Can You Identify the Critical Roles in Your Organization?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused employers across all industries around the globe to evaluate which workers their business really need to function. Whether weighing decisions about hiring, layoffs and furloughs, or determining who can work remotely, employers have had to move quickly to segment their workforce by understanding which roles are truly needed for success.

Ideally, organizations would have been doing this kind of strategic workforce planning all along. But even if not, it’s vital to do so now. Identifying essential positions (those you need to keep the lights on) and critical roles (those that create the most value for your organization) helps you to triage your workforce quickly in times of crisis. It also helps ensure that you have the right people in these positions, as well as understand how to better support them maximize their business impact. 

Here are a few key ways to identify critical roles in your workforce.

Focus on Who Drives Real Value

Typically, about 20% of the roles at a company drive 80% its value and competitive advantage. Referred to as the Pareto Principle, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. But it is a place to start with your assumptions. Begin by asking these three questions across your organization:

  1. Which roles are most important for the future growth for your business?
  2. Which have the highest impact on your ability to execute on your short- and long-term strategy and business objectives? 
  3. Which roles drive your competitive advantage? 

Another way to approach this process is by determining which employees, if lost or unable to fulfill their jobs, would cause the most disruption or lead to real challenges for your organization. Be sure you know what makes them indispensable and think about how you might break what they do down to key factors of why they are so invaluable. The goal is to determine if it’s the impact of the role on the organization (e.g., an unfilled account management position in a customer service center business) or specific skills that employee brings (innovation, critical thinking, etc.) that create value.

Effectively identifying those critical roles then allows you to segment your workforce according to the value those roles bring to your organization. In turn, this can ensure you place your best talent in those jobs, differentiate their compensation appropriately to retain high-value employees, keep critical roles filled, and create a succession plan for the future.

Look for Critical Roles at All Levels

Identifying critical roles is about the impact those roles have on the organization, not necessarily the level of those roles in your organizational hierarchy. Humility and humbleness are key — effective leaders recognize that roles on their team may be more impactful than theirs. The head of sales, for example, may determine during this process that their role is not as critical for ensuring the best business outcomes as those of their individual salespeople. Leaders need to nurture people in these high-impact roles, regardless of whether they are senior executives or frontline workers.

Companies also need to make sure they separate technical skill and organizational value from leadership potential. Employees in critical roles may be very skilled at their job and provide a great deal of value to your company without necessarily having the traits or characteristics of a successful people manager. 

Identifying critical job roles that aren’t dependent on leadership and management skills can prevent the pitfall of well-suited employees moving out of these high-impact roles into leadership positions simply because it’s the only career path available to them. Providing a relevant and fairly compensated career path for individuals with the skills needed to perform well in critical roles will create a compelling value proposition to keep them happy and engaged.

Establish an Ongoing Process for Refinement

None of this is a one-time task. You should have a process to review your talent and segmentation strategy constantly. Adapt your understanding of changing needs for your business to reevaluating critical roles to meet them. For example, a decade ago, a company in the energy industry may not have needed people in data analysis, but as that industry has become data-driven, those roles have become mission-critical.

An ongoing review process will also allow you to analyze business results by job and adjust your workforce strategy accordingly. You can use pulse checks to determine if critical roles are being supported effectively at an organizational level and help ensure that your company minimizes talent disruptions in these key roles. 

Ultimately, knowing which jobs are most critical to your organization will enable you to better address today’s challenges and help you plan more effectively for the future.

Kim Seals is a strategic adviser and board member at Sapient Insights. Seals has more than 25 years of experience in leading M&A transactions, service-delivery transformation, talent, compensation, benefits and recruiting program design, as well as technology development, selection, and implementations on a global level. She is currently a general partner of The JumpFund, a micro-VC fund investing in startups in the southeast, a role she will continue to hold. Seals previously spent 15 years at Mercer in several positions, including Atlanta market leader, global talent technology solutions leader and HR effectiveness global practice leader. She received her B.S. in Psychology from Louisiana State University.

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