THE SKILLS BASE IS FINITE: MAINTAINING AN AGILE WORKFORCE

PRECURSIVE BLOG  |  ROBBIE BURNELL ON NURTURING TALENT

April 2019

Skill is currently being heavily underrated. Historically business leaders digest soundbites on digital and workplace transformation but often fail to implement any change. For instance, for years CEO’s have known that losing employees costs a business; estimates are around 40% of an employees salary just to replace (Inc.com, 2019); yet how often is it seen that people still allowed to exit the business no questions asked?

 

Viewed through another lens, the company not just losing a person, it’s losing everything that person has absorbed since starting - skill and knowledge is walking out the door with them. That skill set represents a bucket of potential for the business and that is being instantly wiped out. Beyond that moment, in order to refill said bucket, new soft skills are getting harder and harder to find (Hays Salary Guide, 2018). When hiring you’ll likely be coming to dry talent pool. Barring the obvious, this is problematic as your customers will want to know they’ve got the best person from your organisation working on their projects and winning business will be negatively impacted if this isn’t the case. Even when excluding issues around skill retention, you’ll also want to know how to access it as immediately as possible, whether that be internally or externally.

 

77% of CEOs find that the availability of key skills is not only a problem for their organisation, it’s one of the biggest threats to their business (PwC, 2017). There are multiple reasons that feed this issue but, without being reductive, there are two major factors that contribute to it in the mainstream:

  1. Limited talent pool

  2. Deployment is changing

LIMITED TALENT POOL

There is a dangerous combination feeding retention issues. New attitudes towards the workplace, poor internal development and the need to have instant application of new skill requirements come together in a heady mix; it is creating a talent pool that exists but is limited. If you are late to the game it won’t just affect your ability to play well, it might affect your ability to play at all. Our research highlighted that companies struggle to hire ahead of the curve and are often reactive in this process.

Exacerbating this problem is, typically, capacity issues are damaging the workforce. Only 15% of the C-suite feel they are measuring workforce capacity well (Precursive’s The Agile Workforce, 2018). Most boil people down to a revenue stream or a time commodity - feel like a commodity and development will likely be side-lined if it can’t directly be linked to billable activity and you’ll probably want to leave. Leaders know that retention ranks highly on capacity impact - in our research it ranks third behind joint first place issues of skill availability and cost. Surprisingly it even beats client issues, like satisfaction and engagement, so the customer is also becoming side-lined due to this metric.

These feelings of commoditisation, that lack of being an asset to a company (even if you are) means affinity towards employers can be lost. From the management perspective this isn’t just important for retaining your talent, it’s also key for those under you who manage their own work and time. If they can’t see what work is available or coming up then can you realistically expect them to proactively put their hand up for work and feel involved, improve themselves, rather than simply being a tick box of success. Equating people down to time units versus time requirements results in the latter.

Retention ranked high for capacity planners (Precursive's, The Agile Workforce, 2018)

“LACK OF DOWNTIME: client needs will always trump personal growth opportunities. Combined with poor planning the development of your team stalls, and they'll be aware of this."

PRECURSIVE.

THE AGILE WORKFORCE, 2018

DEPLOYMENT IS CHANGING

The best companies are mapping skill (and beyond that more anecdotal concepts such as passion areas) to better match employee to task; it’s no longer simply about matching time to task. Why? Well if you customers are noticing that their requirements are not simply met but are clearly exceeded, they’ll likely want to use you again. If you’re mapping time to task, that commodity-framed measure doesn’t always equate to the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of an individual, nor their engagement with the customer. Not great for repeat business which, in some industries, can account for up to 80% of revenue (Gartner, 2016) and repeat customers typically spend up to 300% more than new customers (RJMetrics, 2016).

This is key information when returning to that finite talent pool. It will damage your business when you’re not aligning upcoming work and the talent it requires. Talent gaps will need to be seen well in advance. This is necessary at any stage of the project life cycle, including during the bid. If you don’t know ahead of time the skillset that is required for the match-making to your potential business (old or new client alike) they will be unlikely to select your organisation.

Yet if you don’t have your data in a unified system that provides a holistic view, it’s hard to inform future planning of where that skills gap might appear.

THE AGILE WORKFORCE & TALENT

So how do you mitigate these issues? Firstly, look after what you have; your current skills set within your workforce is likely to be your most valuable asset. Provide the time to nurture that skill set in line with your organisations upcoming skill requirements, using tools that automate tasks outside of their job description such as admin. When that ‘wiggle room’ pool of time starts being side-lined for client work, use that as a red flag for the hiring process to begin and come to that talent pool ahead of your competitors. In this way you can develop what you need internally and/or know exactly when and what you need to hire.

PRECURSIVE PERSPECTIVE

1. People and company shouldn’t be separate entities - your staff should know what’s going on company-wide, see the upcoming workload and have the capacity to deal with it in an effective and productive manor, easily.

2. Then invest to analyse the data surrounding skills and knowledge used or required the most within your organisation. This can inform:

  • what you need to hire

  • when you need to develop (internally)

Robbie is the VP, Marketing for Precursive. Since starting 12 months ago he has been speaking with the leading CEO's, COO's, CFO's, PM's and many others within the C-Suite of multiple enterprise companies into how capacity impacts a business. He has learnt that attitudes towards it as a metric are changing in a digital world. Getting involved in The Agile Workforce is free so reach out to him to learn more here.