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HomeManufacturerPeople & SkillsKey Metrics To Measure Skills-Based Practices: Insights From Vistra

Key Metrics To Measure Skills-Based Practices: Insights From Vistra

Vistra Corp. is a leader in skills-based hiring, retention and internal mobility practices. To take their efforts to the next level, Carrie Kirby and Annette Underwood have led the charge to define and use key metrics to measure their success and refine their strategies.

Skills are the hottest topic in corporate America these days. And for good reason. We know that a skills-first approach is foundational to a more equitable workplace and is how businesses are preparing for an increasingly skills-driven, as opposed to credential-driven, labor market.

As more companies center skills over degrees in their approaches to talent, they face an ongoing challenge: how to measure their progress and determine what drives meaningful business and social value. Some of the business benefits of a skills-first approach include stronger fit for role, more diverse teams, better employee engagement, and higher retention of underrepresented talent.

But to capture these results, companies need better data measurement infrastructure and clear benchmarks to inform decision-making. Grads of Life and the Business Roundtable partnered in 2022, along with eleven leading corporations involved in the Multiple Pathways Initiative, to establish a set of common metrics companies can track to evaluate skills-based talent practices.

Vistra, a Fortune 500 integrated retail electricity and power generation company, was a member of that BRT working group and is now leading the way when it comes to measuring the impact of skills-based employment practices.

Grads of Life had the opportunity to sit down with two leaders at Vistra, Carrie Kirby and Annette Underwood, to hear about their journey and gain insight into what it takes to successfully implement and measure a skills-first talent paradigm. We are excited to share a transcript of our powerful conversation below.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Please introduce yourselves and share a bit about your motivation for leading Vistra’s skills-based practice and measurement efforts.

CK: My name is Carrie Kirby. I’m the Chief Administration Officer at Vistra, so I have responsibility for HR, DEI, supply chain, facilities, and physical security. Over time, I have come to believe that skills matter more than most other things. Our work around DEI has shed a lot of light on how unconscious bias, along with other factors, affected how people were moving through the company. How we hired externally exacerbated the internal mobility as well.. We made a conscious decision to look at skills-based hiring.

AU: My name is Annette Underwood. I’m a Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Vistra. I’ve been with the company for 13 years. 12 of my 13 years were in an employee relations role, so I became very familiar with all of our business units as well as compliance requirements through that role. When I started my current role, our executives had already committed to a lot of national social justice movements, like the BRT Multiple Pathways Initiative, and I was excited to come in and operationalize those commitments and make them a real part of our culture. We knew this work would help us internally and externally.

Q: Why is building a skills-based culture important to Vistra?

CK: We see centering on skills in our culture as serving two main purposes: driving retention of talented people, and making sure we have a strong talent pipeline for the future.

From a retention standpoint, we realized that:

by focusing on credentials over skills, we were limiting internal mobility,

which is at the core of our DEI goals and limits the access our managers have to talent within the organization.

And in terms of preparing for the future, we have to recognize that our world is changing. Our communities and clients are very diverse. We wanted to reflect that – we wanted to broaden sources of our talent, how we think about talent, and teach our leaders to value diversity. That’s important to our future success.

Q: Can you share a bit about your process for getting internal buy-in to implement skills-based practices?

CK: Annette did a great job of leading this effort. We were able to get senior leadership buy-in early on and fairly easily. Then we looked at which pieces of the business this work would most likely be immediately impactful, and where people would welcome the change and the help with talent challenges. That helped us identify the best places within our business to prove the concept, and then expand from there.

Q: Why are you all invested in measuring the impact of your work to implement skills-based practices?

CK: For our business, which is extremely analytically driven, the numbers matter. They allow us to talk to our leaders in a language they understand.

We need to show how using skills-based practices gets you just as good or better talent, improves performance, and allows you to think differently about how you staff your organization.

That is powerful in a data-driven culture like ours. It shows that it’s not a fluke – it’s something you can track year-over-year and see the impact on the business. That’s how we talk about everything else so being able to talk about this in the same way adds credibility to the whole approach.

Q: How have you used the Impact Measurement Framework to support Vistra’s goals and success metrics?

CK: Since Annette was so involved in the working group to create the framework, we really built our metrics and goals alongside that work with the Business Roundtable and Grads of Life. We didn’t have a resource for measurement before that, and since we helped shape it, it really reflects what we were already doing and what we had ambitions of doing. Being able to test the metrics internally, see what worked with our data, and shape the framework was a really impactful exercise.

Q: Can you all share how you see these metrics fitting in with your broader DEI/ESG reporting approach?

CK: We will use these metrics to some degree in the DEI section of our sustainability report. We have created a DEI dashboard and some of these metrics are already in there.

We’re giving this work and these metrics longevity – we’re using them to talk to our leaders and measure their success in developing their teams. This is how we’re thinking about our business – we’re not in this to check a box.

Q: What has measuring your progress revealed for you all at Vistra so far?

AU: We realized that we had gaps around women and people color, and women of color specifically. The metrics in the framework are disaggregated by race and gender, and that has been most helpful so far in identifying the opportunities we had to make the most progress.

Q: Which metrics have been the most challenging for you all to assess?

AU: Definitely measuring hiring of people with and without degrees. I’ve come to realize that is a challenge for everyone doing this work. When you dig in, you start to discover how much information you don’t have from an education attainment perspective. But it’s the most important – the whole framework was built around creating opportunity for people without degrees. The framework isn’t much use without that information.

Q: What methods did you use to gain access to education attainment data?

AU: We worked with our communications team to launch a huge self-ID campaign for our employees to self-report their education level. Through the BRT working group, we were able to learn what worked for other companies and build it out thoughtfully. Our communications team was very thorough in explaining why and how we were gathering that information, and that it would be confidential. Then we worked with managers and employee resource groups to get them to socialize the idea. We had leaders share why they were updating their own information. It was a pretty successful effort.

Q: What systems do you have in place to track your progress over time?

AU: Now, when someone applies and is hired, their education attainment information will be collected automatically. That will make it much easier moving forward. We are committed to continuing to measure our progress – it feels good to see our success in numbers, and it helps leaders understand the value of skills-based practices. We’ve incorporated training around this into our “leadership essentials” training and our hiring manager training. The goal was always to make skills a core part of our culture, and we’re doing what it takes to make that happen.

Q: What was the most important step in your process to building a skills-first culture at Vistra?

AU: For me, it was having our executives on board first. That makes change management so much easier. It was easy for me to go out and change our culture because I had that support. When people hear the message from the top, they know “this is here and it’s not going away.”

Q: What is one piece of closing advice you would share for someone who is just getting started with collecting data to understand impact at their company?

AU: This is a big shift. Start with communication. I think moving before you communicate is a bad habit. I went to lots of meetings, had lots of one-on-ones; I put it everywhere I could to help people understand. People can easily misinterpret this work and you have to help everyone see what is in it for them.

CK: Figure out what pieces of data already exist within your company that you can track and use external resources. And, as Annette said, people have to understand why this is important because this work is hard. If people are not bought in, it won’t happen. Helping people understand how traditional hiring practices limit your access to talent is really important.

To explore Grads of Life’s impact measurement framework and associated step-by-step playbook, click here.

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