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Design Thinking in HR: Solving Business Pains with Innovative Solutions
Episode 1368th December 2023 • Engaging Leadership • CT Leong, Dr. Jim Kanichirayil
00:00:00 00:22:38

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In this episode, CT Leong interviews Arkesh Mishra, the Head of People at Walmart US Tech, about how to build an integrated talent management system. Arkesh shares his experience in implementing a capability framework at Walmart, which has become the common denominator for all talent decisions in the organization. He explains how this framework has improved clarity in job descriptions, enabled targeted learning and development, and created a more transparent and objective promotion process. Arkesh also discusses the role of technology in streamlining these processes and shares his moonshot goal of infusing AI into talent management.

Key Takeaways:

  • Building a capability framework provides clarity in job descriptions and enables targeted learning and development.
  • An integrated talent management system links hiring, promotions, and learning to a common set of capabilities.
  • Technology plays a crucial role in streamlining talent management processes and improving efficiency.
  • Infusing AI into talent management is the next frontier for organizations.


0:01:19 Building a capability framework

0:06:32 HR myth of people team being a governance function

0:10:07 Benefits of clarity in job expectations and promotion transparency

0:13:06 Identifying requirements is the first step, then find competent providers.

0:15:23 Success comes from defining problems well and finding creative solutions.

0:18:46 Testing and iterating before digitalizing processes is crucial.

0:20:07 Solutions should address the most pains of the business.

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Connect with Arkesh Mishra:

Music Credit: winning elevation - Hot_Dope

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CheeTung Leong: [:

Arkesh Mishra: Hi, CT. It's been a long time.

CheeTung Leong: It's, so great to reconnect Arkesh and tell us a little bit more about what you do.

Arkesh Mishra: I'm onto my sixth year at Walmart and I'm onto my fifth role. So in this role CT, I lead the people team for the Walmart U. S. tech organization. So Walmart U. S. is our largest retail entity. And the tech organization that supports and enables the Walmart US business organization, I lead the people team that works with the tech team.

CheeTung Leong: And just to give everyone a sense of the scale of this team how many people would this be?

associates between [:

CheeTung Leong: So you've had five roles so far at Walmart. But what is the achievement that you're most proud of?

Arkesh Mishra: A few years back we started on this entire journey to start and define our capability framework.

And what I mean by that is to say, how do we well defined set of capabilities that help us understand both the functional and technical requirements from a job. And as well as in other behavioral requirements. Now, what we essentially did is we took the enterprise version for the behaviors, which is the leadership expectations.

who was in technology versus [:

So that was the base of our framework. On top of that we built the functional and technical competencies or skills. And what we mean by that is we identified the job families that exist across all of global tech.

And for example, let's say if you were to take up the software engineer job family, what are the functional and technical competencies or skills that a software engineer would need to demonstrate across various levels. So things like requirement gathering, scoping, analysis, coding DevOps, maintenance and debugging things like that.

So while it sounds very simple because you essentially just build out the capability frameworks, which will inform your job descriptions. But the beauty of this framework was this then became our common denominator across all of our people practices. Now think about that.

incipal software engineer, a [:

So I've got a very good understanding of that. Now think of these as your Lego blocks. Now you take these Lego blocks and then start to assemble what my job descriptions and what my job postings will look like now basis, because I have the common denominator defined using this, I would start to build out what my hiring guides will look like, because I've got the common denominator defined, I can, what I can do is I can start to link learning very specifically to each role.

r, let's say, to a principal [:

And we digitalize the entire process. So now think about it this way, you've got the common denominator built on capabilities, and all of these capabilities are then linked to hiring promotions. And learning. So that is what I would say is an integrated talent management system where each of my talent decisions all go back to one common platform.

And I'm pretty proud of this model.

CheeTung Leong: That's super cool. And I know we're going to dive into this in a lot more detail, but very quickly, based on everything that we've spoken about, what is your moonshot goal for next year?

processes to make sure that [:

Now, one of the things I would I would not exactly call it a moonshot, but what is aspirational is to understand How is AI getting infused into the way we work, the way we define jobs? So if I was to look at the next frontier of what the definition of jobs is going to be, how do we redefine the way we build capabilities across our associates?

What do we expect from them? I would say being able to infuse AI both into how we define jobs and capabilities plus the way we work. I'd say that would be the next frontier for us.

CheeTung Leong: Last of the rapid fire questions. What is the leadership or HR myth that you wish would just go away?

y is that passion for people [:

If we were looking at people within the people function who really rise above and solve problems, they're the ones who truly start to build solutions that actually make people's lives easier make business problems easier to address from a people perspective and so on.

So I would say, maybe the popular perception if you look across is the people team is more of a governance function. I would say the myth that I would want to go away is it's not a governance function. It's a problem solving function.

We are solving problems on a daily basis. And that's what the people function is all about.

CheeTung Leong: It's such a great point and I think it links very nicely to what we're talking about today. When you describe this integrated talent management system, it is truly integrated.

hen even if you have an exit [:

Arkesh Mishra: When we started building out the solution on this, the end state that we reached that was probably not the vision we started with. We started with a very simple problem statement. As I started talking to associates and managers alike. One of the most common problems I came across is help us understand how our jobs are actually varying across levels. If I'm a software engineer, I need to know how is my job different from the job at the next level, which is a senior software engineer and so on. Now, and this, was the situation like five years back.

tand that there is a lack of [:

Now, towards that my past experience as a consultant came in handy because I was able to understand from business leaders, their strategies, their operating models, ways of working, and using all of that information, Chitong, we essentially built all the competencies in house. So to answer your question, how did all of this start? It started by trying to answer one simple question saying, how do we provide better clarity to our associates and managers for the jobs that they currently do? And for the jobs, let's say they aspire to be in.

CheeTung Leong: So you're looking at this from the HR lens. What, was in it for the associates to say okay, this is a worthwhile problem for us to solve and let's work with you to solve this.

e're building is relevant to [:

And second I'll talk about the outcomes that the business started experiencing. So to your point because this is a framework that we were building, by the people team. So what we did is once the competencies were created and defined.

We actually took these models to associates and managers, walked them through the model and said help us understand, what is your takeaway? Do you find it beneficial? And what feedback do you have for us? We ran 10 to 12 focus groups of around 200 to 300 associates. So that was fairly exhaustive across a cross section of, associates.

Now that gave us a lot of insights in terms of simplifying the framework that give us a lot of insights in terms of the change management, the communication and so on. But the overwhelming feedback that we got was these frameworks were actually helping associates for the first time truly understand what their job entailed and what their job truly looked like.

that we started to see was A [:

Now it was easier for people to understand what they could do to actually grow in the firm. Promotion, were seen as a black box to say, Hey, you know what, they did great work we need, some people are promoted, some people are not this is the framework that brought in a lot more transparency and objectivity to say.

What is required to be promoted and how do you get promoted? How do grow in the organization and so on?

CheeTung Leong: Did you consider what were the solutions out there prior to this? What, most people do today with regard to piecing together all of this stuff?

Arkesh Mishra: What happens is when you're trying to put a job description together, you essentially reach out to subject matter experts who understand the job and you get their inputs to say, Hey, let me understand like what are the functional requirements of this job?

d and so on. And usually the [:

So you reach out to subject matter experts, get that input and essentially build out a job description. The challenge with that approach is when you start to build out these job descriptions by bringing in subject matter experts from various fields, these jobs, they don't stack one above the other you would probably take the principles of the engineer and trying to find what it means.

However even if you were to look at a job above and a job below, that does not necessarily mean that the entire job spine is defined with the more methodical framework. What that does is it creates a disruptive way of defining jobs where jobs from one level to another are not connected and they may or may not be necessarily connected even to your business strategy because you're specifically looking at what the associate does.

by asking questions, help us [:

CheeTung Leong: You're, a highly skilled consultant prior to this that came into to run this process. Do you feel like, you need specific skills to do this successfully because I can imagine that you need to bound this problem quite tightly. And I think within your, sphere of work, I, there's a wide variety of different types of engineers, but at least the kind of work is quite similar, but for most listeners, I can imagine that they have quite a broad variety of different job families and they may or may not have access to the kind of highly skilled consulting [00:13:00] experience that you have brought to the table. So how do you, think like in, in the wild, like something like this can be replicated?

Arkesh Mishra: To answer your question, I would say. Yes, and no. There are parts of my job that have required skills from a past life, and there are parts of my job that are predominantly fueled by the basic requirement of wanting to solve problems. And then I'll give you two examples of that.

For example, the work that we talked about defining skills and so on now that is highly skilled and it's not a, you need to go through those projects learn those skills and so on. Now to people who do not have those skills, I would say the first and the most important step, irrespective of that is identifying what is required.

ur point, all of this should [:

For example when we were building out a promotion process, one of the things that we realized was required. Was, being able to expand the catchment of all those people who are being nominated for promotions. And the reason we needed that was to just make sure that managers are not, handpicking people for promotions.

only be able to move forward.[:

And what we have seen happen is because we build that gating mechanism. the number of people considered for promotions, that number has gone up it's created a lot more holistic lens. So that's one of the ways to, bring in fairness, bring in objectivity reduce biases that even we as people and we may not even be aware of.

So I was trying to just give you two examples of things that are required a lot of skills versus things that can be addressed by a pure problem solving.

pertise when you need it, but[:

And the other thing I took away from what you shared was This doesn't happen overnight. You guys basically had three years and I think that's pretty fast as it is, but three years to build out to where you guys are today.

Arkesh Mishra: The build out was within six months. I'm saying took us three years to build out the overall integrated time management system.

CheeTung Leong: And what role did technology play in all of this?

Arkesh Mishra: So I'll take one particular process from the talent management system, which is the promotion process. So when we started the process, we started with Excel sheets, you will send out an assessment, manager would key in their input, send it back to you, and you collect all of those assessment sheets, review them and say, this goes through, that doesn't go through and so on.

It was painful for everybody involved in the process, managers, people, partners, and so on. So we said, this is not a sustainable, not a scalable model. We have got, we have thousands of people going through promotions . So we said, okay, so let's figure out a solution in terms of, that would work out.

And Walmart [:

So my team , some of them went online and actually taught themselves how to build, workflows, digital workflows using no code. So these are zero code, no code digital workflows. So essentially, now you have an entire workflow on our browser, where you go in, nominate associates, and go through the readiness assessments, calibrations, and so on.

So that was the second stage. And so that's where technology started to come in. And it started to take away all the pains of running everything on Excel sheets, on emails, and so on. Now, there was an initial amount of euphoria from our users, from managers and people partners saying, Oh my God, no more Excel sheets, blah, blah, blah.

tually not that fast because,[:

And we brought in software developers now because all of this has worked and we understand workflow really well. And that's where we said, okay, so now we brought in our software developers and we started to build it out on a more permanent platform where it's moved to finally, and which is its final house.

years before we digitalized [:

CheeTung Leong: I think that's a really important lesson that much as we love technology and the new efficiencies that it can bring us, if our process is broken, making a broken process more efficient just makes the brokenness more efficient. We're coming close to the end of time. What is one key takeaway that you would want to share with other HR leaders who are approaching their organizations and thinking about like the different problems that are available to solve. Because every single listener, I'm pretty sure, if you ask them what's their top 10 problems, they could give you a list of a hundred, probably. So how do you what's, one key takeaway that you would share with them on nailing like one or two of these key things?

Arkesh Mishra: I would say these days design thinking is gone out of vogue, and it's not the end thing, but I have truly loved design thinking and I'll tell you the aspects of it that I've loved. The thing is, to your earlier questions around like what we built, how did we know it was relevant to the business?

I would say [:

So I think with these two being used in a, in a reiterative way would make sure that the solutions that we build are actually on track and actually creating the impact that we wanted to create. Those, would be my two giveaways.

CheeTung Leong: Yeah, I love that. Very actionable. If any of our listeners ever want to contact you to try to understand your process a little bit better, what's the best way for them to do

Arkesh Mishra: they can always reach out to me on LinkedIn. [: