“Talent” is a common term lacking a conventional meaning. The importance of a working definition goes far beyond semantics; it is critical to individual and enterprise success. Talent, like other elements of digital transformation, is a fluid, nuanced word with many facets.
Talent wars have heated up across multiple industries during the pandemic. Covid-19 has accelerated the speed of digital transformation and resultantly intensified demand for a rarified breed of talent capable of meeting expanded remits and elevated customer expectations. The pandemic has also spawned “The Great Resignation,” a mass voluntary workforce migration— to new companies, careers, and lifestyles. It is propelled, in part, by a lack of purpose and unfulfilling work. This has made the hunt for talent existential, immediate, and fierce. It also underscores the importance of matching “talent” with the purpose, culture, and structure of the organization it is paired with.
Digital business is moving away from the traditional job-based talent management approach to an organization design and management model. The focus has shifted from creating job descriptions to the competencies and capabilities required to execute a business strategy. The new paradigm requires collaborative, innovative, purpose and outcome- driven talent that see its role and function as part of a larger, integrated enterprise effort focused on customers.
What Is Digital Talent And Why Is It So Important?
Digital talent is not one-dimensional; it is comprised of advanced “hard skills” as well as “soft/people” ones. The latter category requires an individual/workforce that is: customer-centric, collaborative, empathetic, fluid, tech and data-savvy, efficient, effective, inquisitive, creative, and a lifelong learner. Digital talent must also:
(1) align with organizational purpose and culture;
(2) embrace teamwork and a “we first” approach to achieve common goals
(3) demonstrate agility, a willingness to learn new skills (up-skilling), and augment existing skills as required by new roles;
(4) share knowledge and embrace new ways of doing things that advance enterprise and customer objectives;
(5) possess a customer-centric mindset.
Talent is top of mind for the C-Suite because of its impact on success. PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey found that 61% of CEOs identify retention of skills and talent as a key issue over the next five years. The ability to acquire and manage talent is the second most cited critical capability for tomorrow’s CEO’s. Perhaps that is why a recent McKinsey Global Survey on re-skilling found that 69% of respondents say they have reaped significant benefits from pandemic-initiated re-skilling efforts.
Re-skilling (up-skilling) is becoming a recurrent part of the talent lifecycle. Talent must identified, recruited, managed, measured, up-skilled (re-skilled), given a voice and opportunity to innovate, challenged, advanced, and treated as the corporate asset that it is. Richard Branson neatly captured the business-talent dynamic: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
The importance of talent is indisputable but what the term means and how it applies to a particular function is more nuanced, if not misunderstood. Nowhere is this more evident than in the legal industry.
Legal Talent Is Holistically Diverse And Integrated
The legal industry—especially the profession that has long controlled it—views “talent” narrowly. Most lawyers continue to marginalize the importance and standing of essential legal talent that is not licensed to practice law. The profession’s “lawyer’s and ‘non-lawyers’” mindset persists. Bloomberg Law’s 2021 Legal Operations Survey provides a stunning example. Among the 429 law firm and in-house lawyers at various career stages surveyed, 82% believe multidisciplinary teams can consist solely of licensed attorneys. Different practice areas, seniority levels, and firms are a “multidisciplinary” team for them.
The legal profession’s legacy culture, education, and indoctrination contribute to its narrow view of “legal talent.” The myopia has a chilling effect on the industry’s ability to attract, leverage, and retain multidisciplinary talent essential to effective delivery of digital legal services. Note to lawyers: business of law talent is equally important as practice expertise to meet the needs and expectations of digital business. “Legal talent” is no longer solely about lawyers. Legal practice professionals must learn to operate seamlessly with their business of law colleagues—whether or not they share a common employer. The legal function must also collaborate with other business functions to drive enterprise value and elevate the customer experience.
The Digital Legal Function’s Purpose Dictates Its Talent Requirements
“What is legal talent?” begs the broader question: “What is the purpose of the legal function?” Spoiler alert: to provide accessible, fast, affordable, efficient, predictable, cost-effective, transparent, data-backed, technology-enabled legal products and services that solve problems and capture opportunities. This is not a one-size-fits-all proposition; however, there are many common threads.
Here is a list of talent considerations for a digital legal function.
1. Legal talent has long been exclusively about lawyers. It is now comprised of a range of allied professionals whose expertise includes: technology, data analytics, engineering, computer science, finance, process and project management, organizational management, transformation and other fields. Not all talent must reside in the legal function; that is one of several reasons why legal must work cross-functionally with other business units.
2. Legal, like other business units in the digital age, is a function, not a department. It has a purpose that is broader than itself; it is part of a larger whole-the enterprise-and its mission is not solely to produce legal counsel. Its remit is to proactively identify, eliminate, or mitigate risk as well as to identify and collaborate with other business units to create value. Legal talent must have this mindset.
3. Diversity of talent should be broadly construed to include: practice skills, business, technology, data-analytics, process and project management, design, financial, and a range of other skillsets required of a digital legal function. Diversity also applies to background, gender, ethnicity, and other criteria that produce divergent perspectives that spawn innovation and produce more holistic input to business decisions.
4. A diverse talent pool must be unified by a common purpose and work as a team to achieve it.
5. Talent is not limited to employees; it has multiple sources that include: managed services, contract employees, on-demand talent, gig workers, and strategic partnerships.
6. No matter the provenance of talent, the legal supply chain must operate seamlessly. This applies not only to human resources but also to integration of tech platforms, data, and analytics. Integration of these resources requires expertise in talent and risk management, finance, project and process management, tech, data analytics, among others.
7. Legal talent must be agile; it must be prepared to deliver the necessary talent to the right team at the right time. This requires analytical and creative skill (“connecting the dots”) as well as social skills that enable rapid integration.
8. Practice talent must also be agile. Complexity of regulation, new risks, and the warp- speed of business are placing a premium on legal talent qualified to address it. Caveat: the foregoing applies to a small but high-value segment of legal practice work. Business of law talent leverages this expertise and insures that it becomes part of the institutional knowledge base.
9. Lawyers must abandon their “lawyer and ‘non-lawyer’” mindset and accord allied legal professionals and paraprofessionals equal status as team members. This is an example of the cultural/mindset change that is creating law’s growing “digital gap” with business.
10. All lawyers—including those engaged solely in legal practice— must function as business resources with legal expertise, not as lawyers in the pre-digital era.
11. The entire legal function must speak the language of business, operate at its speed, adopt business metrics, data analytics, and key performance indicators (KPI’s) and apply them to the legal function, render data-backed recommendations, deliver value, be proactive, and focus on customer objectives.
12. Digital legal talent must challenge existing paradigms and fashion new ways of doing things that better serve the needs of the enterprise and its customers.
13. Talent is not synonymous with pedigree, years of practice/professional experience, or hierarchical rank. Law’s rigid, hierarchical structure and “top-down” organizational structure is inimical to the demands placed on digital business. Digitally advanced companies recognize that good ideas are not confined to senior leadership. Steve Jobs said , ““It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
14. Individual talent is important, but collaboration, teamwork, and the unified purpose of advancing the interests of the enterprise and its customers—the collective talent pool—is the sine qua non of digital success.
15. Character, commitment, collaboration, passion, and compassion are critical talent components that the legal industry has long undervalued.
16. Performance is a truer measure of talent than potential and pedigree. Data analytics will help sort that out.
17. Talent is stifled when it lacks a sense of purpose and operates in a bureaucratic, rigid hierarchical structure. A recent McKinsey study reveals that this is especially so among the younger workforce segment.
18. Data analytics, benchmarking, and other performance metrics are essential to measuring, honing, advancing, retaining, and attracting top talent. This is important for individuals, the legal function, the enterprise, and its customers.
Digital legal talent is more diverse, dispersed, peripatetic, and purpose-driven than its predecessors. It also has a clearer purpose: to solve problems, identify opportunities, create value, and defend the rule of law. To do so, especially in the current climate, requires an evolved human being. Ironically, valuing humanity may be the greatest transformation hurdle legal culture must clear.
Article originally posted on Forbes