Strategy Column: Work Is About Finding Skills, Not Filling Roles

A recent survey from Salary.com found that 66% of responding employers either reduced their workforces or enacted pay cuts in response to COVID-19. That’s the bad news. 

The good news is that respondents also indicated that 90% of the layoffs may be temporary. That is good news, right? 

Yes, it’s good. It means that organizations are optimistic that their industries will stabilize and that they’ll need people to come back and do their jobs. Still, there are a couple of issues with this.

First, no one really knows how long people may be furloughed or laid off. And depending on the industry, you may lose some key employees to other businesses that are still hiring because people can’t just wait for their jobs to come back. 

Second, what your business used to need may not be what it needs now and in the future. The changes we’re seeing in the way work gets done demand a different skill set and different logistics. Leaders everywhere are reevaluating their workforce plans right now and are prioritizing which roles they will bring back first.

Adjacent to all that, organizations that are actively hiring are encountering delays in their background-check and drug-testing processes. While some companies may be tempted to let that go and hope for the best, there are industries for which these activities are legally required — meaning that new employees cannot start until they clear background checks. Meaning that new employees just aren’t starting.

This Is Where Internal Sourcing Comes In

Internal sourcing entails you looking at a population that you already know, that you’ve already vetted. Current workers have passed their background checks. They’ve been successful in your organization in the past. They share your vision and values. 

Still, you may not know them well enough.

That’s because, unfortunately, most organizations see their employees as “jobs” and not “people with skills.” Ask any employees who have tried to change departments or advance in their company what their experience was like, and they’ll most likely tell you that they’ve been denied internal opportunities because they are pigeonholed and labeled as their roles, not as multifaceted people with transferable skills. 

This needs to change, and what better time than the present? To make this happen…

Here’s a Simple 3-Step Process 

1. Prioritize which skills — not roles — your organization needs to go forward.

This can be tricky. People like to think in job titles. So verify that your jobs have the right skills associated with them, and then prioritize which positions you need to fill first based on those skills.

Prioritization factors will vary from business to business, but may include skills related to facing customers, patient care, essential services (e.g., you are a water utility and don’t have enough people to run the treatment plants), whether your business model is shifting to a more virtual approach (are you structured to support a virtual team? do you have people who can handle virtual work), device management responsibilities, communication skills, etc.

2. Take inventory of the skills your employees have.

Strip away all expectations and just ask people, “What skills and abilities do you have?” Ensure that people aren’t thinking only in terms of their day jobs. Encourage them to consider skills they’ve developed by volunteering with charities, organizing pledge drives, offering tech support to friends and family, pursuing degrees, etc. All of these scenarios have skill sets you want to capture. Make sure you ask those employees you had to furlough or lay off, too. You’ll be amazed at what your employees can do.

Plus, you don’t need a super-fancy system to do this. One healthcare company we talked to is using a spreadsheet to capture all this. Luckily, there are some helpful templates out there to help you build a format that will work for you. Here’s one, and here’s another one. And in case you don’t like those, here’s a third one. In the long run, it may not be sustainable, but for right now, it’s perfect.

3. Talk to your employees and find a match.

It’s not enough to look at a spreadsheet and make assumptions about what a person meant when they wrote down their skills history. Have conversations with people to learn what those skills really are, how they’ve used them in the past, and if they think that they can thrive demonstrating the prioritized skills you identified in step 1.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Is it hard? Not really. Is it time-consuming? Somewhat. Is it worth it? Yes. 

Deloitte Insights reports that organizations with a strong internal-mobility strategy report a 30% increase in employee engagement, and 75% of high-performing organizations have one vs. only 37% of low-performing companies. It can reduce your time to fill, your time to competency, your quality of hire — all metrics that you deem important. 

And it means getting your people back to work. It means providing peace of mind and stability to a population that has been anxious and worried about how they’ll provide for their families. It means proving that that commitment of support that you made at the beginning of all this was more than just a nice email. 

Mary is a senior advisor with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led. 

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