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'Personnelly' Speaking

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In these challenging times, organizations must look closely at how their work forces stack up against the demands of today's market. The present downturn can be an opportunity for firms to position themselves for future growth rather than simply reducing head counts. Our research and consulting expertise highlight seven ways to stay ahead in these difficult times. 1) Make staffing decisions based on capabilities and gaps. In economic downturns, it's easy for organizations to make broad cuts to reduce costs and maintain profitability. But this may release individuals who have crucial skills (e.g., creative and technical skills important for developing and managing digital content) and prvent opportunities to spot and attract external talent. 2) Focus on key jobs. With limited discretionary budgets, focus talent management investments on positions having the greatest contribution toward delivering on the organization's business strategy. In some cases this may mean managing and sharing talent across divisional lines. 3) Differentiate high (and low) performers across the organization. Faced with impending job cuts, those employees most likely to leave are often the company's best. They both drive productivity and signal to others the company's viability. Carefully identify and retain top employees. 4) Transfer critical knowledge and stimulate social network development. During retrenchments, organizations are especially vulnerable to losing their institutional memory. Understanding critical social networks can help identify individuals who are valuable repositories and play a vital, if sometimes invisible, role in the organization. 5) Consider the use of alternate meeting and working arrangements. Telecommuting can cut real estate and employee commuting costs, and let certain employees balance their often-increased workloads more effectively. Web-based conferences and virtual worlds can bring employees together when travel is not feasible. 6) Improve HR and learning efficiency. Some organizations can “find money” in HR and learning administration. In HR there are often many inconsistent and cumbersome manual processes and redundant “shadow roles.” Opportunity exists to cut administrative costs through streamlined, self-service HR processes, as well as shared services. 7) Lead. During economic uncertainty, leadership is critical. Employees hunger for information, and leaders must communicate the state and direction of the business, build a culture of creativity and tap into the work force for ways to innovate. Successful organizations recognize that leaders must be visible, engaged and committed to values. Now is the time for leadership, vision and inspired thinking—much of which we can harness from the backbone of our organizations: our people. We should be smart about it. Lisa Tondreau is a partner and VP at IBM Human Capital Management Services, working with companies in the information services and media industries. She can be reached at lisa.tondreau@us.ibm.com.
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