that business is making a positive societal impact globally.4 Trust has fractured across government, business, and other pillars of society; the social contract has frayed—and continues to deteriorate further.

The challenges we are facing today are occurring against a backdrop of mistrust. When people trust each other, however, they work together more effectively and handle conflicts more maturely. In business, leaders are better able to create loyalty and confidence among stakeholders—their employees, customers, and ecosystem partners—and solve problems more quickly. In society, trust is the social glue that creates a sense of community cohesion. Therefore, rebuilding the world’s economy, our health and safety, our climate, and human relationships requires a renewed commitment to trust.

Trust is not a static, unchanging force that flows toward leaders from their stakeholders. Both trusting and being trustworthy require us to make conscious, daily choices to invest in relationships that result in mutual value. Trust is a tangible exchange of value, and it is actionable and human across many dimensions.5 Let’s examine how we can invest in, rebuild, and renew trust.

Defining trust
Trust is defined as “our willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of others because we believe they have good intentions and will behave well toward us.”6 We are willing to put our trust in others because we have faith that they have our best interests at heart, will not abuse us, and will safeguard our interests—and that doing so will result in a better outcome for all .

Leaders can build and maintain trust by acting with competence and intent.7 Competence refers to the ability to execute, to follow through on what you say you will do. Intent refers to the meaning behind a business leader’s actions: taking decisive action from a place of genuine empathy and true care for the wants and needs of stakeholders.

Understanding the nature of trust
Trust as an exchange of value: Why trust matters to resilient leaders
“Trust is … one of the most essential forms of capital a leader has.”
—Francis Frei

While trust is considered by some to be an ethereal concept, it is, in fact, quite tangible. Therefore, we as leaders need to have a concrete way to talk about and act on trust for all our stakeholders: customers, workers, suppliers, regulators, investors, pension holders, society, and the communities we serve.8 In this regard, we can think of trust as an exchange of value, as a currency. Consider a 20 euro note: In isolation, it is just a piece of paper, but in an exchange, it represents everything from a plate of fish and chips to a birthday gift. Likewise, trust “banked” by itself has no intrinsic value, but when invested wisely by us as leaders in relationships with stakeholders, it enables activity and responses that help us mutually rebuild our organizations and society. At the same time, however, that currency must be nurtured through ongoing transparency and evidence of trustworthy behaviors, not simply saved to spend on excusing bad conduct.

As an asset, trust appreciates when it is invested well (and when it is continuously invested in). For example, in the United States, National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball teams that trusted their coaches were found to win 7% more games than those that did not.9 In essence, when coaches invested in building trust, players invested by playing better, resulting in a better outcome for all. In business, public companies rated the most trustworthy have been found to outperform the S&P 500.10 Further, high-trust companies “are more than 2.5 times more likely to be high-performing revenue organizations” than low-trust companies.11

The reverse is also true, however. Although the currency of trust is painstaking to accumulate, it can depreciate all too easily. As leaders, we know that failure to invest in trust, and to respond adequately or authentically to ongoing external crises (such as COVID-19), broader societal issues such as climate change or racial injustice, or any other organization-driven breach in trust, can lead to significant risk to the organization’s brand, its reputation, the well-being of its stakeholders, and its overall mission. Ultimately, stakeholders—whether customers, workers, individual investors, pension holders, communities, or ecosystem relationships—will be more likely to defect to a competitor when the opportunity becomes available if they don’t trust the organization. 12 Eighty-five percent of customers chose brands they highly trust when given the choice of other brands, compared with only 60% who selected brands that lacked their trust, while employees who highly trusted their employers were far more motivated to work.13 In fact, loss of reputation—i.e., the trust individuals have in the quality of one’s character, reinforced over time—is viewed as having the greatest risk-related impact on business strategy.14 Put simply, loss of trust can affect more than the simple measure of revenue; it can affect the intrinsic value of the organization.

Exchanges in trust and vulnerability go both ways
We sometimes treat trust as a one-way, top-down street: “If they trust us, they will follow us and believe in our mission.” But this approach presumes that trust is unidirectional, transactional, only based on what leadership does, and that “following” is tantamount to genuine commitment. It also suggests that leaders know better than their stakeholders—and that they need never make themselves vulnerable in the interchange.

Trust, however, is best fortified when there is a “balance of payments” between the two key elements in the definition of trust: vulnerability and response. We expect vulnerability from our stakeholders, and we respond to their needs, but we must be vulnerable in return as they react to our actions. Focusing only on our own commitment to being trustworthy overlooks the vulnerability we must manifest in the exchange. When trust flows in both directions, the stakeholder becomes a vested participant in the success of the organization, not merely a follower. Take, for example, trust among partners and a commitment to each other’s mutual success, as demonstrated by the vendors who are implementing new financing services to assist cash-strapped supply chain partners in the current COVID-19 environment.15 However, not all stakeholders feel they are trusted: Roughly 40% of millennials and Gen Z workers don’t agree that their employer trusts them to be productive in a remote environment.16

Trust encourages a mutual journey
Today’s economic realities are bringing the power of mutual trust to the fore: In some industries, massive layoffs are occurring, or more contract workers are being leveraged; in other industries, automation is on the rise. Those who remain with the organization need to trust that their leaders are committed to both the performance of the company and the career of the professional. This trust also affects longer-term focus areas for the organization, such as innovation: As companies adopt advanced technologies, workers are less likely to commit their minds, energy, and hearts to exploring the possibilities of these new technologies if they are unsure of the impact (such as automation) on their place in the organization. The same holds true for other stakeholders, both direct and indirect, who may be more likely to believe in the organization’s future plans when it’s an enterprise they know they can trust.

This ecosystem of stakeholders can amplify and extend the value of trust. As leaders, we have the opportunity, particularly during the current pandemic, to do more relationship-building as well as more collaborating across stakeholder groups. At the same time, however, many leaders are not yet harnessing the full power of trust across their whole system of stakeholders. We were surprised, for example, that in Deloitte’s most recent climate change survey, only 3% of business leaders said that collaborations among stakeholders (including government, activists, and nonprofits) rather than business leaders and/or other stakeholder groups working on their own will be most successful at making progress on the issue of environmental sustainability.17 For those who accept the premise that the whole stakeholder ecosystem can be engaged to address big challenges, those who can extend trust throughout their networks are perhaps best poised to make the biggest impact.

Driving real, valuable change
Many organizations will have to make major shifts in their business models in a post-COVID world, shifts that will require stakeholders to accompany us into unknown territory. Where do you need to invest further in a mutual journey of trust for stakeholders?

Trust is actionable: Building trust where it matters most
“The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.”
—Abraham Lincoln

Our spring 2020 article on trust in the age of COVID-19 identified the questions stakeholders will need to ask themselves about trust across four dimensions—physical, emotional, digital, and financial—to walk in their stakeholders’ shoes, understand their worries, and understand how best to address their individual needs.

And, indeed, in our current disrupted environment, different stakeholders have different concerns related to trust along these dimensions: the physical safety of the worker contemplating going back to the office, the emotional safety of a family venturing to a resort for vacation, or the financial safety of a supplier dealing with uncertain lead times. While some stakeholders may be less concerned about the pandemic, others such as those caring for older family or immune-suppressed children will have no choice but to be vigilant. With so many varied contexts, it is challenging for leaders to engender trust. Building relationships across different stakeholder groups requires leaders to understand the dimensions (and nuances) relevant to each of them as individuals, and to address their specific concerns.

These four dimensions can act as a starting point to understand where stakeholders expect us to invest our time, attention, and energy for their benefit and security. To be sure, each group, whether customers, workers, suppliers, investors, regulators, society at large, or others, will prioritize their needs along the four dimensions of trust differently. Further, the way they prioritize each dimension will evolve with time; the physical dimension, for example, may give way to the emotional and financial as workers adjust to returning to the office and turn their attention to the need for transparency and employment stability. The ability to adjust and respond with agility to stakeholders’ needs will thus be crucial.

Driving real, actionable change
Agility isn’t just about operating models. It also describes how we need to respond to continuously evolving stakeholder needs. How are you sensing and monitoring the shifting needs of stakeholders along the four dimensions in order to address those needs?

Trust is human: Strengthening trust through connection and experience
“He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.”
—Lao Tzu

When trust breaks down in an organization, it is often due to a failure on the part of leaders and organizations to understand and deliver on the signals that drive and enhance trust. We, as leaders, can demonstrate trustworthiness by being transparent with those whom we engage, reliable and capable in delivering on our promises, and human—demonstrating genuine care in the experiences they value most.18 As noted earlier, different stakeholders will prioritize different needs with respect to trust; the same is true for the experiences they desire from their interactions with us. As leaders, it is our task to ensure we create those touchpoints for our stakeholders and infuse those values throughout our organizations.

In May, Deloitte conducted a survey to understand what was important in signaling trust, and found that three-quarters of customers who highly trust a brand are likelier to take a leap of faith to try a new product or service from that brand; 79% of employees who highly trust their companies feel more motivated to work for them. In other words, trust drives experience—which drives behavior.19

Research led by neuroscientist Paul Zak indicates that trust and commitment “synergistically improve operational performance” as both trigger regions of the human brain to “motivate cooperation with others.”20 When the culture of the organization is suffused with trust, workers are more committed to driving success. Nicholas Epley and David Tannenbaum note how an organization’s culture can influence the behaviors of workers and how policies should “create contexts (within the organization) that promote ethical actions.”21 Leaders can take this one step further, assessing their impact in these areas by measuring, monitoring, and managing trust.22

Driving real, human change
Just as trust connects regions of an individual brain to drive cooperation, it also connects stakeholders across time and distance to do the same. Where do we need to intentionally create opportunities for more connections across stakeholders to enhance cooperation?

Trust is personal: A call for leaders
“Without trust, we cannot face the difficult challenges in our world today.”
—United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres

In the words of British writer George Eliot, “Those who trust us educate us.”23 Truly walking alongside our stakeholders—understanding their concerns and their priorities—involves a willingness to listen, to learn, and to hear. At the outset, we proposed that building trust requires us, as leaders, to make conscious daily choices, and especially to act on those choices …

… Through mutual trust. When we as leaders trust our stakeholders, we enter an exchange that engenders opportunity: We prove our trustworthiness, and stakeholders empower us to take our organizations to new places and new innovations. In essence, mutual trust creates a followership that allows us to break new ground, to traverse the seismic changes taking place and emerge, thriving, on the other side of crisis.

… With vulnerability and honesty. Business leaders who are willing to acknowledge what they don’t know are more likely to engender trust with their stakeholders than those leaders who mistakenly believe their greatest source of influence is knowledge—or at least acting as though they know.24 A similar paradox exists for organizations responding to a one-time breach of trust. Stakeholders are likely to regain—and even strengthen—trust in the organization when leaders admit the mistake, are apologetic, and are transparent in how they move forward.25

… Where it matters most to your stakeholders. Intent connects the leader to their humanity and the importance of acting with transparency. But at the end of the day, intent is just a promise; leaders must be able to act on that promise, and do so competently, reliably, and capably. And they must be able to do so in the areas—whether physical, emotional, digital, or financial—that matter most to their stakeholders at that given time.

… By connecting as humans. Leaders who aspire to be trusted by their stakeholders take responsible actions that consider and, where possible, acknowledge the needs of each of those stakeholders. This requires an understanding of what is important to different stakeholders, and an ability to walk alongside them rather than an attempt to “walk in their shoes.”

If our efforts as leaders lead us back to where we were before the events of 2020, then we have failed. Our goal is not a new future, but a better future. Trust is the foundation for that better future, because it enables stakeholders to believe in the organization and its mission, its competence to succeed, and its intent to do good. Asking ourselves difficult questions as leaders will enable us to plot a path forward, to organize and prioritize our next steps around trust, and to operationalize it within our organization and across our stakeholders. Even when difficult choices must be made, trusted leaders and organizations have amassed the currency—and the courage—to make and stand behind those decisions with conviction and integrity.

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Venus Williams’ Advice For Entrepreneurs: Don’t Let Fear Take Over—Just Push Through It

Tennis champion and Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams has some advice for the more than 30 million small business owners and entrepreneurs across the U.S. struggling to find their footing in the new normal: Don’t let fear take over. It’s a lesson she learned at the age of 19 while competing with sister Serena, then 17, at the 1999 U.S. Open. Williams only made it to the semi-finals—her sister went on to win the tournament.

“I let fear take over, and that’s where I should have just let go and would have been my best,” she says. “You want more, and you work very hard for more, so less than that is just not acceptable. That was my biggest loss.”

Speaking to Forbes ahead of the American Express “Business Class Live: Summit for Success” on October 20, Williams drew parallels between her experience playing tennis and running various businesses during the pandemic. “Even though it’s a very challenging time it’s an opportunity to really refine your business and make it something that is a service or a product that is really needed and not just wanted,” says Williams, the founder of full-service commercial and residential design firm V Starr and activewear brand EleVen by Venus Williams. “This year showed all of us that we need to be a product or service that you can’t say no to.”

All entrepreneurs can benefit from that guidance right now. As of August 31, more than 163,000 businesses have closed as a result of the pandemic, according to Yelp’s September Local Economic Impact report. This represents a 23% increase from July 10. Even more alarming: 60% of closed businesses have permanently shuttered due to Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions in many states. The Q3 Yelp Economic Average Report released on October 22, however, points to a hopeful rebound: More than 210,000 businesses have now reopened amid a significant increase in consumer interest for outdoor related services and activities.

For those businesses that have managed to stay afloat, the path forward will require the will to adapt in an ever-changing environment. In fact, about 76% of small and medium-sized businesses have had to pivot their business models to maintain revenue, according to the latest Business Resilience Survey of 1,000 business owners by American Express. Of those surveyed, 73% expect to pivot again in the next year. More than 80% still believe the benefits of owning their own businesses outweigh the challenges.

“It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process. There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over? Hell, no.”

Venus Williams, Tennis champion & Olympic gold medalist
When it comes to overcoming obstacles, small business owners can’t afford to doubt themselves. Williams learned this, and the importance of mental preparation, long ago. “It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process,” she says. “There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over?,” she says. “Hell, no.”

The hard-earned lessons from the court have translated to the boardroom as she’s set out to become a multi-venture entrepreneur. Inspired by her father, who ran his own security company, and her mother, who encouraged her creativity as a child, Williams found her second calling in fashion and interior design. In 2002, she founded V Starr, which recently collaborated with Airbnb partner Niido to design its first-ever apartment complex. In 2009, Williams and her sister became the first African American women to buy a stake in a NFL franchise when they joined the ownership group of the Miami Dolphins. Three years later, she launched EleVen by Venus Williams and earned her associate degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Earlier this year, she partnered with Credo Beauty to launch a line of clean, mineral-based SPF products for EleVen by Venus.

Williams says running her businesses in the current environment has been one of the greatest challenges she’s ever faced, but she still appreciates the silver linings. “The world of business is really lending a hand to African Americans and women and minorities during this time. And that has also been unprecedented—so opportunity comes out of this really crazy hardship as well. You have to look at that as a challenge—you need to accept it and run with it. There’s no time to waste.”

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It’s Time For HR Leaders To Embrace The Freelance Revolution

The world, as a whole, is facing the most challenging time since 1945. The health and economic effects of COVID-19 caught most countries off guard (with the notable exception of Taiwan ). Mid-March and early April were extremely volatile, and the information on how the virus spread was oftentimes contradicting. We knew one thing for certain: staying home would save lives. However, staying home also had severe negative effects on the economy.

The earth’s population has grown from 2.3 billion people in 1950 to 7.9 billion in 2020. The number of people living in extreme poverty came down from 1.81 billion in 1950 (70% of the population by the time) to 0.7 billion in 2015. Yet, in the second quarter of 2020, a novel coronavirus was able to shrink GDP worldwide faster than anything before: – 34% in the United States, -12% in EU, -20.4% in the UK, and -13% in Singapore.

Unemployment in the US rose to 14.5% in April, slowly recovering to 10.2% in July. The unemployment rate behaved differently in the EU, rising to 7.10 percent in June from 6.5 percent in January. Strong public incentives are credited for preventing a much more extreme rise. However, while governments have released unprecedented stimuli packages (3 trillion in the US and 750 billion in the EU), there will still be workers that fall through the cracks. That is why companies are taking a hard look at how to reimagine the critical and fast-evolving world of work.
The Rise of Freelancing in the Covid-19 Era
Historically, the gig economy has been viewed adversely, with many people associating it solely with the Postmates and Ubers of the world and their lack of benefits that those with permanent employment generally can access. However, in the context of an economy reeling from Covid-19, freelancing now means something quite different.

Millions of people have lost their jobs, which has resulted in a surge of individuals becoming freelancers and gig workers to make ends meet. Interestingly, according to a Google trends analysis, search interest for microphones used for podcasts, voiceovers, audiobook narration, and other freelance work increased 2.6x from March 8 to May 3. After peak interest in podcast microphones on May 3, searches for podcast mics reached a low point on June 14. However, searches have been on another upward trend since then as people continue to get creative with their work amid the pandemic.

While this may seem like a major transition now, the outcome will be a more knowledgeable and effective workforce with long-term benefits that will push a generation to think differently about how they will work.
The Perks of Utilizing Freelancers
While freelancing isn’t new, the rapid, global, growth of freelancing is new. The tech that enables freelancing is new and, together with remote work and flexibility trends, it’s changing the way we build a workforce and hire talent. HR has never been more important, especially as it plays a larger and more strategic role in embracing the freelance revolution. According to some stats, it is projected that in the U.S. alone, in 2027, there will be 86.5 million freelancers comprising 50.9 percent of the total workforce.

This realization across industries, and specifically in the world of HR, has pushed the gig economy to the edge of a major transformation, and rapid growth during the pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg. The months of remote work in 2020 has shown HR leadership that even complex roles and tasks can be effectively executed by a talented freelancer who never steps foot in the physical office. This, combined with the economic benefits, is particularly important for startups, which strive to operate as lean as possible.

For specific projects such as website messaging/design, white papers, press releases, product descriptions, email newsletters, or even podcasts and audio advertising spots, freelancers are an affordable and effective way to get quality content while keeping core staff focused on the company’s key objectives. There is no longer a reason to hire someone full-time to continually support these projects. Instead, pay someone up front, build and maintain the relationships with a network of freelancers, and utilize them on a project-to-project basis.
Looking Ahead Five Years
The key to effectively managing project-based freelancers is to utilize a third-party platform that can act as a go-between to connect businesses with a pool of potential candidates at the right cost, which ensures quality work is delivered on time. Although many companies hesitate to do this for fear of losing control of the quality of deliverables, the reality is that the right third-party service will have a pool of thousands of carefully vetted freelancers that will allow them to deliver projects that are of the highest quality far faster than traditional avenues. This will provide HR leaders with broad and deep talent insight and the ability to map business needs against the internal employees and the external freelancers that together make up the organization’s flexible blended workforce. The transition to these services will lead to a few fundamental changes in the way HR leaders hire:

A shift in the business ecosystem. Freelancers’ work ethics, market experience and strategic and modern thinking are all assets that companies want to benefit from. Traditionally, companies had to be more flexible – and frugal – in their approach to new projects but with the world of freelancing on the rise, HR leaders now have access to a global talent pool with extremely high level or specialised skill sets right at their fingertips.
Access to hyper-localized content, anywhere – Creating hyper-localized content around the world won’t just be for the major multinationals anymore. HR can now utilize a network of freelancers, allowing companies of any size to complete robust, hyper-local projects that previously would have been cost-prohibitive.
An end to freelance ghosting – As startups increasingly turn to freelance services partners, the concept of “freelance ghosting” will become a thing of the past since HR leaders now have access to thousands of candidates and can look after all of the project logistics to ensure rapid completion.

If you’ve never considered using freelancers because the risk seemed to outweigh the reward, I encourage you to take a second look at how working with a third-party freelance service can alleviate some of the stress during the hiring process. The bottom line is that standard recruiting confines startups to only hiring employees for one specific area or field. However, embracing the use of freelancers gives startups the ability to cut down on overhead costs and grow your market by unlocking a diverse field of workers with a range of experience, education, and skill to fit any project need .

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How HR Professionals in India Are Dealing with a Rapid Rise in Infections

This month, India is recording the highest daily number of new COVID-19 infections of any country in the world. As a result, HR leaders have braced themselves to tackle the upswing while keeping their businesses operating.

More than 6.8 million people have been infected by the novel coronavirus in India, of which 2.5 million cases were added within the past month, according to Johns Hopkins University. India is fast catching up with the U.S., which has the largest number of total infections at 7.5 million.

Given India’s large population and densely packed cities, there’s a growing acceptance that the infection will continue to spread. Therefore, companies are focusing on supporting employees through random testing of asymptomatic workers, coordinating with hospitals for priority care, and, in one case, even stocking up on oxygen.

“Peace of mind is the biggest thing that you can grant your employees right now,” said Ajay Chowdhury, president and CHRO of SRF Ltd., a Gurgaon-based manufacturer of specialty chemicals and packaging films.

To curb the spread of the pandemic, the Indian government announced a nationwide lockdown in late March. The government then started “unlocking” the economy in June, and now factories are running at almost full staff. However, for office-based staff, companies have taken a varied approach. Some are asking a certain percentage of employees to come to the office at least one or more days each week, some are keeping onsite presence optional and others have a fully remote workforce. But employees working from home haven’t necessarily been spared the coronavirus.

At ACT Fibernet, a broadband company, almost half of employees who have been infected this year were those who have been working from home since March. “We have not found that field guys are more susceptible,” said Shefali Mohapatra, ACT Fibernet’s chief people officer, who is based in Bengaluru.

Mohapatra said one key challenge is that people are now becoming more blasé about the virus. “A mindset is setting in that there’s no avoiding it,” she said. “We’re battling with this loss of fear.”

Many company leaders say they don’t expect normal work life to resume until at least the end of the Indian financial year in March 2021.

In the meantime, companies are managing in the following ways.

Self-Imposed Lockdowns

As COVID-19 infections rose sharply in mid-September, SRF Ltd. reinstituted an internal lockdown. Until then, SRF had allowed up to 25 percent of its 400 employees in the Gurgaon corporate office to come to work on a voluntary basis. Typically, around 90 employees had been coming in per week, Chowdhury said.

In addition to following the standard health protocols, all employees were required to report and self-isolate for five days if they had come in contact with an infected person. In late September, there were seven to eight such reports in quick succession.

“We felt that if there is a chain that is developing in the office, we need to break that chain,” Chowdhury said. The office premises were shut down for 10 days for all except critical staff and have since reopened.

“We’re taking precautions, but we’re not stopping life,” Chowdhury said. “We still prefer the office as an organization.”

Medical Support Beyond Insurance

India’s health care system has been overextended in recent weeks, with reports of limited hospital bed availability and shortages of medical oxygen in some locations. Many companies have coordinated with hospitals to secure services for their employees if needed, including video consultations with doctors.

At SRF, for employees who have tested positive and are at home in isolation, the company sends food cooked by its own guest house to the employees’ homes twice a day.

In addition to creating relationships with hospitals and testing agencies, ACT Fibernet is reimbursing employees who buy oximeters, if the employees need to measure their oxygen levels at home. Over the summer, the company purchased oxygen concentrators, Mohapatra said.

Employees who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 and discharged are encouraged to sign up for home-care packages offered by hospitals, which include remote monitoring by a doctor, said Mohapatra, and the company pays the expense.

Floating Teams to Keep Business Going

Some companies that were shuttered during the national lockdown, such as retail and hospitality industries, hope to make up for lost business as the economy reopens.

“Our focus is two-pronged: The business needs to pick up, and we also want to ensure that our employees are safe,” said Nandini Mehta, Bengaluru-based head of HR at Lifestyle International, a retail fashion chain with stores across India.

To ensure the smooth running of stores, Lifestyle had initially created two teams—A and B—that would work on alternate weeks. But later, Mehta said, they added a team C, in the event that employees in both the A and B teams had to be taken out of action due to COVID-19-related quarantines. Team C is used as a floating team, available to step in at any store in the major cities, Mehta said.

Meanwhile, at the company’s corporate office, only 30 percent of staff has returned to the office, Mehta said. The HR agenda “is going to be about keeping people engaged and motivated” both in person and remotely, she said.

Random Testing at the Workplace

In some parts of India, the local government is requiring companies to randomly test workers at workplaces. Such tests were organized for the first time in September for factories at the Vikas Group of Industries, which makes auto components. For every 50 to 60 workers tested, on average, 8 percent to 16 percent tested positive for COVID-19, said Manasi Das, the Vikas Group’s head of HR in the New Delhi area. “We were extremely surprised, because none of those people had any symptoms,” Das said. A list was prepared of the people who had been in contact with the COVID-19-positive employees, and they were all asked to isolate, which is now a normal course of business, said Das, who herself recently recovered from COVID-19.

“Every person next door seems to have it, so you just accept that this is unavoidable,” she said.

In addition to having almost all factory staff at work, Das said 50 percent to 60 percent of the office staff comes in two to three days a week, as they need to work closely with manufacturing teams.

“At least up to March 2021, we’ll have to have this kind of staggered arrangement,” Das said.

Battling Frustrations

For employees who have been working from home for more than six months, managers worry about a disconnect and frustration that may be setting in. At ACT Fibernet, HR has received several requests in the last two months to allow in-person meetings, Mohapatra said.

There’s a very strong need to ensure that connections in the organization don’t go down, noted Mohapatra, who said her company has allowed some teams to return to the office in small numbers to meet in a controlled environment. In addition, the leadership team and HR members are visiting branches and meeting with field staff to show solidarity and give pep talks, she said.

Many colleagues and team managers say they feel the loss of the informal contact that used to happen in the office, Mohapatra said. “I experimented with a Zoom party, but it’s not the same.”

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How we can collaborate to empower the future workforce

There are many reasons why we’re so focused on the future of work, and we believe there’s never been a more important time than now to be talking about it. Since day one at Workday, our specialty has been building technology that puts people first. Helping people work most effectively, sharing the skills they need in order to grow, and making opportunities available to people—all people—are deeply ingrained in everything we do.

With many of the largest companies in the world as our customers, we feel enormous responsibility for the role we play in helping shape the future of work. Without effective, immediate action by both businesses and governments, we see a future that puts many people at risk of falling ever further behind. And based on conversations we’ve had with several governors, it’s clear they feel a responsibility to help get people back to work, and that they also realize that high unemployment negatively impacts their states’ financial stability in many ways.

Connecting people with employers
We believe there is an innovative solution to help address these challenges: the creation of skills-based talent marketplaces. If we know the skills of individuals in a community, and what employers are looking for, why not create marketplaces where we can leverage these insights and help people get back to work? And, in such a marketplace, those who need reskilling or upskilling could identify and access the training they need.

Unfortunately, employment markets today fall short of this ideal. While numerous job boards seek to match workers with opportunities, too often the job descriptions focus on pedigree, such as degrees earned, rather than the skills needed for the role. This excludes from the job market those—in many cases women and people of color—who have the skills required but attained them through work or related experiences rather than secondary education.

To create a true talent marketplace, as a society we need to shift to skills-based employment practices. Machine learning (ML), a form of artificial intelligence, plays a particularly powerful role here, as ML can identify thousands of skills derived from millions of data points, and show relationships among those skills. In fact, the nonprofit organization Opportunity@Work is going to leverage ML-powered technologies to match workers who don’t have four-year degrees but are what Opportunity@Work calls “STARs”—skilled through alternative routes—with employers who are in need of their skills, through a partnership with Workday.

Three critical steps
In order to create the skills-based marketplaces employers and workers need, we must combine open skills data sets with real-world information. To do that, all of us need to work together to collect and share data on skills needed for the jobs of today and in the future. Three steps are critical:

Identifying the skills employers need. Through partnerships with their largest employers, states could identify the skills needed for their economies. They could then use that information to drive worker training programs, utilizing increasingly sophisticated online learning platforms.
Identifying existing skills in the community. States could collect skills information, submitted voluntarily from those filing for unemployment, and use that information to attract employers looking for particular skill pools.
Enhancing public-private sharing of skills data. Companies should commit to sharing real-time jobs and skills data on open platforms for shared analysis, with governments helping to bring industries together via voluntary data reporting systems.
In addition to existing worker training programs, we believe governments should support employer-provided training that helps workers advance their careers and stay ahead of technological change.

Working together, we can solve these challenges. We can identify the skills individuals have and provide the training they need to improve their skills and themselves. We can help employers find people with the skills they need. And for towns, cities, and states, we can do our part to create thriving economies with opportunities for all.

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How Transformative CEOs Lead in a Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of business, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the urgent need for companies to transform. In fact, the crisis has underscored that need. Most organizations have already launched rapid measures in response to the situation. The challenge now is to build on these measures and develop longer-term, comprehensive initiatives to reposition the company for the future—which may feel like a permanent state of emergency.

BCG’s experience with more than 750 successful transformations helped us define five traits that will enable CEOs to lead more successful transformations. These insights have been tested across a range of economic conditions, including growth markets, recessions, and periods of turmoil. They should head the agenda of any CEO facing or implementing a transformation—in other words, every CEO.

We initially developed the five traits of transformative CEOs in 2018. Since then, much has evolved in the business world, including political uncertainty in Europe and the ever-escalating tension between the US and China. The collective impact of these changes increased the pressure on companies and leadership teams—and the novel coronavirus dramatically compounded the burden. As a result, many companies across industries and geographic markets now need to stabilize revenue, unlock growth through new digital sales channels, and reduce costs. Most important, they need to embed digital in all aspects of operations and commercial functions and become more agile. Transformation is the vehicle to address these issues, but executing a transformation has never been tougher.

Given that broad challenge, CEOs need a reliable set of measures to use when developing and implementing change. Transformative CEOs share the following traits.

They take decisive action quickly and launch a formal transformation program. Most companies have already launched initiatives—reducing costs, testing e-commerce models, stabilizing supply chains, and using technology to improve communication and engagement with both employees and customers—to respond to the pandemic, building cross-functional teams that have accomplished impressive feats amid significant uncertainty. Now, CEOs must quickly build on those baseline actions by taking bolder measures. Our research shows that, historically, 57% of companies launch a comprehensive transformation program within one year of experiencing a severe reduction in TSR. Such decisive actions have led to increased chances of success in both the short term and the long term.

Formal transformation programs with coordinated targets, actions, and milestones boost investors’ confidence, leading to an increased valuation relative to earnings. A well-managed program delivers more quickly, ensures discipline, includes actions to build up needed capabilities, and establishes effective communication both within and outside the organization.

Notably, an economic downturn isn’t a reason to put off necessary changes. Instead, it can serve as a proving ground for management. BCG research shows that although a sizable share of companies during the past four US downturns saw reductions in both their top lines and their bottom lines, a set of top performers managed to generate increases in both dimensions. (See Exhibit 1.)

They unlock immediate gains to fund the journey and tell a convincing story of change. Because the pace of change in business has accelerated, companies can no longer spend six months plotting a transformation and then several years implementing it. Instead, companies need to take immediate steps to begin delivering results, send cash to the bottom line, and fund future initiatives.

Top-performing organizations don’t rely on just cost cuts to free up capital—instead, they also improve capital efficiency and deliver quick wins to boost revenue. Digital is often a critical step toward generating fast, sustainable performance improvements and funding the journey. For example, using digital to improve pricing or optimize promotions can increase revenue by 4% to 6%, while also improving EBIT margins by up to 2 percentage points. Empowering the sales function through analytics to identify the best channel mix and marketing messages can produce substantial gains. Companies that digitize their sales functions can generate gains of 10% to 20% in revenue through higher conversion rates while reducing the cost per lead by 15% to 30%.

Similarly, implementing robotic process automation, machine learning, AI, and other tools to handle administrative and repetitive tasks—in functions such as workforce planning within HR and invoice handling or payment approvals within finance—can reduce head counts by 20% to 30% in corporate centers, decrease handling times, and increase accuracy and service quality.

In addition to boosting short-term performance and raising funds, rapid early measures can serve to build up critical expertise, convince naysayers, and increase the credibility of leadership teams—both internally (the workforce and the board) and externally (investors and other stakeholders).

They include an explicit emphasis on boosting growth and increasing vitality. As noted above, the understandable impulse of many CEOs in a crisis is to center a transformation on cutting costs. To be clear, cost reductions are often a critical step, but they can never stand alone. Over the long term, revenue growth has a greater impact on transformation success—contributing, on average, nearly half of cumulative value creation after five years. (See Exhibit 2.)

In fact, transforming for growth often involves a higher level of investment—and investments in R&D and digital for new business models, in particular, create more value: our findings suggest that such investments increase the likelihood of success by up to 29 percentage points. On the other hand, transformations accompanied by high (when compared with the industry average) capital expenditure spending only boost the chances of success by 11 percentage points. Why? Capex investment generally suggests that a company has the intention of exploiting existing opportunities by expanding capacity—that is, doing more of the same. In contrast, investments in R&D and digital capabilities help companies redesign their business models, tap into new markets, rethink product and service offerings, and engage more directly with end users—leading to a greater likelihood of transformative impact.

They are able to think like a new CEO. New CEOs perform better in transformations. In fact, a new CEO can boost the odds of a successful transformation by 7 percentage points, on average. Why do new CEOs perform better? Because they take an outsider’s view of the business, with no legacy bias, and they are willing to take bold steps to shake up established ways of thinking.

Incumbent CEOs and management teams, therefore, cannot afford to be complacent and maintain the status quo. Instead, they must be somewhat paranoid and continuously take a fresh look at the business. Or, as we say, “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”

Once a management team is in place, it is critical to maintain the team for the duration of the transformation. We found that only 7% of companies changed their CEO during a transformation. Changes in top management not only heighten uncertainty for people within the company, decreasing the buy-in, but also send a negative message to investors, leading to increased skepticism about the company’s ability to deliver results.

They understand that transformation is a race without a finish line. We live in an era of persistent disruptions, and for some businesses it will feel like a permanent crisis. Given the nature of transformations and the tendency to be distracted by external events, companies need a North Star to keep them oriented on their long-term objectives.

Our analysis revealed that companies with an above- average long-term strategic orientation for their transformations outperformed those with a below-average orientation by almost 5 percentage points. This finding was even more pronounced when such companies were operating in turbulent environments: in those cases, long-term orientation correlated with an increase in TSR of 7 percentage points.

Similarly, companies running their programs for at least five consecutive years (either as one continuous program or as an unbroken series of overlapping programs) were especially effective at transforming in turbulent environments.

Transformation can no longer be thought of as a project with an end date. Transformative CEOs know that, in order to succeed, they will have to keep stretching the goals, act more boldly than ever, and identify ways to renew the organization.

COVID-19 was an external disruption imposed on companies, but the future remains very much in companies’ own hands. By looking at the evidence regarding transformations—and specifically the traits that increase the chances of long-term success—CEOs can tilt the odds in their favor and position their organizations to win over the long term.

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Activating the internal talent marketplace

Accelerate workforce resilience, agility and capability, and impact the future of work
As internal talent marketplace strategies rapidly evolve, iterative design can accelerate adoption and transform the way organizations think about the future of work, the workforce, and the workplace.

AS Carl, a regional product manager with a media and technology company, prepares for 2021, he’s assessing what talent strategies worked well this year. His team faced increased demand, and he had to redeploy employees from other departments with transferable capabilities overnight. Fortunately, he was able to post critical projects on the company’s recently launched gig platform and quickly find capable internal talent.


Whitney works in the finance department of a regional bank. Inspired by others, she wanted to contribute to society through some meaningful work. Her company has an internal talent marketplace, which enabled her to find and apply for a social impact project mentoring interns in the organization’s community, thereby fulfilling her personal aspiration.

Both of the above scenarios highlight a concept that organizations across industries and geographies are exploring: the internal talent marketplace. This relatively new talent operating model offers an innovative and flexible approach to talent acquisition, mobility, and management. The internal talent marketplace, usually hosted on a technology-enabled platform, connects employees with opportunities both inside and outside the organization. It enables managers to promote varied roles and helps organizations quickly deploy, motivate, develop, and retain employees.

As the concept evolves, the next-generation vision for the talent marketplace goes beyond just matching people with full-time roles—though this too can be part of it. It is expected to extend to providing employees with access to gig work, mentorship, rotation programs, stretch and volunteering assignments, and innovation and skill-building experiences that align with business needs to create a true opportunity marketplace.1 This talent model has the potential to change the way organizations think about work (by fractionalizing work for increased efficiency), the workforce (by unlocking greater potential and value), and the workplace (by breaking down silos).

Done right—through iterative design—the internal talent marketplace can deliver a broad range of benefits across talent acquisition, mobility, and management, transforming the workforce and improving organizational agility. It can enhance workforce performance2 and productivity, facilitate creation of more nimble teams, and improve workforce capabilities. It can also empower the workforce by offering personalized L&D and skill-building opportunities while fostering increased transparency, diversity, equity, and inclusion. A recent study3 found that respondents view the talent marketplace as delivering three top benefits amid a range of other potential benefits: as a source of worker empowerment; as an enabler for internal talent mobility as business needs change, especially during uncertain times; and as a tool for cultural change, in particular for developing a greater entrepreneurial spirit.

Done right—through iterative design—the internal talent marketplace can deliver a broad range of benefits across talent acquisition and management.
COVID-19 accelerates marketplace adoption
Digital and societal disruption have caused organizations to reassess how they value, develop, and invest in their workforce while ensuring evolving business needs are met. At the same time, they have prompted employees to rethink their professional development, career mobility, and even the meaning of work.4 These changes, in tandem, have supported the rise of the internal talent marketplace.

The trend for marketplace adoption accelerated as COVID-19 impacted both the supply and demand sides of talent,5 triggering a need for greater agility6 around workforce deployment and talent preservation. Take, for example, consumer goods company Unilever, which used its internal talent marketplace, FLEX Experiences, to redeploy more than 8,000 employees during the pandemic and 300,000 hours of employee work.7

Given its potential to create agility across the enterprise, the internal talent marketplace should be an integral part of the future of work strategy for all organizations. As Shlomo Weiss, COO at Gloat, a talent marketplace technology company, explained, “They (talent marketplaces) enable our customer organizations to understand employees’ skills and capabilities, match them to existing needs at scale and speed, and unlock future skills and capacity for tomorrow.”

What does iterative talent marketplace design look like?
To gain deeper insight into how to build an internal talent marketplace that delivers value to the organization and its people, Deloitte spoke with 13 businesses currently investing in such platforms. Consistent with other research we’ve done,8 we found there is no one-size-fits-all approach to transforming the workforce through marketplace adoption. The organizations collectively described it as a process of continuous customization and learning with an eye on small wins. Among these organizations, we observed three distinct strategies for marketplace design (elaborated in the next section) that talent or L&D usually initiated but which evolved to include performance management and innovation. There are also various models defining who should own and manage the workforce transformation project team. The chief human resources officer (CHRO) was often involved in the transformation initiative along with a cross-functional team across human capital disciplines. In some cases, a new function such as “head of talent digitization” was created especially for this purpose. In most cases, while the focus started internally, the long-term goal for the marketplace was to expand beyond the internal workforce to focus on external talent and to leverage data to understand human capital productivity and potential.

Additionally, each of the companies emphasized some key steps to successful marketplace implementation. They include:

Remaining agile and iterative while implementing the marketplace
Mapping the user journey
Engaging managers as champions and partnering with talent acquisition
Creating a culture that fosters talent and career mobility and encourages employees to seek new experiences outside of their team or organization
Encouraging “boomerang employees” and embracing “unconventional career pathways” that deviate from traditional hierarchical career progressions
The talent marketplace is highly customized to each organization’s workforce strategy and culture and implementing any of the above steps requires continuous transformation and flexibility. Given this, companies should consider adopting an iterative design approach that starts with a minimum viable product (MVP) and builds incrementally toward maturity and adoption rather than being unidirectional. The iterative design process should be dynamic and enable organizations to define their vision for the marketplace across four “Ps”—purpose, plan, program, and platform. Each of these steps is important and should be repeated cyclically to ensure that the strategy, change program, and enabling technology can continually evolve—based on the speed at which the talent marketplace matures.

Here’s how organizations can advance the iterative talent marketplace design across the four “Ps”:

Purpose: Define your strategy based on different possible use cases and measurable outcomes
Plan: Determine the iterative steps required to activate the internal talent marketplace
Program: Define the policies and processes that enable talent and career mobility
Platform: Work toward an integrated technology ecosystem
Purpose: Be unique and evolve your strategy
The organizations we interviewed are adopting three distinct strategies to marketplace implementation, depending on their unique purpose, which is largely defined by the desired, measurable organizational outcomes from the program. The three approaches are:

Talent deployment with the purpose of enhancing business productivity and work management—58% of those interviewed defined the marketplace purpose in “deployment” terms such as skill-match/matching.
Talent mobility and management with the purpose of enhancing talent and career mobility—about 50% of the respondents used the words “mobility/talent mobility” to describe the marketplace.
The “future of work” model: An evolutionary model that seeks to create greater value by combining talent, career, engagement, performance, productivity, and innovation across the work and workforce ecosystem—25% of those interviewed described its purpose as a “holistic/silo” strategy even enabling “diversity”9 (figure 1).
We also found that a majority of organizations are evolving their strategies as the marketplace matures. For instance, what started at The World Bank as an internal marketplace for training and project work during a hiring freeze eventually blossomed into a marketplace supporting employee engagement and diversity10—moving toward an evolutionary model. As Christine Yokoi, senior director of Human Capital Management (HCM), Product Strategy, at technology provider Oracle, said, “The talent marketplace can become an ‘engine’ to promote innovation, exploration, and discovery.”

Driven by purpose, organizations typically adopt one of three different strategies to marketplace implementation

Our research suggests that the initial strategy for interviewed organizations—whether they started from nothing or built on an existing informal marketplace or technology—was determined by whether the program started in talent management or in L&D. The former focused first on deployment and the latter on mobility. However, as these organizations started to work collaboratively across functions, their viewpoint of the marketplace’s purpose seemed to evolve.

Every interviewed organization’s approach to the marketplace implementation program was unique. For instance, a global banking organization created a new function to run the program; another financial institution created a partner model across L&D and talent acquisition; and insurance and investment management firm Prudential Financial created an ecosystem team. Vendors, too, differed in how they worked with clients to implement talent marketplace technologies: Talent intelligence platform Eightfold.AI worked with its stakeholders to create an internal and external talent exchange while Gloat described a typical internal talent marketplace implementation as involving the CHRO as a sponsor and some combination of talent management and L&D across a cross-functional program team.

Also, while forming the core strategic team to lead the program, each company undertook a different approach to ownership, collaboration, and measurement alignment across talent management, L&D, and talent acquisition. Some included organizational design, workforce transformation, and HR technology leaders in the team to guide the strategy—for example, bringing in the HR technology team to define the platform strategy.

Our research showed that regardless of who owns the program, partnering with talent acquisition is a key accelerant to marketplace adoption. Prudential Financial credited this move with helping it achieve “closeness to talent supply.” Another financial institution called its talent acquisition partnership “essential” to the success of the program given talent acquisition’s access to “strategic data” on open roles and the external talent pipeline.

Regardless of who owns the program, partnering with talent acquisition is a key accelerant to marketplace adoption.
Plan: Focus on principles and behaviors; engage managers
Every organization has a unique culture and different management practices around moving talent—and this is what determines which marketplace model will work best for it and how people interact with the platform. Organizations looking to formulate a holistic marketplace strategy would do well to start with focusing on principles to guide the transformation and behaviors they need to change to accelerate adoption. Engaging managers is a key step in this effort.

Some key principles the organizations we interviewed focus on are: Who can add and access roles and projects on the marketplace; what type of work to make available; and how to break work up into projects (i.e., fractionalize work). Gloat and Unilever11 found that managers find it challenging to fractionalize work due to their role-oriented mindset and that talent acquisition can play a pivotal role in changing it to a project-oriented one. Emphasizing the importance of fractionalizing work, Vicki Walia, chief talent and capability officer at Prudential Financial, explained if organizations can break down work—for instance, UX designing—to its components and build a marketplace that seeks experts to fulfill the work components instead of people to fill a role, they can change the way work is done. This can also help talent achieve work/life balance and extend their employability over time.

The talent marketplace affords companies an opportunity to rethink work design and to capture and manage work differently, with a focus on:

Learning how to do work in different ways
Redesigning work and looking at tasks differently
Building skills and capabilities that support this work
Deploying talent differently to adapt to new ways of thinking about work
The organizations are also looking to influence behaviors that inhibit the progress of the program. They start with preparing managers and people leaders for the marketplace and involving them in the program. In fact, every company we interviewed named manager engagement as the top enabler of a successful talent marketplace. This is because the marketplace can’t exist without a robust gig supply (whether full- or part-time) and this is the manager’s prerogative. Surprisingly, 46% of managers resist internal mobility,12 and this behavior—which is reinforced by misaligned management incentives—often perpetuates a talent-hoarding culture.13 Alpesh Patel, general manager for Europe, the Americas, and Asia at ProFinda, a workforce optimization company, said, “Even the best corporate citizen manager may be reluctant to lose their best staff. I’m not 100% sure how you can break that cycle, but technology can bring some transparency.”
Every company we interviewed named manager engagement by far the top enabler of a successful talent marketplace.
To change this behavior, managers need to understand that there is no need to hoard talent. Elin Thomasian, head of Talent Acquisition at Prudential Financial, elaborated: “People hoard talent because they’re anxious about the time it will take to refill a position and about lack of transparency on the available talent pool. [The talent marketplace] helps wean them away from hoarding by providing visibility into what skills are available at Prudential Financial compared to what is available externally … as soon as somebody leaves, they are served up 10 great people in a few days.”

The marketplace enables real-time transparency into talent supply, including available skills, so managers need not worry about not being able to fulfill needs. In fact, they stand to benefit as the marketplace enables them to potentially build their staff’s hard and soft skills, rapidly spin up project teams to extend bandwidth, and achieve greater impact on strategic productivity.

Getting buy-in from managers and other stakeholders
To change restrictive behaviors from within, especially among managers, it is important to bring them on board as champions of the marketplace. Here are some steps companies can take in this direction:

Reintroduce the talent marketplace: Conduct trainings to address misconceptions among managers (e.g., employees have too much idle time); start with nonthreatening entry points (such as mentorship); and educate managers on the benefits of the marketplace (a transparent talent pool and new skills for their teams).
Build incentive models: Build confidence and trust through positive experiences on both the supply and demand sides—e.g., rapid talent acquisition and access to dynamic teams; help managers develop through experience-based learning opportunities; and restructure incentives to encourage talent stewardship.
Introduce new playbooks and controls: Make managers talent enablers instead of talent owners and consider capping hours or number of gig projects per employee.
Besides managers, there is a range of stakeholders involved in the transformation program. User journey mapping and human-centered design can play a pivotal role in getting their buy-in. One of the financial institutions we interviewed said that mapping the user journey enabled its team to see the complexity of what they were building and roll out different messaging/storylines for each persona (HR business partner, applicant, manager, etc.) based on their needs—for instance, closing a requisition, exploring new experiences, finding the right person for a role, etc. This, in turn, enabled the company to understand its unique culture, identify champions, and ease out friction points in the transformation program.

Organizations should also convey to these stakeholders the larger benefits the marketplace can offer:

Broadening of organizational and stakeholder perspectives. David Ludlow, group vice president, product strategy and research, at HCM software provider SAP, explained that exposure to diversity and new teams expands workers’ perspectives, helping them cultivate qualities such as empathy. Research shows empathy is a key attribute that can reshape the way organizations hire and retain talent.14

Giving managers access to a broader talent pool and candidates who might not otherwise be visible. A financial institution we interviewed redeployed loan officers and financial advisors into support roles in its small businesses division to address increased staffing needs during the pandemic. Managers realized that applicants they may have dismissed previously for having no experience in small business could be successful if they brought transferrable skills such as client engagement, analytics, and communications—a realization that broadened their talent pool for future internal and external searches.

Helping eliminate unconscious bias in hiring practices and encouraging diversity. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are table stakes for talent acquisition and talent mobility but are easier said than achieved. Most organizations have silos that leave segments of talent outside of their purview. Kamal Ahluwalia, president of Eightfold.AI, a talent intelligence platform, explained how this can be addressed: “Internal projects are often staffed based on who you know, which leaves out the people who don’t have a strong network or advocates. Organizations need to think holistically about forming teams by accessing diverse talent pools through the marketplace.” This can also help businesses move more women into leadership roles and support and accelerate diversity, he added.

Elaborating on how Gloat’s clients have achieved DEI impact, Weiss said, “The internal talent marketplace can be used to reduce internal hiring bias and increase networking that promotes diversity.” He gave the example of Unilever, which has chosen to remove education as a field visible to hiring managers on the Gloat platform to reduce pedigree bias. At Schneider Electric, employees are using the Gloat platform to build mentorship relationships that are senior-to-junior, junior-to-senior, peer-to-peer, and expert-to-novice. “This breaks down taboos in relationships between senior and junior staff and connects people globally,” he added.

Program: Adopt an iterative change management program to change culture
Internal talent marketplace adoption is a considerable workforce transformation initiative and can’t be achieved overnight. For a successful transformation, organizations should consider implementing an iterative change management program with iterative design across workforce management practices that helps ease stakeholders into the new culture. While the usual change management elements would apply, talent marketplace adoption has some unique aspects such as engaging managers that require a relook at culture (figure 2). However, all the vendors we interviewed agreed that most clients undertaking the transformation underestimate the importance of implementing a change management policy and process re-engineering across talent management, performance management, and L&D.

Companies also should adopt flexible policies and processes around talent mobility to get buy-in from talent. Based on SAP’s long-term experience in talent and technology, Ludlow recommended that to facilitate a successful transformation, organizations ensure their policies are fluid and flexible like when implementing “an innovation idea.” However, the existing internal recruiting process is usually a barrier to talent mobility, with 49% of respondents citing it as a challenge and saying it requires the collaborative attention of talent acquisition and the legal and workforce counsels.15

The talent marketplace has the potential to engender a culture that fosters both talent and career mobility. It can enable employees and managers to use skills as currency,16 build employee talent pools, and foster networking. At its best, a true culture of mobility could encourage boomerang employees to leave a team or organization to gain new experiences and come back stronger. Google’s Project Chameleon, for example, actively encouraged employees to move around teams and departments to experience new environments and new challenges.17

At its best, a true culture of mobility could encourage boomerang employees to leave a team or organization to gain new experiences and come back stronger.
Juan Manuel Cerda, Talent Acquisition and People Insights head for Citigroup, a global banking organization, explained, “The reality is that on any given team, there are going to be people who want to leave a team or organization for new experiences—so even if an organization is not comfortable with it, it needs to accept that outcome. People continue to learn and grow when they are faced with different challenges and can often bring that strength back to a team or organization. If a manager’s goal is to only meet their team objectives, there is less incentive to take risks with talent. Organizations need to create the right performance incentives to reward people for exporting and developing talent.”

Barbry McGann, executive director at the office of CHRO solution marketing at enterprise finance and HR company Workday, noted the importance of “fostering internal mobility, career development, and reskilling; building employee belonging councils and emergency response teams; and offering career sprints and journeys that engage talent, create transparency, grow skills endorsements, and fuel innovation and productivity.” For example, Coca-Cola used machine learning to drive forward its future of work strategy by uncovering new opportunities for its internal talent pool. Maximiliano Just, global director, HR technology and platforms, The Coca-Cola Company, said: “The pressure to innovate at a fast pace is very high, and that forces all of us to rethink the way we do work, the way we go to market, and the way we organize ourselves. And that also forces us to shift our mindsets and approach the work in a more agile way.”18

An iterative change management program can help implement a successful marketplace adoption

Platform: Work toward an integrated technology ecosystem
In addition to designing a change management program to build the desired culture, organizations should also adopt or build the right technological platform for their internal talent marketplace. Given that 49% of organizations have acknowledged they have few technological tools, if any, to identify and move people into new internal roles,19 replatforming existing systems is a large part of the technological transformation program.

The organizations we interviewed consider three main platform approaches—buy, build, or adapt—to deliver intelligent and scalable matching of roles with talent, break silos, and create transparency. All these approaches involve the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and need to be embedded across a flexible, integrated technology ecosystem for optimal benefits. Here’s what these approaches entail:

Buy: Evaluating AI-enabled technologies powered by a large volume of skills data to power the marketplace and investing in them
Build: Building a bespoke solution or platform layer overlay across the existing solution ecosystem for enhanced data privacy
Adapt: Expanding on the human capital management system where data is centralized
The interviewed organizations acknowledged that an AI-powered talent marketplace platform can facilitate matching people to opportunities at scale and support predictive analytics to deliver more personalized opportunities and career pathways to develop talent. To this end, they are either engaging their existing HCM vendors (Workday, Oracle, SAP, etc.), hiring a niche vendor, or building the AI core on their own.

But for the AI-driven solution to work, organizations typically need to first achieve scale to train the AI engine and ensure there are enough projects in the marketplace to meet the demand of those seeking opportunities. Dell Technologies recently piloted an internal opportunity marketplace and is in the process of scaling the program across the company. As Josie Trine, director of Talent and Culture at Dell, said, “We want all team members and leaders to have access to the opportunities and talent required to collectively succeed in the future. This means, under most circumstances, we’ll need to have thousands of people in the marketplace to ensure talent and gigs are abundant. Imagine any online consumer-driven marketplace with a lack of buyers and/or sellers—it wouldn’t be self-sustaining.”

While recognizing the value of AI-based solutions, Ludlow from SuccessFactors advised companies to think beyond AI, given that historical roles and experiences are valuable in matching and predicting common career pathways. He added that organizations should have a certain level of flexibility to unlock workforce potential—new horizons for workers or new skills for the organization—that may not be available to an AI engine.

To realize the full potential of the marketplace platform, its architecture should be embedded in an integrated technology ecosystem that cuts across talent acquisition, talent management, L&D, and performance management. Besides, organizations—especially those in highly regulated industries—need to find ways to safeguard confidential data on the platform. For instance, with a view to protect confidentiality while advancing its marketplace vision, Prudential Financial decided to build a platform layer across the human resources systems, use an AI vendor for skills scraping, and build its own AI engine—thereby designing a multipoint solution within one ecosystem.

Organizations should also think of how they can benefit from the wealth of new people data the platform will offer. Besides helping measure workforce productivity, marketplace platforms also facilitate real-time workforce analytics, helping with succession planning and bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. As Patel from ProFinda said, organizations can gain as much as 8% increased productivity through platforming—otherwise only possible through workforce automation. Real-time workforce analytics can enable proactive and predictive workforce planning while supporting upskilling, reskilling, and predictive career pathways. Elaborating on this point, Frank Ginac, CTO of TalentGuard, suggested that marketplace data be combined with verified skill and competency data to analyze broader workforce trends and anticipate future talent needs.

Realizing the talent marketplace vision
As we said earlier, there’s no one-size-fits-all talent marketplace adoption strategy for workforce transformation. But based on our conversations with organizations adopting such internal talent marketplaces successfully, here are some key steps companies can take to activate its full potential:

Define the unique purpose of your internal talent marketplace, aligned with your business objectives
Engage managers, talent acquisition, and employees as key champions of the transformation
Implement a flexible change management program that engages managers and remains flexible
Assess how to integrate technologies across the ecosystem in a manner that reinforces a culture of talent and career mobility and creates value for the entire organization
Iterate over time by starting small, learning fast, and letting the marketplace strategy evolve
Steve Brown, head of Talent and Career Mobility at Electronic Arts, a video gaming company, spoke about his vision for the talent marketplace: “What we expect from this is that employees can see their career paths and access opportunities to grow through experiences. And that we as a company have visibility into our internal talent and their skills, capabilities, and experiences, and can build the ability to match them with opportunities.” He believes this will set the company apart in terms of attracting and retaining talent, improving employee engagement, driving innovation, and advancing culture. With such a holistic vision in place, the talent marketplace can change how businesses think about work, the workforce, the workplace, as well as the multidimensional relationship among the three.

Moreover, as Cerda from Citigroup, said, “What we are experiencing with COVID-19 presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink the way we have done business in the past, including our assumptions related to location. In the past, location could be a barrier to hiring and talent mobility, but now, it seems many more opportunities are available as we look beyond geographic constraints. With this view toward mobility, we’re rethinking internal talent development and how we attract external candidates. At the end of the day, having the right talent is a mix of promoting talent internally, developing existing talent, and also equipping the organization with new external talent.”

The pandemic has accelerated marketplace adoption as organizations have to scale and flex their talent models to meet business and workforce needs.
Until earlier this year, the talent marketplace was as a “next-generation” solution with early adopters and some fast followers. But thanks to the pandemic, its adoption has been accelerated and is leading to wins at a time when organizations have to scale and flex their talent models to meet the needs of both the business and their workforce. If organizations can activate the talent marketplace vision with an iterative design approach, they could be better positioned to manage workforce expectations, change work redesign, and accelerate for the future of work.

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