If HR professionals could own a super power, I think most of us would want the ability to foretell the future. Well, actually I think that’s true for any business leader. Being able to see what’s coming that we can’t necessarily see today is gift we would all employ, if we could. But for HR leaders, having a crystal ball that would help us to see past the current state of historically low unemployment to a future where organizations can attract and retain the perfect mix of employees with all the skills and experiences required, would be the greatest gift of all. In the absence of that, we need to focus our attention on engaging and retaining the employees we have while, as accurately as possible, forecasting the eventual demands of the organization and understanding which skills and experiences future employees will need to help the business move the needle forward.
The current state of our economy, globalization, the advent of advanced technologies, AI, and other forces are causing a certain level of uncertainty about what’s to come and for some organizations, a bit of stagnation. For other HR departments, the perceived urgency to meet the future now is resulting in a push to search frantically for the most talented and skilled people to fill future hiring needs now.
If this is how you’re approaching the future world of work, you’re either getting left behind, or you’re missing opportunities within your own organization. Either way, you’re out of balance. Gaining equilibrium requires taking a step back and assessing the talent resources you already have and then determining the gaps. Filling those gaps will probably require a combination of attracting people that bring required skills and experiences and providing the career development and mobility options to current employees to improve and update their competencies.
Instead of either setting your focus so far into the future that you neglect today’s business needs or battening down the hatches and waiting for the dust to settle, here are 5 ways HR leaders can shift their organizations toward equilibrium.
#1. The recruiting and retention balance
Neglecting internal workforces in favor of attracting talent with tomorrow’s skills will most likely lead to a drop in productivity and engagement today. However, narrowing your talent focus to only look within your walls to develop a workforce and leadership team that is largely homegrown means you are missing the opportunities that come with a fresh set of eyes, new energy, and diverse experiences.
The over reliance on internal talent can cause as many problems as can the over reliance on external people. Smart companies hoping to remain competitive today and tomorrow are finding equilibrium in their hiring and retention practices. They are developing an internal pipeline that’s stocked with the type of leaders that will be needed in tomorrow’s world and at the same time developing a feeder pipeline of people to join the organization from the outside. These organizations are developing a balance of institutional knowledge and experience with fresh eyes, new energy, and diverse experiences. A balanced team can rise to whatever the challenges are in tomorrow’s world of work.
#2. Finding balance for professional development
Companies tend to devote developmental dollars and time to the upper and senior leadership population and to the population that is typically called the high potential leaders (hi-pos). While these people can be from the lower levels, they have already been tapped on the shoulder by the organization for high growth potential. These tend to be the folks who get the developmental experiences, dollars, and opportunities and often, for good reason. Hi-pos often go on to be very capable leaders.
The challenge for organizations, from a larger perspective, is that a focus on only a small percentage of the workforce leaves a large swath of employees who are not getting the time or the dollars to grow and develop. The truth is, there are a lot of opportunities that can be made available to the larger employee population that don’t entail lots of dollars over time.
Because organizations often have blinders to the potential of developing all employees, those who don’t receive any opportunities are at risk of leaving and taking the institutional knowledge and their valuable individual contributions with them.
#3 Balancing recognition and reward
There is a phenomenon within most companies where the same pool of people tend to get recognized over and over again. Most of the time, it happens a bit organically because the people who are getting recognized are those who happen to be in roles where they can get more visibility and it’s easier to spot when these people have gone above and beyond.
The challenge to finding equilibrium is that there are many employees who are behind the scenes, who are doing phenomenal work, making incredible contributions, but who are not nearly as visible. As a result, these contributors don’t get the recognition and reward that other people get.
I’ll use the analogy of firefighting. Within many organizations, it’s often the people who are on the front lines putting out the fires to save a situation that get the glory. When someone has a unique solution or solves a problem that saves the day, they should get recognition. However, focusing only on firefighting takes the attention away from those people who are quietly addressing issues and challenges that could have resulted in a fire, but didn’t because of their efforts. The fire prevention team, if you will. The fire prevention specialists get less recognition and reward than the people who come in once the spark has ignited into a fire.
The truth is, it takes both types of employees for a company to be successful. When a culture starts leaning more and more towards recognizing firefighters, employees will naturally put their focus on being the hero at the tail end instead of identifying issues farther upstream before the fire occurs.
#4 Staying competitive with a balance of home runs and base hits
When we talk about bringing ideas and original thinking to our jobs, I think there are two ways to accomplish this successfully. On the one hand, some people may be focused on identifying the next big idea. These people are swinging for the fences looking to hit the home run for their organizations. Again, these tend to be highly visible and often highly rewarded individuals.
However, there are other people who are more focused on incremental improvement. These are the employees who want to put the ball in play by hitting a single and getting on base. Instead of always looking for the next big idea, these folks are finding ways to continue to move the needle forward to ensure gradual, but consistent growth and success.
Sure, you can win the game with a home run, but you miss the ball more than you hit it. Without the smaller gains along the way and making incremental improvement, an organization loses the ability to continue discovering small ways to differentiate themselves against the competition.
Finding equilibrium requires organizations to encourage the base hits without drowning out the next big idea that will revolutionize the company and set it far ahead of the competition. Because that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, businesses need people that are focused on the incremental day in and day out pursuit of excellence.
#5 An eye to the future and a steady hand on the wheel
It’s great to understand how things might be different in tomorrow’s world versus today’s world in a way where we continue to be profitable today and we field an extremely capable workforce, etc. So, what is that bridge? How do we make that transition over time? While I don’t have the definitive answer to those questions, I do think it’s important that organizations ask themselves these questions and start talking about how to set their sights on the future while getting a clear picture of today.
Instead of having a conversation about building a bridge and bringing equilibrium to the business vision, most organizations are focused either on today’s world or tomorrow’s world and there’s not a lot of discussion about how to bridge the two. HR leaders looking to take their place as strategic business partners have a unique opportunity to bring this conversation to the next leadership meeting and to begin thinking of ways to prepare for tomorrow’s world of work while creating engaging workplaces filled with meaning, purpose, and opportunity for all contributing employees today.
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