In this episode, we are going to be discussing future falent with an old friend of mine, Harry. It was such a pleasure to reconnect!

Harry Vargas is a dynamic HR leader and change agent.

He’s passionate about driving transformation for capacity building and growth, through commercially relevant and pragmatic organizational and talent strategies.

He has 20 Years of multi-market & cultural experience, successfully leading and developing diverse teams at local, regional and global levels.

Harry joined Microsoft in 2020, to lead HR and the culture & people transformational agenda, for the growing regional hub based in Costa Rica, serving LATAM and the US.

Harry is Costa Rican and grew up in Colombia.


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Show Notes

Katherine Ann Byam 0:01
Back in 2021, I had this great interview with my friend Harry Vargas, about all things future of talent and future of work. Harry is currently HR director at Microsoft in Costa Rica. Here’s some of his ideas, now

Harry Vargas 0:13
I would say, maybe it sounds very simple. But I would start by looking around and assessing who my competition is in terms of talent. Because when you get to a point in which you are already a manager, middle manager would have relevant experience. That’s good, you feel confident, but take a look around who are your competitors? What sort of skills are the other people that you will be fighting against to get those nice jobs? What do they have? What, what have they learned? More recently, which of those skills that I mentioned recently, they possess and I still don’t have.

Katherine Ann Byam 0:53
My name is Katherine Ann Byam, and I’m your host. What’s your purpose? And how does it integrate with sustaining life itself? For some of us this question is a deep ache that we spend a lifetime trying to find, perhaps shifting direction as we learn and grow from one path to another. For many of us our children give us a clear definition, providing for them becomes our reason for being. For others, it’s about enjoying the present moment; ever so fleeting, and ever so beautiful. For still others it can be financial, status, contribution or impact. In this podcast, my guest and I will share with you tips, ideas and methods on how to build a career that integrates with who you are and the life you want to lead. We will explore the social foundation on which to build your transition and an ecological ceiling, above which we need not climb, so that we live not just for ourselves, but for our collective ability to thrive. Welcome to The Purpose Driven career podcast: Do What Matters. This episode is a replay of an episode I recorded in 2021. In this episode, we’re going to be discussing with a very old friend of mine. On the topic of future talent. Harry Vargas is a dynamic HR leader and change agent. He’s passionate about driving transformation for capacity building in growth through commercially relevant and pragmatic organisational and talent strategies. He has 20 years of multi market and cultural experience successfully leading and developing diverse teams at local, regional and global levels. Harry joined Microsoft in 2020 to lead human resources and the culture and people transformational agenda for the growing regional hub based in Costa Rica, serving Latam and the US, Harry’s Costa Rican and grew up in Colombia. Harry, welcome to the podcast.

Harry Vargas 2:44
Hi Katherine, I’m so happy to see you after a few years now. Thank you for having me.

Katherine Ann Byam 2:50
Really wonderful to have you in the show. Let me set the scene a bit. We’ve had about five years of digital transformation happen in one incredible year that has been 2020. And looking at the world stock markets, technology firms have significantly benefited from this upheaval while traditional industries have suffered from the decline in overall spending, I’d say and the closure of retail, the impact on jobs has been significant, but buffered by state assistance in many places, and many more people are now in what we could describe as the hustle economy. My first question for you is how have these changes affected traditional organisations from your background? And how do you think they can effectively respond?

Harry Vargas 3:32
Sure, I think this is one of those things that when you when you get a real challenge, it brings an opportunity. And I think that’s what has happened in this new environment. If you talk about digital transformation, I think in most companies, we have been talking about this for at least 10 years. But every time it gets to the point where you have to prioritise the investments and put some money behind it, maybe it was not prioritised. And there were other things before doing this. So, so in this new context that we’re living in, now, I think companies simply did not have an option to wait any longer, and started to rethink how to work around this. That was for me an opportunity but at the same time, a huge challenge. So I have, as you have seen, some companies have been able to move faster than, than others. But everyone is trying to do something about it. The other thing that I noticed is that consumers at least over the last year actually adapted way faster to the digital environment than companies, way faster because we didn’t pretty much have a choice and we have to adapt the way we do things in, in many aspects of life. So again, it was one more challenge and burning platform for companies to do really something about this and do it quick, obviously it had an impact on cultures and how, especially for more traditional organisations, we stop and think, how do we rethink the way in which we do business, the way in which we engage with consumers and our employees inside the organisations where we can be faster, more agile. Agility is one of those terms that also we have been using for quite a while. But now is, it’s a must. You really have to be agile in order to adapt to everything we need to do differently. So the traditional ways of making decisions in companies that were pretty much centralised or maybe too slow, that maybe they didn’t have specific space for innovation, we simply had to stop and do something different about it, and it impacted on the culture. So I think that’s the the first thing I noticed, then there was obviously an impact also on rethinking what are the skills that we need, what sort of profiles we will need to bring into the organisation, so that we have a more diverse way of looking at the opportunities in the market and understanding consumers. And again, diversity and inclusion and all of those things is not new, is something that has been around for years. But finally, we get organisations to see the imminent value of this, and it’s a matter of life or death. Sorry for being that dramatic, but, but now we’re facing it. So I think, yes, very challenging, but it put every company in a situation where you have to simply change the way you were doing things and come up with with a new picture of success and come up with different things of doing, doing business, even for HR, you know, I, I spend most of my time working in HR strategies and programmes and very similar conversations we have had over the years, in terms of how to have a working environment that was more flexible, that may be was more agile, that may be had an opportunity to integrate different technologies and simply to be, you know, closer to people and acknowledging that we’re not just working with machines. And those were very complex conversations, for things that today are so, so obvious, remote working, and that kind of thing. Many companies, again, were discussing that for years and didn’t make, you know, a decision around it. But simply they did not have any choice. Any longer. So, so I think that’s that’s what we have faced the overall is, is a cultural shift in putting finally the consumer at the core, and then bring in this flexibility into the organisations to do whatever it takes to rethink and survive.

Katherine Ann Byam 3:41
As you touched on it. I wanted to get into your thoughts on the implications on skills for organisations. So I know you’re sitting now from the perspective of Microsoft, and I’m going to come to that for sure. But what are the implications on, on individual skill sets? Given that we’ve had so much transformation happened so quickly?

Harry Vargas 8:19
Yes, yes, I was, I was reading a paper from the World Economic Forum on future of jobs. And if you put it simply quite cold, it’s a world that has been split in essential workers, remote workers, and then the ones that have been unfortunately, displaced. And if you look at the situation we have is workplace that is really requiring a good combination of some of the classic skills like, like leadership and good management, you know, the good old things, but now bringing more agility, and some more specific skills like data science, understanding of artificial intelligence, innovation, adaptability, remote leadership, managing hybrid teams, being more resilient, full understanding of how teams need to be self directed now in this remote world, in this capacity to help your teams to connect virtually, and to still maintain that sort of cultural feeling, even if we’re not together anymore, physically. So it’s, it’s a good combination of some of the skills that we used to work around over the last few years but maybe with a lens that is more, more agile, more modern integrating technologies and that sort of things. If you look at the kinds of jobs that that in the future will be more required in the, in the future of jobs, all of them have to do with those facilitators of digital transformation, to begin with people that have a lot to do with data analytics, data science, machine learning, learning, expect, specialists since now, all of that is changing as well, engineers, software developers, information security, we’ve had many threats over the last few years, but you are seeing now what is happening. So those very more specific and modern skills are things that that we’re seeing, it obviously doesn’t mean that now everyone has to know and be an expert around those things. But at least we need to be very aware of how to live in an environment that, that requires those those skills, and how we can learn some of those and how we can, you know, adapt to the new ways, ways of working?

Katherine Ann Byam 10:54
Yeah, I know, I know that this this one’s gonna be an interesting question. I think for my listeners. So we know that as we get older, the ability to learn new things, and to assimilate rapidly, with ease, sort of diminishes, right, we can always be lifelong learners, that’s that’s obviously something that we can, we can maintain throughout our lives. However, we know that we get slower. And as we get slower, things are accelerating, right? The rate of change of technology is way faster than than anything we’ve ever known. So what would you recommend for people sort of in their mid career stages, sort of managerial type roles who may be in their 40s or 50s or so that are either out of work or looking for new work? What would you recommend that they do? And how do they overcome the by, the natural bias we might have to adult learners?

Harry Vargas 11:42
Yes. Yeah, that’s, that’s an interesting question and a challenging one. And a very common one, I guess, in this particular time, with with many of us trying to adapt and look for new things. I would say, maybe it sounds very simple. But I would start by looking around and assessing who my competition is in terms of talent. Because when you get to a point in which you are already a manager, or middle manager, or have relevant experience, that’s good, you feel confident, but take a look around who are your competitors, what sort of skills are the other people that you will be, you know, fighting against to get those nice jobs? What do they have? What have they learned more recently, which of those skills that I mentioned recently, they possess, and I still don’t have, because I, I can bring all of that experience, which is great. And there must be a good balance in organisation with new talent, and also ones that, you know, help us navigate through changes with more experiences. But we, we need to be realistic, we will be competing with those that have more naturally learned than you abilities. So once we assess who we are competing against, then we can prioritise where do we need to go on and learn in years, maybe we will take some more time to learn a few things. But we really need to be very conscious and intentional on what are the two or three things that I need to acquire in the next 12 months and go and get them, and reskill yourself quickly that I think is the the one thing that I would prioritise. The other one is, is the world of having good connections, good networking, again, nothing new. But what is new is that is completely remote now, again, it’s completely virtual, how do you keep a network that that is serving you and that you can, you can learn a lot from it. But you can also get access to the opportunities that are around more than 70% of jobs that are open, especially at managerial level, the first time they open, they will do it just internally. And only when they have decided that they don’t have an internal talent or they don’t know someone from outside, they would open it as as a vacancy, let’s say so the more connections you have, the higher the chances that you will at least have visibility of one of those opportunities. So connections more than ever, and being creative about getting those connections. Active is is the second point. And then the third I would say be flexible many people have and especially around the middle management of today. They have probably built careers in the more traditional way. And it is simply different today. We don’t even talk about careers per se anymore. We talk about skills and we talk about experiences and we talk about, you know the the type of very specific needs that our company has? And then what is the profile that we will bring, but we don’t bring any more traditional careers, let’s say for the new jobs. So you gotta be flexible, and then assess again, what are the skills that I have? And where do I fit in, in the new opportunities that might be around. And that flexibility will help in bringing more opportunities in opening up conversations and being flexible about everything. So that I think, is one of those concrete things that you could that you could do.

Katherine Ann Byam 15:36
I had an interesting conversation on this podcast as well with someone who’s looking into Learning Futures. And one of the things that he said was that purpose is sort of akin to attention and where purpose is attention goes. And I reflected on this in terms of, you know, as organisations start to introduce things like ESG and get more alignment to bigger goals that are not just about stakeholder wealth, and the the impact this could have on people’s ability to learn and assimilate faster. I don’t know if you have any reflections on that, I thought it was an interesting way to put it.

Harry Vargas 16:11
Yes, I think learning faster, as you said, is one of those things that are a must today. And it starts with being humble. If I’ve learned one thing over the last couple of years is how can I be more humble in terms of how much I have to learn. And that opens up great opportunities for you to first of all, to feel better, because you don’t, you no longer feel like you, you know everything because you’ve been around for 20 years, or whatever. And it even brings, you know, self motivation into what I mean, there’s a lot I can do differently. And of course, that I can learn in again, goes back to these abilities that you need today. Because even if you go as I said, a couple of minutes ago, if even if you go and learn one of the most in fashion, let’s say skills of today, maybe in 18 months, there will be something else for sure that you will have to learn. So it just has to be continuous, we got to, we got to get good at it.

Katherine Ann Byam 17:17
Yeah, I heard another quote, which was, we are typically or in the past, we have been able to maintain competitive advantage within eight years. But now that competitive advantage has shrunk to one year, which is why the acceleration of learning, right, so so it does put a lot of implications on on the workforce. So I want to, I want to move to potentially the last question, when we look at the future workplace, in let’s say three to five years, I potentially see a blended workplace. Right. So machines and people, what are your thoughts on managing in such an environment? And what does it actually mean?

Harry Vargas 17:58
Yes, the hybrid work that is one of those challenges that companies are discussing, every day that passes, we see it closer, last year, there were lots of conversations that the world is going to turn hybrid in terms of working, we are they’re almost depending on the region you live in. But it is a challenge. I think, first of all, it doesn’t mean that machines will take over the human value. Right? Because that’s one of the big fears around, will machines and artificial intelligence and all that eliminate all the jobs, there will be replacements, yes, there will be some evolution on that side. But, but the value of the human knowledge and agility to learn and make things better, etc, will always remain so. So I think a good manager would make the best use of the skills that he or she has to add value to the processes that they are dealing with, right, and to make people to be challenging at the same time for them so that they understand that they need to keep on learning rescaling acquiring these new, these new abilities. That is that is one thing. The other thing that I think is even bigger than that, and it’s a challenge for companies and obviously for managers is and you talk about purpose a while ago, no matter what sort of jobs we end up having, purpose more than ever is one of those things that we’re seeing that everyone is valuing as the thing that will move me, that will engage me, that will keep me, or not, in a company so companies that are very clear in articulating what is the legacy and what is the purpose that we have, but you as an individual when you come in this is this is what you will be able to do that, that is an advantage, the, we’ve been talking about quality of life and fulfil in, fulfilment of the work you do and that sort of thing for years, but now again is more important than ever because people are prioritising different what they value and what they want to dedicate their energy and time to. So in this future workplace, hybrid or not, people will look at where can I get the best experience? Where can I balance my life in a better way, where can I learn more, where can I have flexibility to do different activities and jobs and not have to wait five, eight years to do something different in the organisations are rethinking how to do this, how to manage career differently, how to plan for talent management in a different way. And everyone is learning at the same time companies and people. So I think it is a challenging environment, it has already started. But the companies that are, that are more likely to succeed are those that are listening actively to understand, okay, what are the new things that people value and therefore we need to adapt in the in the company, you cannot force people any longer just to wait and see what the company will will do. Now, they will have many options somewhere else and you gotta be prepared for that.

Katherine Ann Byam 21:34
This one has to do with probably the health and well being aspect because we we kind of touched on it in this last response you had, and I think that we’re in a situation now where all of this acceleration is creating, as well as the general wear and tear of the pandemic itself, but it’s creating a lot of mental health issues, a lot of anxiety issues. That’s ncreasing as we go. How are organisations responding to that?

Harry Vargas 21:59
Yes, that is one of the priorities. At the moment. It’s, it’s been a year already, at least for most people. In this situation. At the beginning, it was more around basic things like learning to work remotely virtually, like learning to manage your time and tasks and all of that but after a long period of time, people are burntout and and we are lacking this social contact not only with families and loved ones, but the things that we used to maybe take for granted when we were in the office; interactions, collaboration, faster decision making less complexity, when dealing with issues that would involve people from various areas and that sort of thing. Or simply having a conversation on the watercooler with someone to talk about something else that is not work. So people are really needing that, in in organisations have been really focusing now, the good ones, on how to again, first let’s learn what people are, are needing at the moment. And, but let’s also respect their space. So in an ideal world, a great company would come up with this is the menu of things that we can offer from wellness activities, meditation, physical exercise options, or simply go and take additional days off to disconnect and recharge or get and learn something new. So there’s that there’s a nice combination of things that have to do with with mental health, physical health, learning different things, just getting out of the current environment, but then hopefully giving you the choice to pick whatever you choose whenever you feel like you need it. So that that combination of having various options but also letting people deal with it in their private space. Whilst having a supportive company behind this is I think a good balance because at the beginning it was very much programmed. So now everybody’s gonna come on Fridays for yoga, yoga or like, and those things were nice at the beginning but now people are just tired of it. So just give me my space give me the options and I’ll do whatever and whenever I need so that’s something we’re learning from technologies is supporting a lot of those things. Thank God we can we can still have those, those yoga, meditation or cooking lessons or whatever it is you like virtually it hasn’t been a restrivtion of a year in that sense, but the variety of it and in how you keep it. Creative is one of the challenges we’re facing.

Katherine Ann Byam 25:00
Harry, thank you so much for your time. This has been a wonderful session.

Harry Vargas 25:03
Thank you so much.

Katherine Ann Byam 25:06
This episode was brought to you today by the Courageous Career Club. Have you picked up your own copy of; Do What Matters: The Purpose Driven Career Transition Guidebook. To find out how you can get your copy, as well as resources that go alongside it, visit my website, www Katherine Ann or engage with me on the socials. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.