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Max Armbruster
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Talent Systems Architects: Investing in Experience and Learning - Wagner Denuzzo, Prudential Financial

Episode 39 full cover

In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast Wagner Denuzzo, Head of Capabilities for future of work at Prudential Financial, talks about the intersection between skills and capabilities, the shift in traditional job profiles, investing not just in talent mapping but talent development, and the new role of recruiters as “Talent Systems Architects.”


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MAX: All right, good morning, welcome back everybody to the Recruitments Hackers Podcast. Today on the show I'm delighted to welcome Wagner Denuzzo, Head of Capabilities for future of work at Prudential Financial, who has led some initiatives at Prudential around the future of work for the transformation of talent, is working on talent mapping for the future at Prudential. And we'll talk about organizational developments at Prudential and maybe go back to some of your work at IBM before, if you're willing to walk us down memory lane Wagner.

 

WAGNER: Thanks so much, Max. Nice to be here, and I'm looking forward to the dialogue. Thank you.

 

MAX: Thank you. So now future of work, I feel like nobody knows what it means. So perhaps you could start by telling us how this came about at Prudential Financial the decision to create a future of work group.

 

WAGNER: Well it's interesting because if you ask your audience, 'how many of their companies are going through a transformation?', probably everybody's gonna raise their hands. So transformation now is a continuous process of finding differentiation in the marketplace anyway. So Prudential embarked on a major transformation we knew we had to accelerate the way we engage with our customers, the way we offer services and start creating experiences for them. So that logically lead to, we need to focus on our people, do we have the capabilities to go through this transformation to be successful, what are the new ways of working, what are the new ways of designing your organization, what are the new ways that we can engage the right talent out there to come join us. So, all this came into fruition in the future of work. Today people say what's the future of work. To me, the future of work is nothing but creating the capabilities, to create a future-ready organization and future-ready requires you to be adaptable and be conscious that things are continuously changing, so that's the future of work. 

 

MAX: I mean we all have the same, we have a joint future hopefully. And our future, I think, is all kinds of pushing the marketplace towards the same types of talents, digital, good with numbers, creative, nimble and quick, these are universal qualities we look for. So, how much of that search will be recruitment lead versus development lead, because it's kind of like nature versus nurture debate. Are you adapting the organization, by changing your hiring practices, or is it more around training and development.

 

WAGNER: That's very interesting that you say that because in my view, everything is contextual. Prudential has a long history of employee-centric policies and strategies. So of course, as we evolve, as we create new capabilities, as things evolve and we need to shift to new higher value skills. We need to focus on upscaling and rescaling. But that does not necessarily meet our needs for fresh thinking and fresh skills that sometimes is much better for us to buy or borrow than build. So I think what you're saying is recruitment plays a key role here because now at least at Prudential we have a strategic workforce planning process that we are implementing now we're piloting phases, but it's very critical that the TA team starts getting acquainted with what the business needs are in terms of the capabilities they are building, because the roles are changing. My team does grow reimagining roles so we are deconstructing roles, we are rebuilding. There's so much technology now, that helps to rebuild roles based on skills and valuing skills. So even those traditional surveys that we use for TA, they are going to be outdated very soon, if we don't keep up with reinvention of roles, job descriptions are going to change. I always say in HR, for example I come from HR and I think we need the talent systems architect. What is that? I would create a job description immediately because I think we need it. We need a digital-savvy HR leader, we need an HR leader who is a synthesizer of analytics, we need an HR leader who is strategic in their thinking about the outside in. So, to be honest, it is a prime time for recruiters to reinvent themselves. 

 

MAX: Yeah. I think the recruiters that I'm coming across now, very different than at the start of my career when we were looking for pure sales guys, hustlers, people with charisma, the ability to remember people on a first-name basis, very naturally fluently and to go on. I live in Hong Kong where recruiters are working at the bars, basically exchanging name cards to create a portfolio of customers. Well, the bars were closed most of the year and today most of my customers, I see that they're more likely to be working on automated workflows, Excel sheets, can I deep thinking work, of course, it's also because it's the different nature of recruitment when you're doing with high volume recruitment versus the more white gloves service you would get in the financial services. But basically, I think it's the rise of the introspective deep thinking recruiter which I witnessed. Is that similar transformation that you're seeing at Prudential?

 

WAGNER: Yes, you know why because as you're speaking I was thinking, how important it is to create the right candidate experience nowadays, right. We can no longer just pretend that the candidate experience is not relevant to us because at least for Prudential a candidate that comes through our doors and is not hired, that's a lost customer if they don't have a good experience. So the idea that customers, the market you're serving, your candidates, your employees, they are one community thinks this way. We have one community of people who might be coming in and out of your ecosystem. So this creates a lot of complexity, and then deep thinking. If we talk about deep thinking I think about the tele marketplace. Every company is thinking about the tele marketplace. If you're not thinking about the marketplace you better accelerate your thinking, because we have about six or seven top-notch vendors out there, and they're all using machine learning, AI to really enforce skills and compliment the recruiters' savviness, right. You talk about the quality of the recruiter. Today a recruiter has to be a little more analytical in their approach. They need to understand the algorithms that are helping them source their candidates. So all this is very exciting but at the end of the day, you cannot benchmark your future, I truly believe in that. If you want to differentiate yourself, you go forward with something that is innovative and you build the future you want. So, I think digital platforms now are allowing us to do this. We enable ourselves with technology, with platforms, and then we create a special engagement. What I say is that systems of record are there, systems of insights are there now. Now it's time for us to create the systems of engagement, they are going to create a differentiation.  

 

MAX: The role that you just talked about earlier.

 

WAGNER: Talent systems architect?

 

MAX: Talent systems architect. That sounds good. I think I've seen a few of those but they were more like HRIS Manager, which is the old way of calling things I suppose. What I saw in the last few months from my very unique perspective, unique as in biased, from my angle of the world, was that with shrinking budgets for many companies that were going through cost reduction, came a desire to reduce all the fats in the system including all system integration, and to consolidate their spend with one or two vendors, one or two system of records. And so the architects that were populating the world, I guess had less budget to work with and so I had to consolidate their spending with a few number of vendors. So, I think it was a good year for really big systems of record, and maybe a more difficult year for the smaller tech vendors that were not a must-have.

 

WAGNER: Yeah. But that's a good point too because the challenges that we face with less budget in a more constrained environment leaves you a lot of innovative thinking. And to be honest I think the advantage of smaller vendors and partners, I call them partners, is that if they are in front of you in the right time with the right products things go very fast. That's the other thing. Things can go very fast, if you are in the right place in the right time in the right context, but it's hard to find those niche, but I think that the curiosity that we have to apply, we're always curious about new vendors, new partners, because sometimes you'll find something that is really genius and you need to go with it.

 

MAX: Yeah, a real differentiator.

 

WAGNER: Exactly.

 

MAX: Yeah, I've got a couple of aces up my sleeve for next year, for this year. I wanted to go back to IBM. I know IBM is a while back for you already a couple of years but it's got such a reputation and you've spent 10 years there almost and it's got such a reputation as a place where talent is being developed, as a place where you spend your entire career. I was hoping you could walk us back on what workforce planning meant at a giant like IBM, and what their philosophy is around talents, because, I'm going back to my MBA days and all the case studies were about IBM this place where you create an extremely competitive environment and manage to attract the best engineers in the world.

 

WAGNER: Yeah. Actually, it's funny. I'm so fond of IBM, once an IBM always an IBM or by the way, but what is striking to me is how amazing it was in 2008-2009 with Transform HR. We started creating strategies that were so ahead of the time, we had the influence of skills, we had already applied our algorithms to the propensity to learn, who are the people who had propensity and curiosity. We had so many streams that helped us create an even bigger strategy into our point. Why IBM has its own philosophy of talent because actually, we enable the people to own their careers. We always talk about owning your career or your career is yours, you make it, but if you don't enable the talent, you don't have much to promote that growth. So at IBM you have the tools you had all that but beyond that, it's important to have clarity. I keep thinking about this, in a world that's so crowded, think about clarity creating capacity, capacity to think, capacity to strategize, capacity to focus on the priority you have, but think about capacity, always comes out of clarity. If you have clarity don't waste your time confused. So at IBM it's very clear what we stand for. So we had our clear strategy, career velocity for example. We understand that you want your career to go fast. So how do we enable you to think that way? So all this creative leadership we had this at one point, all this based on skills. And this is the funny part right. Now today everything is skills based but we are doing skill-based everything in 2009-2010 so now it's been 11 years of skills as a currency. Now we are evolving to capabilities and now we are evolving to what are the enduring human capabilities. So, recruiters now have a responsibility to actually not only serve the managers hiring the talent, but actually we have a consultative approach to that, because actually the recruiter could play a big role in identifying what are the nuances in the capability you're looking for that actually you didn't describe being or description. So it's interesting how the recruiter is now in a great position. And to your point, your company too. You had to accelerate the experience, people don't have patience to wait for phone calls back from people and all this. If you have a platform that interacts with candidates in the onboarding like you said. I love the idea that you could have a frictionless onboarding experience. I love that. IBM has been doing that for a long time, but because we have technology.

 

MAX: I suppose that you want to hire people who are ambitious, want to progress their career rapidly as you did in IBM. It wouldn't be suitable to have a recruitment process, which would be longer than your competitors. Say, hire slow fire fast. I always try to counter it by saying, no it should be the other way around. I mean, hire fast.

 

WAGNER: I agree.

 

MAX: But maybe fire fast as well, but definitely hire fast if you can make the right hire fast, rather than the right hire slow. So, if somebody is listening here and falls in love with the idea of working for IBM. How could they self eliminate themselves, what would be somebody who would not be happy at IBM, because I used to work at SAP, 70,000 maybe more now employees worldwide. And I felt a little bit like a nobody in a really big ocean like a drop of water in the ocean. And so it wasn't really right for me. I guess IBM is gonna be a little bit the same, like you need to be very group-oriented.

 

WAGNER: Okay, I can't talk for IBM because I'm not there right now. However, I'll tell you how I got a job at IBM, this is interesting. I didn't know anybody at IBM, I had my own practice as a consultant, executive coaching trainer. I did everything in HR consultancy, and I moved to a place far away from New York City, and I was right next to IBM, and somebody said why you're going to sit every day, go work for IBM. I said, why not. And I found the name of the head of talent there in diversity. And I called the assistant to job three to meet today. I called the second I talked to him now? No sir, can I give him my resume? No sir, can I get his email? No sir, go through the regular process. Okay, that's not going to work for me. So I knew somebody from New York, in our HR community that was at IBM, in the suffix of their emails was us.ibm.com. So I got his name and I remember writing fifteen combinations of his name nr.glovaglova rn and I kept doing combinations, one of them went through. And he said, interesting resume, I will pass through HR. I said okay everybody there says they will pass through HR. And two weeks later I was sitting in front of HR. He says I'm interviewing him because he asked me, but what am I gonna do with you. I said I don't know but I can't be your greatest cultural evangelist for IBM. So you can consider me one of your champions. In three weeks I had a job offer, and the rest is history. 

 

MAX: Nice.

 

WAGNER: So it's really interesting right how things happen. But if you want to be disqualified, talk about expecting predictability, expecting predictable work, or expecting certainty. So you know that's not a place for you because IBM evolves quickly and we are always still dynamic there. It's really cool for somebody who wants to grow capability skills, it's incredible. But not for somebody who is looking for certainty and predictable work. That doesn't work that way. 

 

MAX: I think that's a great insight. I would have expected the opposite, actually. I would be like IBM which’s so organized because that is my mental picture. So I would associate that with predictability but I understand it's different. And with Prudential Financial, what is the type of profile you would encourage not to come? It's like the opposite of employer branding, who do we not want to hire. 

 

WAGNER: Don't tell us how good you are. Tell us how good you want to be because we are very much into the learning phase of our history. We are becoming a very learning culture, and it is really taking hold. We're talking to our leaders about learning, being curious and it works, because we are hiring. For example, we are hiring for propensity to learn for capabilities that are ahead of your role. We are asking people to tell us how they envision their careers progressing because if you want a vertical career path that's not the place to be. I think we want people to experience as much as they can because we depend on the diversity of thought, we depend on your experiences being diverse because our customers are expecting different offerings. We can't do things in silence any more. So if you expect to come to a role in progress to become the senior vice president in that role in that vertical, that's not really a good thing to say.

 

MAX: You also have to own your career and be ready to move.

 

WAGNER: Exactly. Be ready to move across everywhere. 

 

MAX: Nobody wants to get financial advice from somebody who'd be saying the same thing for 10 years in a row.

 

WAGNER: Exactly. Very good point. 

 

MAX: Great. Well, one question I love to ask is about traumatic experiences around talent. We've all made bad hires in the past. Can you walk us back memory lane and tell us about somebody you hired, where well it was the wrong hire for the role. 

 

WAGNER: What I tell you it actually ended up being a success story, Okay, I'm very into taking bets on talents. So, when I was transforming management development at IBM. I got a call from somebody who was in Mexico and I said interesting as I got one international mindset and really multicultural thinker but was a catastrophe. She arrived and actually she was so stuck in her old way and she was so afraid because her experience in Mexico was really not great and her maturity wasn't there yet. So, I was so close. 

 

MAX: And she had done a great interview. She nailed it.

 

WAGNER: And she had done a great interview. She was so excited about the dynamic ways of doing things. She can't wait to try new things. I say okay, I like the raw material. The raw material comes with a dose of consequences, and buddy good news is this. I don't give up. I was this close to firing her, I have to say. However, I said you know what this is my challenge. As a leader, this is my challenge: how can I make her successful in a different role, somehow I am gonna make her successful. It took me three months to turn something around. Today she is still at IBM and she is the Head of communications, one of the communications leaders there. I love that story because we're still friends and we laugh about it, how hard it was in the beginning because it was horrendous but at the end of the day, you know what I could have fired her but I didn't. So don't give up on talent that quickly.

 

MAX: Okay. 

 

WAGNER: It was dramatic though. It was dramatic because I needed somebody.

 

MAX: It was dramatic. But if you could do it a bit differently would you do it differently?

 

WAGNER: Oh yeah, well I would think about capabilities, like I said before, you need to think about capabilities, you have to explore what are the capabilities people bring. You can have certifications, you can have diplomas, you can have experiences, but tell me how you're bringing all this together to build capability and value. And I think that's the next frontier of interviewing. 

 

MAX: That's like capabilities more like skill-based? 

 

WAGNER: Skills plus abilities plus what's your intention. How do you merge skills, capabilities and abilities into this capability of actually creating value, and that is something between skills and abilities, that is the art of interviewing that you find. But it's funny, I love this because it's not concrete, but I think it's real. 

 

MAX: And then you had to go in panic mode and basically upskill her.

 

WAGNER: Yes completely, was coaching one on one every day. It was good at the end.

 

MAX: All right, so even if you make a terrible hiring mistake if the desire is there, don't give up. There's still a route to salvation. Invest reinvest in the person, give it a few months and maybe.

 

WAGNER: You see now you said something interesting, maybe why because the person needs to be willing. She said help, this is the problem, that's the differentiator. I would fire her if she said you are the problem, but she didn't, she said I know I'm the problem, help me and I took that bet. So it was very cool. 

 

MAX: Okay, I've got a few names, running through my head about who needs help. I think everybody has got to be thinking about that all the time who needs help. Great, well Wagner it was delightful to get to know you and to learn a little bit more about the future of working is today at Prudential. I mean we went down memory lane a little bit more than you probably wanted, but thanks for sharing. Where can people get a hold of you, if they want to find out more?

 

WAGNER: You can find me on LinkedIn, you know I love interacting with people on LinkedIn Wagner Denuzzo on there and I'm open to new connections, it's fun. 

 

MAX: Great. Thank you again.

 

WAGNER: Thanks, Max.

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