Finding Fluidity: Hiring for a Skills-Based Culture

Article main image
Mar 3, 2021

As uncertainty persists and market demands continue to shift, the people we hire today may very well need to be reallocated or reskilled tomorrow. This was certainly the reality that emerged during the pandemic. In order to meet changing customer needs, companies across all industries adjusted their talent strategies to accommodate business change — from enabling new operating models to addressing compliance and safety concerns to reassigning people to new business units or regions.

While the initial global shock of the pandemic is behind us, we’re still operating in an environment of uncertainty where change is the norm. Businesses are now recognizing that they need a talent strategy that allows them to harness and capitalize on change for growth. This starts with analyzing your existing workforce from a different perspective to make hiring decisions that allow you not only to operate in a state of fluidity — but fully embrace it. 

For many companies, a mindset shift is in order. Instead of seeing your workforce as a static group of people assigned to specific roles, it’s important to view it as a collective mix of skills, perspective, experiences, and technologies that work together to drive your business. 

Minding the Gaps

What does headcount tell you about how equipped you are to handle business challenges? Not much. The truth is it doesn’t matter how many employees you have; what counts is what they bring to the table.

You need visibility into what matters. Analyzing the attributes of your total workforce allows you to identify strengths, such as where you have an abundance of expertise, and weaknesses — that is, where you have gaps. 

This is especially critical in a change environment. When executives change course, HR leaders need to know exactly how their workforce can proactively respond. A headcount view of the workforce doesn’t get you there.

Once you understand where you are long and short on skills, you can fill the gaps one of several ways, the first and most effective being via internal mobility. According to Deloitte, organizations that promote employees vs. hire externally are 32% more likely to be satisfied with the quality of new hires. Meanwhile, external hires are 61% more likely to be laid off or fired within one year and 21% more likely to leave.

An internal-mobility approach results in the quickest reaction time to adapt, offering a big competitive differentiation in highly commoditized industries. But with a traditional headcount-based view of your workforce, it’s impossible to achieve. 

Building talent. Filling gaps, though, isn’t just about moving talent. It’s about growing it. Internal upskilling and reskilling programs allow you to cultivate your existing talent, adding new capabilities to your workforce without adding heads. Combined, mobility and upskilling/reskilling also give employees access to new opportunities, increasing retention and their value to your organization. This in turn creates a stronger employer brand that will help you attract new talent.

An effective strategy is a cross between building and buying talent. Forward-thinking talent acquisition and HR teams are starting to partner with outside companies that can expertly source and train untapped, early-career talent. They’re working with numerous stakeholders to cultivate people’s skills specifically for hard-to-fill or fast-changing positions, especially tech and digital roles. 

Buying talent. As for the buy approach, today adding headcount is expensive and difficult, especially as competition for talent ramps up. It’s also a bit of guessing game into the skills you need now, and those you need in the future. It’s critical to understand the future state of your mobility and upskilling efforts to proactively address gaps with external hiring efforts.  

A fluid view of the workforce gives you the ability to do this. With a clear sense and real-time view of the skills you’re adding internally, you can make more informed buying decisions that can help you move your business forward.

Creating a Strategy of Fluidity

1. Look for candidates with fluidity-friendly traits.

First, candidates should be avid learners with a growth mindset. This is a non-negotiable trait that ensures a good fit for both your company and the individual. Second, employees should be critical thinkers. They should be excited by challenges and passionate about finding better solutions than the status quo.

It’s now crucial to find talent with basic technology skills, no matter what position you’re filling. People should be comfortable with and excited by the potential to use new technologies in their work lives. And lastly, as individuals move into new roles and contribute to new projects, being strong communicators and collaborators will aid in their success.

2. Re-think the job description.

Skills and capabilities are more important than specific requirements. Don’t limit your search only to those who have held the exact role you’re filling. TA needs to view a new hire’s skills in not just the context of the role but in the context of the entire organization.

Let’s say you need a Java developer. Old methods would say, “You must have been a Java developer for 3+ years in our industry within the last five years.” A skills-based approach might say something like, “You should be an avid programmer with experience in Java, but ideally have broad full stack experience, as well.” You’ll still end up hiring someone with a Java skill set, but the person might not technically have been a “Java developer” in a previous role and can offer more to your company in the future.

Just like this description suggests, the job description should make it clear that you’re looking for someone who has developed a mastery of certain skills but still has a desire to continue broadening the application of them.

3. Set expectations upfront.

When determining fit, a good place to start is a candidate’s career trajectory. One red flag might be if someone left a high-change environment (such as a start up) in search of a role with more defined parameters. 

Another must-do is to position the opportunity as more than just “this job.” Explain what an assignment-based culture looks like, how the role will likely change over time, and use real employee examples to give someone a sense of the person’s future with you. 

At the same time, assessments can play an important role in helping you determine both hard and soft skill sets. It is important to identify those who can start adding value from their first day from a tactical perspective but also possess the aptitude and qualities that signal their potential.  

The aftershocks of the pandemic have taken the form of many changes, both big and small, that impact business operations: extreme highs and lows in business demand, the acceleration of digital operations, supply-chain disruptions, to name a few. The reality is that the talent you have today isn’t enough to compete tomorrow. The future industry leaders will be those that find a way to proactively address weaknesses before those weaknesses begin to limit their growth potential. 

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!