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Durability Through Dexterity

“Rewarding Reads” is a space for articles and personal essays meant to be thought-provoking and informative for human resources professionals, from sharing the “human” perspectives on workplace issues to book reviews of business titles we find inspiring. Have an essay or blog post to share? Contact us at workspan@worldatwork.org.

In recent months, a lot has been written about workforce resiliency to ensure organizational success. For obvious reasons, 2020 has necessitated changing how we work: in-person meetings have moved online, collaborating with colleagues relies heavily on messaging tools and being self-reliant has taken on new meaning.

At the same time, employees are frustrated as career advancement is thwarted and unprecedented growth has been replaced by cautious optimism.

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There’s a workforce revolution underway, which is why you shouldn’t focus your efforts on asking employees to embrace stodgy traditional work models. Putting talent at the core of your workforce design means you gain opportunities to accelerate what we’ve all aspired to for years   — the chance to reengage, realign and reset. Instead of constantly replenishing, being more focused on the talent you have and how that talent can be reinvented to sustain organizational success is the new mantra.

This sounds like basic workforce planning, right? And yet, organizations are desperately slow to commit to true workforce planning. Part of the issue is there’s no robust way of categorizing and cataloging your inventory of skills within the business. And without that, you cannot possibly commit to a workforce plan. It’s hard to be agile when you’re unsure as to what you can flex and scale.

There’s also a mindset within organizations that says, “It’s mine. I own it.” Taking this perspective in another direction, there are ways to infuse agility into the mix. For example, if you have a UX developer but only need them for six to eight weeks, why take them off the market for six months so no one else can have them and, as a result, they can’t have exposure to new projects? Being open to new ways of thinking enables you to share the resource with your colleagues and peers — sharing and retaining the valued skills as opposed to holding onto hard costs that run the risk of being cut when budgets constrict. Plus, this approach — known as fractional working — gives that talent the chance to innovate without leaving the employer.

By definition, fractional working, or fractional employment, is similar to contract or gig work. This is more of a long-term, part-time relationship. One that gives workers the freedom to roam and hone their craft, without feeling the door slam behind them at the end of a project. 

Think of the upside for the employees — not only are they gaining new skills through new projects and team assignments, they are also being told they matter. When it comes to workforce planning, internal mobility has always been fraught with pitfalls because managers get so territorial about their high-potential employees. What if the expectation was that you move around the organization as opposed to be tethered to one assignment or department? In the best-case scenario, the internal job market should be as attractive as the external job market. That’s how you can retain existing talent and identify new or emerging skill sets at the same time.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the obvious. Culture changes need to happen to change from a command-and-control model to one where skills are what’s most rewarded. A culture in which continual learning and development can best leverage this approach. The culture needs to consider employee engagement and especially employee experience important to its performance goals.

Whether contingent, permanent, interns or trainees, repurposing and reskilling the workforce leads to loyalty. Which, in turn, ensures a readiness that can only be achieved through a commitment to workforce dexterity.

2020 put many businesses to the test. Now is the time to consider making your workforce — and, by default, your organization — more durable, dexterous and self-sufficient.

About the Author

Jo-Ann Feely is the global managing director, innovation at Alexander Mann Solutions.


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