Article originally published on Forbes on October 27, 2021.
In the 1993 classic movie “Groundhog Day,” weatherman Phil Connors gets trapped in a time loop — waking to the same day (and same Sonny & Cher song) over and over. In response to the continued situation, Phil experiences confusion, despondency, anger and, ultimately, hope. In some ways, living through the COVID-19 pandemic has trapped our organizations in their own groundhog-like day. A “great” pandemic has led to a “great” resignation and even a “great” migration. But, like Phil, we are doomed to relive these current moments over and over unless and until we undertake a “great” reset.
The reality of the current moment is that talent is tired, talent is scarce and talent is demanding change. Talent’s new empowerment is evident everywhere. From restaurants cutting back business hours due to staff shortages, to retailers adding new benefits such as fully reimbursed college tuition. Combine this “democratization” of work with the unprecedented speed and scale of digitalization and you find an HR function breathless from the pace of transformation. As an organization’s talent strategists, HR now finds itself thrust into a new spotlight — with employees insisting on a reckoning and business leaders and boards insisting on solutions. Last year’s solutions, however, will not solve today’s problem. Fail to recognize this and your organization is in jeopardy of reliving today’s talent issues over and over.
To avoid the time-loop trap, HR can start by asking itself two pivotal questions:
The answers to these two questions will guide HR through the people and cultural transformations necessary for your company to stay relevant and profitable.
As I describe in my upcoming book — Work Without Jobs — redesigning work and re-envisioning the talent experience are both, ultimately, about making connections. Connections between people and work, people and the company, and people and, well, people. To help make these bonds happen, we need to consider three types of ways to connect people to work: fixed talent, flex talent, and flow talent. Moreover, each requires its own, unique work strategy.
Fixed roles or jobs are best suited for situations where there is a convenient volume of work that fits a regular job, compliance or control reason, or they have unique or difficult-to-acquire skills that justify offering a fixed full-time assignment. Here, organizations rely on job architectures enabled by ERP systems to connect talent to work. These are particularly relevant when the work and skills required are relatively stable. Traditional workforce planning tools, such as headcount planning, remain important.
Flex and flexibility have become almost generic terms these days to describe our current talent reality. Here, though, flex actually represents employees in hybrid roles that are both partially fixed yet allow them to flow to work as needed. Think, for example, of an employee in marketing who gets to take on an assignment with HR so she can apply her customer insight and analytical skills. For such flex work to happen, talent marketplaces are needed to bolster traditional ERP systems to support ever-changing work and skills requirements. Traditional workforce planning is allied with skill-based planning to reflect the duality of jobs and skills being the currency of work.
As skills become the currency of work, employees are liberated from the traditional constraints of a job and can fully flow to tasks, assignments, and projects in short-term bursts as capabilities are required. Think of a freelance or project-based data scientist who moves among projects in marketing, HR and operations as needed. To reset you will want a fully developed internal talent marketplace. Marketplaces enable you to stretch scarce skills as demand rapidly changes while also providing opportunities for upskilling and reskilling. Headcount planning, meanwhile, is now in the distance. For “flow,” agile work and skills-based planning take precedence.
Agile teaming (fluid teams that join and disband as needed)
Agile workforce that can be deployed against different priorities
Agile workers (workers that have broad skills)
Agile org design
Agile work practices
If you want to connect people to work, you have to connect with your people, individuals. Traditionally, HR has offered “one-size-fits-most” solutions. The future of work, however, requires an architecture built around the unique needs of your employees. The pandemic has shown how the demands for flexibility can strain our current systems. For example, can your current pay and benefits structure allow for four people to job share an eight hour day? Can your employee value proposition (EVP) equally appeal to an employee focused on the organization’s mission and purpose versus one who ranks personal safety higher on the engagement scale? (To see this come to life, check out Amazon’s current “You’re Hired” commercial.) Pressing the “snooze” button will not work here. Getting up and bringing human sensing to digitalization though, will. When you meet workers where they are and provide an EVP based on who they are, you build a sustainable workforce, sustainable organization, and sustainable communities.
I will take great leadership and an okay strategy over a great strategy and okay leadership. Hands down. Because even though this is a Great HR Reset, it ultimately influences every corner of the organization. Active engagement and support from leadership is pivotal to your success. Center these conversations on the need for:
a new ecosystem of work where every enterprise is a distributed one and leadership comes from the edges
the optimal set of experiences (benefits, development, engagement, etc.) for all types of talent
the necessity for ambidexterity in today’s complex and fast-paced environment
the culture to become the new structure for governing the enterprise
Underpinning these conversations should be one essential truth: the Great HR Reset is about becoming more agile and that agility today means embracing our reality of perpetual obsolescence.
Waking up each day to consistent change can make HR feel that they, like Phil Connors, are caught in a time loop. At the end of Groundhog Day, Phil frees himself from the time loop by resetting his attitude about life and what really matters. Rising for the last time to Sonny & Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe,” he walks into a very different future because he is a different person. So, too, does our new world and social order demand new ways of working and connecting. The Great HR Reset has “great” promise: to create a different future for the function, organization, workers and the community.