Large enterprises invariably have large talent pools at their disposal, but often hire new talent as new positions and needs arise, while letting go of existing employees when their roles become obsolete. But not only is this approach wasteful – it keeps companies from realizing the full potential of the employees they decide to keep on. There’s a better way.
We’re used to thinking about employees as a resource that “belongs” to specific managers, there to fulfil a specific function with the help of a specific skillset. We hire people based on these skillsets and their ability to carry out pre-defined tasks with them, and in the short term, that generally gets the job done. But as any senior executive will tell you, companies change and pivot constantly. As circumstances and markets shift, companies must adapt to fit them – and that adaptation manifests in new assignments and goals within the organization. So, if change is inevitable, why are we hiring, assessing and developing employees based on the underlying assumption that their role within the company won’t change significantly over time?
The difficult answer to this question is that behind this approach to talent, there’s an underlying, subconscious assumption that employees are expendable.
Of course, nobody really thinks their employees are expendable, and the resources, time and money companies sink in developing their workforces show this very clearly. But by continuing to assess and manage employees as they currently do, most companies are undermining their own efforts at talent development.
As long as employees are seen as a means to solve a specific problem, on an organizational level they will continue to be seen as a resource that needs to be periodically replaced.
So how can decisionmakers change this?
The best way to change the way we think about our workers is to stop looking at them as “belonging” to managers. Rather, companies should start looking at their talent as a company-wide resource, which managers are entrusted with for a limited period of time. Adopting this approach does several things, from which all sides ultimately benefit.
First, employees are no longer seen as a tool meant to plug a specific hole in the organizational structure. Instead, they’re seen as people, with a wide array of skills, abilities and potentials, which can assist the company in a variety of ways.
Second, companies get to enjoy a changeable, dynamic, agile workforce, that knows the company’s needs, doesn’t need to be repeatedly onboarded, and which can answer needs as they arise, regardless of job descriptions.
But what about managers, who will have their most important resource taken away from them? How is this new arrangement beneficial to them?
If your managers will continue to think about employees as “theirs,” having them “on loan” from the company really is the raw end of the deal. But if they start thinking about the employee talent pool as a company-wide resource that’s available to them as well, the increased availability of talent and skills in the company is something that they will benefit from the most. No more waiting for new recruits to man new positions, no more inexperienced workers or team members who don’t fully grasp the significance of their work in the overall scheme of things.
Of course, simply declaring employees are a company-wide resource isn’t enough to implement this change; to make it a reality, there’s need for the right type of HR infrastructure to support it.
When employees become a company-wide resource, there’s a very real need to know what they’re capable of regardless of their job descriptions, as well as a need for a system that will allow smart matching between these employees and relevant opportunities within the company. Managers, on their end, will need a system that will alert them to good fits for the projects and goals they intend to complete. This kind of system is called an Opportunity Marketplace or a Talent Marketplace. It can work even if employees continue to “belong” to specific managers, so trying it out without implementing the kind of big, cultural change we’re talking about is possible as well – and if agility, flexibility and futureproofing are high on your company’s list of priorities, it can be an excellent way to initiate positive change at any scale. But ultimately, the idea at the heart of the Marketplace is not to find employees for your jobs, but to find jobs for your employees.