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Zero Wasted Potential when you need it most: workforce optimization helps navigate recessionary times

Co-authored by Siobhan Savage, CEO & Co-Founder of Reejig, and Jason Averbook, CEO & Co-Founder of Leapgen

Forbes shows the U.S. is headed for a recession, in spite of corporate earnings and labor market gains.

Additional sources like CNN affirm the recession will be global. Business leaders are already taking decisive and proactive steps to position themselves to pull through potential turbulence, including cutting costs, freezing hiring, and protecting talent. Even if a recession is ‘short and sharp’, as MSNBC indicates, the very mindset it creates can be used as an opportunity to refine and improve the way a workforce delivers value to businesses.

As any organization examines expenses and looks for redundancies to optimize its cash and people position, it will naturally find opportunities to optimize its existing headcount. Looking through the forced lens of an impending recession can teach an important lesson if we’re willing to learn it we should always be seeking to optimize talent, unlock capacity, and drive human potential.

In other words, workforce optimization is for the best of times, not just for the worst. 

Stop counting heads and start making heads count; workforce optimization protects the business and your people

We tend to wait for times of crisis to leapfrog innovation and drive truly impactful change.

Case in point; the pandemic forced us to reimagine the way people work in boundaryless organizations, it validated hybrid working models considered experimental before, it confirmed personal well-being as a critical pillar in the employee experience conversation, and it erased the line once and for all between whole selves and work selves.  We flirted with these concepts as trendy bylines to our Employee Value Proposition when talent was hard to come by.

But when these concepts became the very means to business survival in the greatest labor market upheaval in modern history, we got the real work done. Not just as a Band-Aid, either. We changed work for good, and it stuck.

We suspect the same will become true of people data, skills, and workforce resilience. We love talking about these buzzwords in a future of work conversation, but we’re likely to roll up our sleeves and finally sort them out when these concepts become mission-critical to business sustainability.

The truth is, people functions in the Now of Work are mandated with creating flexible, responsive, future-fit workforces that can ebb and flow with the needs of the business. This isn’t just an answer to the most historic and disruptive labor market trends we’ve seen in modern history — it’s an answer to a modern, transformed talent market that expects to be activated, leveraged, optimized, developed, and continually re-recruited.

In this way, understanding the strategic overlap of people data, skills, and workforce resilience builds sustainability in a business and serves a dual purpose of attracting and protecting its most important asset.

A skills-based strategy is the clearest path to workforce optimization

Individual talent is an evolving and assorted collection of skills; taking inventory at a moment in time is difficult enough if people and their skills were static, but they are not. And shouldn't be. 

Organizations will need to learn to survey, assess, recommend, and align talent and skills to business needs and programs. Not just now, when we’re required to make our best guess about who is needed in what parts of the business to keep it humming, but in future-looking workforce planning scenarios. Matching poorly devised job descriptions to poorly articulated employment history leaves too much on the table.

True optimization efforts will challenge employers to deconstruct jobs and reconstruct talent using new talent and skills frameworks. This is more than a mindset shift, it both requires and allows us to completely reimagine how work gets done.

What an opportunity, when we think about it that way. Skills-driven talent strategies not only ensure the business has the capabilities it needs to produce the output it wants, but they also ensure people are being evaluated and leveraged for what they can and want to do. Otherwise, what happens when skills become obsolete? People become obsolete.

Optimizing the workforce ensures people appreciate rather than depreciate as an asset to the business. As much as we hate the terms ‘Human Capital’ and ‘Human Capital Management’ for how impersonal they feel, the idea of appreciating your people assets takes on new meaning in the context of workforce optimization.

This is the future of talent; achieving Zero Wasted Potential  by understanding skills, offering agency and mobility, and creating workforce agility

Matching resumes and employment history — rearview mirror information — against single job requisitions and a sea of duplicative job profiles is short-sighted and a thing of the past.

This strategy seeks to make the closest 1:1 match possible — and often matching bad data against bad data, no less. A more holistic and front-facing approach that seeks to future-fit the workforce against what the business needs now and tomorrow requires more strategic criteria against which to evaluate, develop, retain, and deploy talent.

Understanding what people can and want to do — not just the job title they currently or last held — allows the business to redeploy talent again and again based on needs, capabilities, and skills. It also gives people agency and permission to constantly reposition themselves to deliver maximum impact. Let people help themselves!

Talent can do more to make themselves valuable and optimized for the business when we democratize opportunity and let them carry their own career passport loaded with skills the business needs and wants.

Workforce optimization can occur on data alone (warning flag, warning flag, warning flag), but it works best in a data-fueled skills ecosystem. That’s probably why we’re hearing so much about skills, skills, skills. It’s the best lever to pull when trying to make workforce optimization and futureproofing decisions for a healthy business.

Conversely, we watched one company lay off 20% of its workforce, only to realize after the fact they’d released some of the most critical skills they would need in the next stage of their growth. Because they were recently acquired in mid-level positions, this was also some of the most affordable talent they had in the business. These assumptions and a complete lack of visibility of talent, and their critical business skills, cost this business dearly.

For skills to produce business value, we need to turn them into career currency for the individual.

Capturing skills remains the first challenge before organizations can create movement and conduct thoughtful planning with them. To maximize skills data, organizations will need to eliminate silos in the people function, use data to better inform and optimize holistic employee life cycles, and create more agility and fluidity in the workforce by designing supported pathways that allow talent to move.


The impact of workforce optimization is business sustainability and resilience

Solutions like Reejig offering workforce intelligence, workforce optimization, and workforce planning strategies are the right thing at exactly the right time based on what we’re seeing in the market and our client base. Organizations need to both optimize and protect its most valuable asset, its people. This approach serves to create needed agility, build talent resilience, demonstrate the value of solutions and the people who use them, and show a clear path to sustainability through turbulence. 

The people function in an organization is more critical than ever before to the business it serves. To rise to the occasion, it must think more strategically than ever before. Understanding skills as the clear path to workforce optimization with the goal of Zero Wasted Potential will make HR the hero of the organization, and rightfully so. HR, it’s our time to show the business what we can do.

3 key insights into how we can understand a growth mindset and enable one in our leaders and teams

  • Move beyond headcount reporting and understand workforce optimization. While this might still require standard headcount reporting, the mindset is different. It moves beyond who is doing what job today and instead invests in knowing who your people are, the skills they have, and the potential they are capable of. This allows you to plan for the future, and know whether your people are in the right roles at the right time. 
  • Begin to move your talent strategy forward based on skills as a common denominator and strategic lever. Find partners who can help you design the path, not just show and tell you where to be.
  • Do the culture shift. Workforce optimization and a culture of Zero Wasted Potential require an aligned vision and demonstrated behaviors so frontline managers, employees, leaders, and prospective talent understand your organizational view of how talent meets business needs.


About the authors

Siobhan Savage

Siobhan is an award-winning workforce leader obsessed with developing inclusive workforce intelligence and designing meaningful careers to unlock potential at scale. For almost two decades, Siobhan has worked to deliver workforce optimization and resilience globally, and after experiencing firsthand the impact of not having visibility into the skills and capabilities of people within workforces, set out to recreate the organizational, people leader, and talent experience to one with complete visibility and Zero Wasted Potential.

Jason Averbook

Jason is a leading analyst, thought leader, and consultant in the area of human resources, the future of work and the impact technology have on that future. He is the Co-founder and CEO of Leapgen, a digital transformation company helping organizations shape their future workplace by broadening executive mindsets to rethink how to better design and deliver employee services that meet the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business.

Prior to founding Leapgen, Jason Averbook served as the CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC). In 2005, he co-founded Knowledge Infusion LLC and served as its CEO until 2012, when the company was sold to Appirio. Earlier in his career, he served as the Chief Business Innovation Officer at Appirio Inc., where he led the HCM business. He has also held senior leadership roles at PeopleSoft and Ceridian Corporation. Jason has more than 20 years of experience in the HR and technology industries and has collaborated with industry-leading companies in transforming their HR organizations into strategic partners.


About Reejig

Reejig is an award-winning workforce intelligence platform that helps enterprises find, mobilize, reskill, and upskill their workforces using the world’s first independently audited Ethical Talent AI.

Reejig is trusted by the world’s largest and most complex workforces, including Woolworths Group, Reckitt, AWS, KPMG, Allianz, and the NSW Government, and together we are creating a world with Zero Wasted Potential.


About Leapgen

Leapgen is a digital HR company shaping the NOW of Work. Highly respected as consultants and advisors to the enterprise and the industry, we help our customers make HR digital. Leapgen helps leaders rethink how to better design and deliver workforce services and architect HR technology solutions that meet the expectations of workers and the needs of the business. Contact Leapgen to learn more.

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