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Looking in the crystal ball: Aligning organization and skills

August 9, 2013
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In my last article I raised the issue of having the right skills for organization requirements. It was an attempt to focus thinking on the fact that many organizations will not have the quality of skills they need to be competitive in a world economy or even a domestic industry.

Since most organizations have been so focused on surviving the Great Recession, they forgot about planning for the recovery. Whether they were just too concerned with staying above water, only considered options in the immediate situation, or didn’t move forward even when they could see opportunity, they were caught waiting to see what happens. The end result is that now they have to scramble and deal with a changed business operating environment.

So what do we do about this new situation? The first thing we do is spend some serious time looking at where the organization is going, and where (and by when) we want it to go.

Looking in the crystal ball is not so easy. Instead of waiting for it to tell you what will happen, however, why not decide what you want to have happen? You can make adjustments along the way.

This leads to the steps of what you need in the way of making it happen, such as marketing plans, sales force, products, equipment, etc. Of course, behind all this are the people to make it happen.

Planning and sustainability

When we speak of the people, it really means what they add to the mix in skills and experience.

This may all have a familiar ring to it as it is nothing more than putting in place your strategic plan. While recently working with a client on what we call the Integrated Strategic and Succession Plan, and because of the strong connection between the two, an associate on our team shifted the focus just a bit when he stated that the whole process is about sustainability, a major emphasis these days.

The critical part of sustainability is quality execution, and that requires people with the necessary skills and experience.

Without going into prior discussions, let’s say there is common agreement that we will be facing a skill shortage in the not-too-distant future. So what do we do about it? First of all we don’t have time for others to fix the system. So our efforts need to be directed at the specific requirements of our own organization.

That brings us back to the strategic plan. Most such plans have a horizon of about four to five years where the details get fleshed out, although they may be part of a longer range vision.

In the five-year horizon we ought to be able to speculate and plan on what the organization will look like as it strives to accomplish it goals and supporting projects. Just like we figure out how many plants, machines and customers we will need to meet the targets, we can figure out how many and what kind of people we will need.

Then we take the inventory of assets: how many will be obsolete, and how many more will we will need to add and what kind? It’s the same with people and skills. For many employees adding new skills takes time and investment; for a few situations you have to buy new talent with the background required. That is one of the more expensive approaches, but it makes sense in many situations.

For the existing jobs that need to be supplemented in quantity or modified in practice, much of it can happen with internal staff. The key aspect of this effort is to retain and engage exiting staff, so you aren’t wasting time, effort and expense by replacing what you already have. This means making sure employees don’t switch companies and the seasoned employees don’t hang up their spurs and start the third phase of their life earlier than you would like.

There may be some things that you do for all employees to address this situation, but for that employee that is giving thought to the next phase of their life you may have some unique opportunities.

Phase three

When you talk to employees in their mid-50s and later, they recognize for the most part that their career has or is about to peak, so they begin to look at the job with a different perspective. They still may have some financial needs, but there are other things that are starting to become more important. These “other things” are not the same for everyone. Sometimes they are driven by personal goals, but often they are the result of external factors, such as health, events with spouses, family, significant others and event climate.

Moving into the third phase of your life is complex and usually takes a lot of thought and planning.

Employer role

So what does all this have to do with the employer and skill development and retention?

The first aspect is the time line for these individuals. Knowing what this is helps your planning. Knowing how to deal with it is also important.

One of the critical elements is how the organization accepts transition-thinking employees. For example, a vice president of a large organization, being a responsible officer of the company, thought it best to give ample notice of his impending retirement a number of months out. What he found out within weeks was that he was viewed as being retired, his opinion was not sought, he was excluded from meetings, and his programs seemed to die — a terrible waste of talent.

Of course, others saw this and no one else gave advance notices. Culture of an organization can influence these situations dramatically.

Special, meaningful assignments can often rectify such situations and maximize the knowledge of the individual. This applies at all levels of the organization.

When you get into special assignments, integrating it with the new focus in the employee’s objectives is critical. They can also be built around special working arrangements involving timelines, schedules, operational locations, pay and benefit arrangements. This is really an opportunity to create a very productive and mutually valued relationship between the employee and organization.

There is one essential element to make this work effectively. The employee has to have a sound understanding and plan for his/her third phase of life. Otherwise, the employer may be extending a lot of effort that won’t pay off.

How does this happen? Give the employee some third-phase planning tools. One caution, this is much more than just hooking them up with a financial planner; there can be as many as 16 different aspects to setting up a third-phase living plan.

Ardon Schambers is president and principal of P3HR Consulting & Services in Grand Rapids.

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