Verizon sign hero

Verizon’s Approach to Strategic Workforce Planning

Over the course of the past two years, managing talent has taken on an even more significant role in the lives of HR professionals worldwide. The multi-faceted impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as social and political upheaval has led to many people reevaluating where and how they want to work, leading to waves of talent movement unlike any other previously seen.

The Institute For Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) recent study, Accelerating Total Workforce Readiness, highlights some additional uncomfortable realities. Specifically, 53% of the 717 survey respondents representing larger organizations (those employing >1,000 people) reported that they have insufficient data about the current skills and capabilities of their respective workforces.

And 47% said that their organizations lack clarity about the skills and capabilities they need going forward.
Not knowing what they have and what they need means that many organizations are flying somewhat blind with respect to talent, making themselves vulnerable to significant talent loss.

In a recent i4cp Next Practices Monthly conversation with Samantha (Sam) Hammock, CHRO of Verizon, we learned about Verizon’s path to proactively understanding the current talent landscape, which includes the talent they have and the talent they will need in the future to minimize disruption from talent loss—and ideally prevent major talent loss altogether.

Slowing down to move fast

Our conversation with Hammock began with a discussion on the mega-trends Verizon has identified as they pertain to talent, and as the image below shows, these trends are aligned with the findings of i4cp’s ongoing workforce readiness research, beginning with understanding the skills and talent Verizon needs to ensure success now and into the future.

Mega trends are reshaping the future of workAs this work began, Hammock noted that her challenge to the organization was, in her words, to “flip the great resignation to the great retention, to unpack the details to determine where we should really focus, and how we can use data to help us understand this.”

As they dove deeper into this work, it became clear that it was necessary to start at the very root of their talent processes, which meant reviewing and reworking how they defined and coded individual jobs in their human resources management system (HRM).

“This work was far from sexy, but it was a completely necessary first step. One of my mantras is that you need to slow down to move fast, and this is one example of where this is very true,” Hammock said.

To Verizon, slowing down to move fast meant starting with their job taxonomy.

“Getting the job hierarchy right is the foundation of getting strategic workforce planning right,” said Hammock. “It’s the foundation for everything else in our talent systems, from talent acquisition to talent development to DE&I.”

Their starting point: 140,000 employees and 11,000 job codes.

“It was so easy to get here, but cleaning it up is really tough” Hammock said. By the time the clean-up was finished (completely revising their job taxonomy took about 18 months), they had gone from the 11,000 job codes down to 10 job families and 2,400 individual job codes, which were then aligned with employees.

Before and After job codes verizonFor this phase, Verizon  implemented a one-stop shop microsite, a job library to access information on all roles within Verizon and “Your Career Journey” full of new career exploration tools that support you in each of these areas and will empower and inspire employees to build and own their careers at Verizon. The “Your career journey” site is full of self-guided tools to support employees and managers through self-assessments, research on careers, and set career objectives.

Now that the 2,400 jobs each has its own job profile, they will be aligned with the specific skills one needs to perform in each role. These skills will be connected (Hammock referred to them as the connective tissue) to the rest of Verizon’s talent ecosystem, which includes talent acquisition, training, and employee development.

“We wanted to make sure the job profiles were relatable not just within Verizon. Making job profiles more easily understood internally and externally goes a long way toward connecting all talent processes, from being able to attract candidates to the right roles to developing our employees internally. This feeds our employees’ ability to effectively network and grow,” Hammock said.

The output of all this work is a system known at Verizon as Talent GPS, which gives the power of steering and directing career choices to each individual employee.

“For example, it will be more visible to employees what the skills differences are between a Project Manager 1 and a Project Manager 2, which will provide employees with a clearer development path. This clarity will give each employee so much more power to influence their own career development,” Hammock said.

Talent GPS verizon

Eventually, the system will provide even more to employees in terms of helping them develop internally. Hammock explained, “The system will be set up so that employees can select from a list the skills they have, their experiences, and other variables that will then highlight jobs they may want to consider on their career path. This will also link into our learning platform to help employees close identified skills gaps, and links directly to job profiles. This whole interconnected system really opens up the landscape of career development at Verizon.”

In addition to all of these benefits, the process also unleashed an enhanced career experience for the Verizon-driven creation of the Women's CoLab, a collaborative career engine consisting of large employers such as Verizon, the Walt Disney Company, Walmart, Estee Lauder, and the United Nations, which brings together the resources women need in a post-pandemic digital world.

As Hammock described to Employee Benefit News (EBN) in 2021:

“Women’s CoLab was developed by our fearless female leaders here at Verizon, after seeing the real devastation that the pandemic wreaked on working women of all levels. We saw Women’s CoLab as an opportunity and responsibility to lift women in the workplace. Rather than give into the ‘she-cession,’ we sprang into action.”

Approximately 5.4 million jobs were lost by women in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center. Remaining a part of—and even rejoining—the workforce isn’t an easy task for women who are already juggling responsibilities beyond the workplace.

The Women’s CoLab is a free resource for women to seek out training and development, education, mentorship, and peer-to-peer support through interactive communities to help members build a virtual support system that will help them stay determined and career-focused. Members of the CoLab also have access to guest essays from workplace leaders, live Q&As, and events and specialized workshops (Schavio, 2021).

Job code vs. business title

One piece of advice from Hammock for organizations that are considering a similar workforce readiness exercise is to set expectations early on that job titles will likely change as a part of this process.

“People are very sensitive about their titles, but in order to make the system work, titles needed to change. We communicated early and often that this would happen, and made sure our people understood that this didn’t mean a change in levels—it just meant a change in job title so that there was alignment with job titles outside of Verizon as well.”

Hammock continued, “Eventually we learned to distinguish between job code and business title. While job codes are what they are in our system, employees have greater freedom to use different business titles outside of the system. Differentiating internal job code with business job title and providing employees with the freedom to use different business titles calmed the pushback substantially so that we could continue the necessary internal work.”

Skills-first hiring

Revising their job taxonomy and clearly identifying the skills needed for each job role has also reinforced how Verizon assesses what is needed for a given role. Interestingly, they’ve doubled down on what they call skills-first hiring.

“Prior to this work, job postings were more geared in a traditional sense toward four-year degrees. Sometimes there was less focus on the experiences people brought to the role. Our work in this space has emphasized that skills are the most important requirements rather than degrees. This goes hand-in-hand with certification programs which really opens opportunities for those who either chose not to or did not have the opportunity to get a four-year degree. We are very excited about how this is opening the door to the hidden workers—those who would have previously been overlooked, which ultimately positively impacts our DE&I efforts.” Hammock said.

Using tuition assistance programs in creative ways to support the reskilling of employees has also been identified by i4cp as a next practice—which is defined as a strategy that analysis shows has strong correlation to better market performance, but is not yet in wide adoption by most organizations.

Strategic workforce planning

For Verizon, the connective tissue of job skills also feeds their annual strategic workforce planning (SWP) process, in which leaders create a three-year road map for talent in their organization. Leaders then share the plan with the broader HR organization so that the people systems are prepared to support the needs of the organization.

The SWP process identifies what talent they currently have, and what talent they will need. From here, they assess the best way to access the needed talent. Do they build and grow internally? Do they recruit externally? Is this a shorter-term need for which contractors might be the answer?

SWP is part of Verizon's annual planning cycle

Hammock notes that this process has increased Verizon’s window into the future to help them plan talent much better than they ever have before. Speaking to talent needs in terms of specific skills has also helped them gain significantly more clarity about what they have and what they need, and has created a common job taxonomy language across Verizon.

“I’m extremely excited about what this all will unlock. It opens the door for proactive talent pools and proactive talent development, helping to ensure we are ready for whatever comes next,” said Hammock.

While on this talent journey, Verizon leadership determined that it was vital to hold themselves personally accountable and to also hold themselves accountable to their shareholders by creating more transparency about how their talent is managed.

Verizone Human Capital Report 2020For this reason, in April 2021, Verizon released its first Human Capital Report, detailing how it retains, trains, and builds a workforce ready for the future. Verizon continued to share details about these efforts in its 2020 and 2021 Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reports.

Hammock noted that these disclosures are yet another step toward achieving their goal of attracting, developing, and inspiring employees worldwide while ensuring greater visibility and transparency around their progress in the areas of DE&I, environmental and social impact, creating and supporting a strong and meaningful employee value proposition that both attracts and retains talent.

This level of transparency is a newer trend in human capital disclosure, and Verizon is clearly leading the way. Data from a recent i4cp survey of respondents representing 131 global and national organizations found that fewer than half (41%) said that their companies publicly disclose any type of workforce diversity data; 27% reported that their companies don’t publicly disclose important workforce metrics at all.

This shouldn’t be surprising, given that more than half of the overall respondents (51%) belong to organizations in which CEO compensation isn’t tied to human capital metrics—among those from larger organizations (those employing >1,000 people) one-third reported that CEO compensation is tied to human capital goals.

Historically, corporations have been required to disclose very few—and very general—details about their HR data. However, in 2020, the SEC began work to intensify human capital disclosure requirements, citing an increased demand for such information from investors.

As i4cp noted in October, 2021, the benefits of more thorough workforce disclosures are difficult to measure, but include enhanced brand and reputation as well as greater consumer confidence. Public disclosure of data also reinforces the responsibility of corporate boards and investors to hold companies more accountable for their organizational culture, including matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, it can help attract new investors and build stock value as data highlights companies investing in their employees and their development.

Verizon has certainly recognized that this is a new era of human capital disclosure and through their Human Capital and ESG Reports, are on the forefront of role-modeling what this looks like in practice.

Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough

Hammock believes strongly that Verizon is putting into action what the research shows—understanding the skills you have, and the skills needed are the critical starting point for any organization. Laying this foundation has allowed Verizon to change the conversation about talent significantly, not only internally but externally as well.

Without this knowledge, it’s almost impossible to be truly prepared to meet current and future needs, and agile enough to shift when the inevitable next big change occurs. If we’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that change is inevitable, and preparation is key. Verizon is now more prepared than ever before to manage through whatever is next. Hammock’s advice: “Just get started and don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough. This is a journey for all of us, not a destination.”

Final thoughts

The combined stressors of the pandemic, significant social and political strain, and economic concerns have driven many to reevaluate their work, their priorities, and their lives. This has sparked an onset of more resignations than any of us have ever experienced. Leaders must think three steps ahead to not only evaluate but execute on strategies that demonstrate to employees that they are cared about, they are valued, and that they are not easily expendable.

Verizon is a stellar example of an organization leaning into some of i4cp’s most notable next practices, including effectively breaking down jobs into smaller skills and tasks as well as identifying transferable skills and capabilities, and analyzing the gap between the organization’s future workforce requirements and their current workforce skills and capabilities.

This goes beyond work skills, job experience, and credentials to include personal interests / hobbies of employees in the organization's workforce skills database, and using tuition assistance programs in creative ways to support the reskilling of employees.

While this work may seem daunting to get started on, remember Hammock’s advice: “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough,” and just get started. The resilience of your organization may depend on it.