How do we ensure we have the right talent with the right skills to be successful, not just for today, but for the future?
By Suanne Nielsen
In April, I was invited as a guest speaker to a few CEO forums in Western Ontario, in my role as president of SCNetwork. In addition to our programming at SCNetwork, these speaking opportunities gave me great insight into the key challenges on the minds of today's CEOs and C-suite officers across a wide range of sectors.
Industries, across the board, are under disruption. As my SCNetwork colleague Brian Daly pointed out in Futureproof your organization: But first a reality check, organizations are dealing with it at varying paces. Some are in the thick of it, others are waiting for the hammer to fall, while exploring their options.
Going around the room at the forums, the number one question all leaders were asking is how do we ensure we have the right talent with the right skills to be successful, not just for today, but for the future, as well?
This conundrum is particularly exacerbated by the fact that the workforce is more diverse than it ever has been. And that's not just ethnicity. It's about the fact that there are more “off-the-balance-sheet” workers now.
Non-traditional employees, contractors, freelancers, remote workers and crowdsourced work form a growing proportion of our workforce, and managing a workforce that is not all on your balance sheet is a big concern.
How do we manage performance for non-traditional workers? How do we ensure they're engaged in the organization?
Small and large businesses are proactively thinking about how to make sure we have the talent that’s ready to step into future leadership roles. Especially in owner-led organizations, where their children are not willing or ready to step into leadership, the challenge is to find people who will be. In such cases, they’re looking to develop their successors internally. Therefore, finding the right employees to whom they can pass on the leadership baton has become a significant issue.
Succession challenges are forcing leaders to tap into employment markets they haven’t tapped into before. The goal is no more just to attract and retain talent, it’s about attracting and re-attracting people all the time.
The CEO groups I met with were from farming and large agricultural industries, but also from professional firms, manufacturers, and non-for-profit and public sector organizations. These companies are doing innovative things to entice existing workers to not move to the competition — making sure that work has purpose and meaning for employees.
For example, one agricultural business brings fresh, organic foods and produce to work, once a week, for employees to help themselves to. It’s a small gesture, but one their competitor isn’t offering, and it has worked to motivate employees to care about the work they’re doing everyday.
It was fascinating to see how organizations in small and local communities are taking corporate social responsibility more seriously in Western Ontario, by giving back to their community, thereby getting employees to feel a sense of pride in their work.
Seasonal industries need to increase their workforce by the hundreds and thousands during certain times of the year, and then cut that workforce considerably for the rest of the year. For them, instead of hiring full-time employees, they are tapping into technology and talent platforms through which they can crowdsource their work to students or even an Uber driver, who is available to work part-time for another employer.
But after I went around the room, the question remained: How do you manage the “gigging” workforce?
I proposed a range of assessment tools and underscored the need to build a selection criterion with a strong understanding of who the best performers are today and why.
Another concern was raised around building equity within the workforce. If you think about the workforce as a continuum, traditional employees are on one end of that continuum where employers have much more control with stipulated work hours and benefits.
But as you start to move down the continuum to contractors and crowdsourced employees, they tell you how and when they want to work. Employers, then, must be more individual-focused. Maintaining equity within the workforce becomes critical in a scenario where there are contractors who get paid more but want to avail of bonuses or other benefits like employees can.
HR leaders of organizations such as health care, aluminium, hospitals, manufacturing, non-profit, police service and architecture are all confronted with creating an environment where such a diverse workforce feels they are fairly dealt with.
All these organizations have their finger on the tech pulse and realize they need to invest in tech to advance their business. But they also recognize they need to start by addressing the pain points first before investing in the right technology.
For example, if the pain point is recruiting, then investing in chatbot technology may be a step in the right direction to start filtering candidates before HR gets involved. The key, I weighed in, was to not let the HR technology fall behind.
A few organizations were grappling with managing parts of the workforce who had individual life needs — people who want to work remotely all the time, or some of the time. The challenge was to ensure engagement at all levels.
A suggestion I had was about creating a matrix like a four-by-four or a nine-by-nine where on one end of the matrix is the work that is more easily done remotely, while the other matrix measures the performance of the expertise or the people who are more able to work remotely.
Early this year, the Bank of Canada released a review of Canada’s job market, and highlighted that “What is less prominent in discussions on how to improve the job market is supporting worker mobility — this would help businesses attract the right people for the job. Affordable housing is front and centre. It is to a large extent an issue of supply. Then there is the issue of transportation infrastructure in major job markets. And supporting mobility also includes removing barriers to interprovincial trade.”
In such a scenario, strong HR leadership has become imperative as more employees need to identify with their company’s values, beliefs, and products.
In an upcoming SCNetwork event, Building the HR Brand: The Unique Value Proposition of HR and Marketing, renowned thought-leader David Weiss will share insights about why HR must look at marketing as a ripe area of exploration to take its talent strategy to the next level.
Suanne Nielsen is president of the Strategic Capability Network in Toronto. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Suanne and do not necessarily reflect the official position or opinion of SCNetwork members.