Critical Talent Strategies in a Crisis
The recent pandemic delivered a seismic shock to the world’s economy, destabilizing business frameworks, workforce models and challenging our ability to adapt. Having the agility to respond and reorganise swiftly gets business back in the game. However, many now face dilemmas around workforce numbers, managing surge capacity and technical competencies. So, what are the talent strategies that will help steady the ship?
In 2019, McKinsey took a snapshot of where businesses believe they are in their digital journey. After revenue acceleration, the top priority was Improved agility and faster time to market, as you would probably expect. The unexpected finding was that businesses were disappointed1 by the agility outcomes of their cloud migrations – and uniformly so, regardless of how much of their workload they had moved to cloud platforms.
Businesses identified “talent gaps” as by far the biggest constraint to delivering agility outcomes. Another frustration was the perceived failure of management to grasp the potential of digital transformation or to understand the value at stake. To put it crudely, no matter how much money you throw at digital transformation, without the right culture and the right spread of skills, you only get so far. And no further.
How we answer this obvious gap in technical resources comes down to two talent strategies. One, you buy it. Two, you build it. The buying it is the most obvious you go to market and compete with the leading tech companies for top talent. You hire them, train them and within 12-18 months they’ve flown the coup. And you begin the whole time consuming, expensive, process again.
But what if you could build them using the resources you already have? The thing is you can and the business outcomes are likely to be better too.
A recent article in The Banker describes how financial institutions are exploring ways to kill two birds with one stone and re-skill and re-motivate employees to drive digital change. The “agility” that businesses are told they need to be relevant cannot be delivered by a rigid workforce. Financial institutions know this and are looking to implement bold and flexible people strategies.
Internal mobility is not only a cultural gain, but an operational imperative as McKinsey recognises. The consultancy says: “Closing the skills gap requires not only firing and hiring – as there is no way to do so fast enough – but must include a combination of upskilling, reskilling and redeploying.”
One of the most obvious yet radical solutions is to train your workforce to become not only digitally literate, but truly skilled as software engineers. In this way, you would sidestep recruitment, avoid the pain and cost of redundancy while retaining your cultural capital.
Many companies are experiencing a surge in demand for their products and services. Particularly, in the technology, SaaS and e-commerce sectors. Without suitable capability planning, many are struggling to deliver to meet customer demand, fulfil service-level agreements or provide maintenance or support internally and externally. Frankly, they don’t have the surge-capacity to cope. Yet, hiring to meet these roles requires financial commitment which may be on “lockdown” or their talent strategies are too rigid and unable to flex quickly enough. So, where does the solution lie?
Agility around increased reliance on technical support applies to both a workforce, now fully remote, and all customer interactions – now also fully remote! It’s a challenge for many particularly managing capacity across projects and business units associated with support, fulfilment and maintenance. Short-term contracts for software developers and coders who can work flexibly and remotely. Therefore, short or fixed-term contracts provide a workable solution for employer and employees. As UK employee-employer body ACAS points out this suits many employees searching for a particular work-life balance. The real win for businesses is the ability to expand and contract teams with immense agility and precision. The key is having access to a steady pipeline of fixed term contractors.
The harsh reality for many other firms is that they have to either make swathes of their workforce redundant or put them on significantly reduced hours or temporary suspension. Consequently, many valued employees who companies may want to re-engage further down the line risk being alienated. So, how do companies evidence their duty of care towards employees during a period of outplacement and what strategies can they deploy?
Firstly, it’s essential to create a responsible outplacement culture, this influences sentiment throughout the organisation – among those being made redundant and those remaining. Secondly, consider providing high-value training as part of the exit package, this allows exiting employees re-skill and those who return have a stronger skill-set and loyalty. Finally, you need a reputationally robust, people-centred policy to accelerates redundancy candidates transition into new roles. This aligns with the approach of the European Commission directive 98/59/EC . This is also a policy of Workers Councils in many European countries. These organisations negotiate the redeployment or retraining of workers being made redundant.
Many companies now pride themselves on having a people-centred culture. This should be as evident in a period of redundancy as it is when vying to attract top talent.
Seven Key Talent Strategies
- Actively develop skills through both internal and external training programmes to meet changing business needs.
- Incentivise employees with training that enhance their capabilities cross-functionally.
- Ensure training courses have baked-in analytics and metrics to track progress.
- Use internal mobility to create a knowledge-management process and ensure business intelligence is retained.
- Target recruiting efforts on flexible contracts during periods of crisis where demands fluctuate rapidly.
- Develop or access a strong contract-talent pipeline to backfill roles swiftly.
- Adopt a responsible outplacement model, providing technical training as part of the exit package.
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