Future-Proof Your Staffing, Whether It’s Boom or Bust

With all the economic fluctuations in this era of uncertainty, one business truth is not going to change: Talent is the number one asset of every organization in every industry.


In good times and bad alike, leaders must get more work out of fewer people, and that means the best people are always in great demand. Nearly all projections indicate that, despite ups and downs in the unemployment rate, the supply of skilled talent will be outpaced by demand for the foreseeable future. That’s why the talent wars are not going to end.


The economy has gone from boom times to bust and back and forth, again and again.


Agility has replaced stability as the key to strategic advantage for organizations of all sizes in just about every industry. Why? Because organizations must be flexible enough to adjust quickly and smoothly to changing circumstances. Sometimes that means hiring like crazy to increase productive capacity. Just as often it means downsizing in droves. In fact, it is rather common for companies to hire substantial numbers of new employees at the same time the firm is downsizing.


These changing circumstances have transformed the traditional employer-employee relationship. Long-term employment is increasingly rare, job security is a thing of the past, and employees no longer patiently pay their dues and wait to climb the organizational ladder.


During economic booms, many observers assume that this mindset is just for disloyal job-hoppers and driven by super-tight labor markets. These observers convince themselves that free agency goes away each time the next recession comes along.


But each time downsizing returns to the front pages, we are reminded of the true origin of the free agent mindset: necessity. More and more employees think like free agents because they have no other choice. They cannot rely on established employers to secure their livelihoods. Individuals simply must take responsibility for their own careers.


Hiring isn’t one-size-fits-all anymore

You can reinvent long-term employment, and thus save it, by having a wide repertoire of ways to employ people. Actually, you’ll need an infinite number. And you might as well get started because this outcome is inevitable in a free market for talent.


Think about it: In a free market, you get what you can negotiate. That’s it. Every negotiation turns out differently depending upon the value proposition at stake, the skill of the people negotiating, and the degree to which each party can compromise. Obviously, the deal you will make with a cashier in a grocery store is going to look quite different from the deal you make with the manager, and that deal will look quite different from the deal you make with the software developers on your e-commerce team.


Future-proof your staffing

If every condition of employment—not just pay, but schedule, duration of employment, location, assignments, and so forth—is on the table, your negotiating position as a manager is stronger, not weaker. Instead of negotiating with your hands tied, you can make the best deal that makes sense in every situation. Ultimately, the more terms of employment that are on the table, the more ways you have to employ people, get the work done, and retain your workers.


Staff the work, not the jobs

  • Build and maintain a powerful core group.
  • Build a large, fluid talent pool.
  • Figure out more ways to get the work done.
  • Treat staffing like supply chain management.
  • Commit to constant high-potential identification, leadership development, and
    succession planning.
  • Reinvent retention: “We’ll call you the next time we need you.”


Train for every mission, and develop high potentials

  • Get people on-board and up-to-speed quickly.
  • Keep people learning, growing, and improving.
  • Turn training into heavily supported employee self-building.
  • Commit to constant needs assessments, individual learning plans, and teaching/coaching/mentoring.
  • Reinvent knowledge work: “Everything is knowledge work if you are actively trying to get better at what you are doing.”


Embrace the new pay-for-performance

  • Create a real link between pay and performance.
  • Get people excited about earning more of what they need and want.
  • Figure out how many ways you can reward people for performance and leverage more resources to use as rewards.
  • Transform pay-for-performance into a new kind of “piecework”—reducing long-term fixed rewards and increasing short-term contingent rewards.
  • Commit to constant goal and incentive-setting, scorekeeping, and cashing out in micro rewards.
  • Reinvent compensation: “If you want to earn more today, this week, this month, then here’s what you need to do today, this week, this month.”


Build as many career paths as you have people

  • Leverage at least some dream job factors for anybody you hope to employ.
  • Transform long-term employment into an on-and-off, non-exclusive arrangement with regular career planning tied into your staffing strategy.
  • Reinvent the “organization employee”: “Nobody quits a dream job.”


Download the 2023-2024 Edition of Winning the Talent Wars: Staffing & Retention for Post-Pandemic Workforce here.

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