Strategic staffing

Staff
no longer owe loyalty to a single organisation for the whole of their lives. So
what can companies do to keep the skills they need – and can we learn from the
old regime? asks Bruce Tulgan

Access
to the best talent has always been critical to the success of any enterprise.
That’s nothing new. In the workplace of the past, employers could practically
own their most valuable talent, monopolising them through long-term employment
relationships. But that is no longer possible because today’s employers cannot
offer long-term job security to anybody, and more and more of the best people
are thinking like free agents.

The
irony is that in the new economy, where it is impossible to own the talent you
need, access to that talent is more important than ever before. Day after day
the media reports on the competition for skilled workers. Study after study
shows that access to the best staff is the number one challenge facing the
business world today.

Why?
Throughout the transition to the new economy, employers have cut staff and
invested in new technology, while individuals have assumed more and more
responsibility to "add value" on a daily basis. If lean and flexible
organisations are going to continue to increase productivity and quality, they
need to get more and better work out of fewer people. That means those few
people have to be prepared to work harder, faster and smarter. Such workers are
in much greater demand than they are in supply, at all levels of the skills
spectrum.

That’s
why so many organisations have been struggling with a staffing crisis for
several years. The labour market is tight, and there is a lot of work to be
done. Business leaders and managers have been asking themselves, "How am I
going to fill all the open positions on my organisation chart?" But the
question they should be asking is, "How am I going to get all this work
done?"

In
the workplace of the past, the best way to find help was to look inside the
organisation where you work and draw from its stable of full-time employees, or
you could hire someone new. Most organisations had one main way to employ
people – full time, on-site, with uninterrupted service and exclusively working
for them. The majority of the work was done by a relatively static pool of
talent, all of whom were kept on the organisation’s payroll and at the ready
for assignments that fell within their particular job descriptions. The main
advantage of the old system was reliable access to the talent you needed when
you needed it, guaranteed by a large, at-the-ready, full-time workforce. But it
was too much bloat. Productivity was slow and profits were low.

The
re-engineering gurus decided to change all of that, cut the dead wood,
streamline business processes using new technologies, break up the fiefdoms
known as departments, restructure the new, lean staff around the new,
streamlined work, get lean, get nimble, get fast, rejoice – the revolution
worked like a charm.

But
the current staffing crisis has many business leaders pining for their
pre-downsizing workforce with its bloated staff levels and
"organisation-man" attitudes. After all, if you don’t have the right
people in the right places when you need them, you can’t get the work done fast
enough. You start losing out on market opportunities. You start worrying,
"Maybe we are too lean for our own good. We are short-staffed in a tight
labour market. We need a massive recruiting and retention effort." Right?
That’s the red herring of the talent wars.

Just
think – what if your massive recruiting and retention effort works? You bid
high enough on the open market for talent that you successfully fill up
positions on the organisation chart. You offer golden handcuffs that make it
very difficult for people to leave. By investing heavily in the old-fashioned
career path, you might convince enough of the right people to return to it, at
least for a while.

But
that wouldn’t solve your staffing crisis, rather it would make your
organisation over-committed – financially and morally – and unable to respond
quickly to shifting market forces. You’ll have undone all the good of that
painful downsizing, re-engineering and restructuring.

Remember
the business need that got this ball rolling in the first place? The new
economy requires staffing flexibility – the person you need today and tomorrow
is often not the person you needed yesterday. New opportunities will force you
to staff up in one skill area very fast. When those opportunities wane, you
staff down even faster.

Staffing
is destined to be a perpetual challenge in the new economy. You need to have
dedicated professionals helping managers get the right people in the right
place at the right time to get the work done very well and very fast, whatever
the work may be on any given day. And that is going to be a moving target.

That’s
why every staffing need – every day, every week, every project – must begin
with a clear assessment of the work to be done. Once you have a clear picture
of the work itself, the remaining questions are obvious: Who is the best person
(or who are the best people, what is the best team) to do this work? Where will
you find the people you need? And are these people available when you need
them? What is the best mix of people you can pull together on an ad hoc team to
get the work done very well and very fast?

That
mix might include core-groupers as well as part-timers, flexi-timers,
some-timers, telecommuters, temps, independent contractors and outsourcing. The
best mix you can pull together is the best team for the project, no matter how
ad hoc the team may be.

Develop
your own proprietary talent database, instead of sharing one with every other
employer in your vicinity (temp firms) or every other employer in the world
(the Internet). Create an HR team dedicated to helping managers draw staff
just-in-time from your own killer talent pool. Build your database around your
organisation’s particular staffing needs. It should be whatever combination
fits your business needs. In order to select individuals and companies from as
many sources as possible, you’ll have to be recruiting into the database all
the time, not just when you have open positions.

Your
HR department can no longer be on the sidelines for the talent wars. They must
become strategic staffing war rooms, central to the daily scramble.

That’s
why it is so important to retool the role of HR to give them the budget, the
technology and the authority they need to be the key strategic partner to
managers on the front lines.

Further
reading

Winning
the Talent Wars: how to manage and compete in the high-tech, high-speed
knowledge-based superfluid economy, by Bruce Tulgan, is published by Nicholas
Brealey Publishing. It is available from all good bookshops or can be ordered
direct from the publisher on +44 (0)207 430 0224, e-mail: orders@nbrealey-books.com

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