Building long-term resilience: moving from tactical to strategic workforce management

by The Technical Blogs


Guidant Global is a Business Reporter client.

Employers consistently emphasise the significance of “talent”, whether it be articulated in the polished pages of an annual report, discussed during company gatherings or exchanged in casual conversations after business hours.

They promise long-term support and opportunity, to ensure they get the best out of both current and new employees.

The reality, however, can be somewhat different.

Many businesses still take a reactive and tactical approach to their workforce management, hiring and firing to meet immediate, short-term needs rather than thinking strategically about the future.

When the economy heats up, they frantically look to recruit but when it cools down, they pare their workforce numbers back down again. We’ve seen this in the technology sector post-pandemic, for example, with rapid hiring followed by mass layoffs in quick succession.

Likening it to a competitive spin class, these organisations can be affected by group thinking, moving up or down the gears when they fear being outpaced by rivals, bringing in or shedding lots of staff as demand rises and falls.

It is a cycle we have seen over many decades, through the dotcom boom and then crash, the financial crisis and Covid.

Only 18 months ago the Great Resignation trend – as employees looked for new or better career opportunities post-pandemic – was at its height. Businesses couldn’t hire enough individuals and were offering some extreme economic packages and incentives.

Today, the mood has changed, with US resignation rates now at pre-pandemic levels and fewer wild salary hikes. Instead, major corporates such as UBS and Amazon have laid off thousands of workers.

Companies keep falling into this trap of poor long-term planning despite some serious implications.

These include the cost of hiring and firing staff from recruitment, to training and exit packages. The threat of another layoff period somewhere around the corner can also lead to a feeling of mass insecurity in the workforce. Employees can get restless and start looking at alternatives, hitting productivity. Your employer brand among clients and customers will also be tarnished.

Instead, companies should shift to a more forward-thinking, strategic workforce plan with talent at its core. One that can be sustainable, no matter the economic cycle or marketplace challenges, and lead to long-term success, without compromising on speed and agility.

It begins with companies determining the core talent needed for their business both today and tomorrow. What tasks will remain the same? How could they change and be impacted by the introduction of recent technology such as AI?

In addition, how can businesses supplement that core workforce? What subject matter expertise needs to remain in-house and what can be procured or hired elsewhere from non-permanent, freelance or contingent workers? What services could be outsourced, and which roles could be done remotely, off-shore or near-shore?

It’s about determining what is core talent, what is non-core, what can be bought and what can be built. It’s a multi-functional approach combining long-term business and sales forecasting, listening to the voice of the customer in terms of where the market is going and then matching that with your skills taxonomy. If you are forecasting a 10 per cent future sales hike, then how does that translate into products and services? How and where will you find the skills and the staff to deliver that?

There are already pockets of good, well-thought-out strategic workforce plans in the marketplace, but they are largely confined to individual business units or departments rather than whole organisations.

One of the biggest reasons companies don’t do it is because it is hard. A large organisation may have tens of thousands of global employees so creating a holistic plan takes a huge amount of time, effort and resource.

However, companies must grasp the nettle now or face being left behind.

We are in a period of significant business uncertainty with ongoing concerns over inflation, recession and geopolitics. Employee expectations have also evolved post-Covid with a demand for more flexible working options and contract roles.

Some sectors are also increasingly challenged by changing demographics and skill shortages. The US utility sector, for example, has seen many skilled engineers retire and not be replaced by a new generation. Taking a long-term view of these workforce dynamics and skills therefore becomes even more of a business imperative.

The driver of this change in a business has to be the C-suite, but the intricate forecasting and work planning must come from individual departments and business unit leaders. It must be from the bottom-up – one rung at a time.

Companies can put together their own in-house team to do this work, but engaging a partner such as Guidant Global can add real value in expertise and specialisation. We can take an objective look without getting mired in day-to-day tasks, and use our knowledge, network of specialist providers and forecasting/modelling technology to put meat on the bones of a workforce strategy.

We recently worked with a US company which did a lot of government outsourcing work pre-pandemic. When Covid hit, it saw the opportunity to carry out new services such as vaccination promotion and contract tracing.

We worked with this organisation on a new workforce plan determining what short- and long-term skills it would need. We looked at existing in-house staff, direct hires and what benefits contractors and service providers could bring. The organisation tripled its workforce and won several contracts.

It was a win-win-win for all parties, including those newly hired employees.

That’s because a strategic workforce plan gives not just employers but workers more clarity. If they are full-time, they can see a long-term future, and if they are a six-month contractor, again, they know where they stand from one project to another.

It is a more respectful and profitable way of managing your workforce. It’s about putting an arm and a plan around your talent for the long-term.

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