Talent in a Time of Crisis

As recently as late February and even early March, employers were faced with a talent shortage. Unemployment rates across the US were commonly below 4%, a level most economists believe reflects “full employment.” As a result, we were all looking for ways to balance a dwindling supply of capable talent with burgeoning needs for workers in every business sector. Today, as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic reverberates across the economy, we are faced with a supply-and-demand challenge as well, but in the reverse. It’s as if one day we were looking at the photograph and the next only the photo negative. While we are all hoping for a rapid and robust rebound in the global economy, the odds are that when it happens, the employment landscape won’t look the same as we left it. GPs, portfolio company executives, and business owners are rightfully concerned about their people and talent. Many employers are in crisis mode, seeking an accordion-like solution. How can 80% to 90% of a workforce be shed to conserve capital and survive such an uncertain environment, only to be expanded again (perhaps) very quickly when the world and economy comes back online?Here are some steps, from a human capital perspective, that can position companies for a positive recovery:

Evaluate Your Business Strategy.

What is your plan to get through both the near- and medium-term time horizons – over the next few weeks and then the next six to 12 months – or even longer periods, extending out as many as 18 months, for certain sectors or end markets?To get a sense of your company’s most acute human capital needs, define your strategic position in the market and itemize your capabilities. Be brave and honest in your assessment – a great tool for this exercise is a SWOT analysis. If you’re new to strategic planning, certain tools can help you navigate this process, including: Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Scaling Up (Gazelles.com) and others.

Block-and-Tackle Operations.

Near and long-term “people” strategies are intricately linked to one another but may be very different. Today’s critical outcomes, for instance, may include furloughing long-service employees, ensuring they’re treated with dignity and respect through preserving medical benefits and time off. Alternatively, companies can establish productive remote-work policies and processes, helping teams to perform at their peak while balancing business imperatives and simultaneously serving as substitute teachers for their children or caregivers for sick and elderly family members. A diverse team of internal and external subject matter experts should be assembled to help navigate this process.

Identify Critical Positions.

Critical positions are directly tied to your business strategy. These roles are necessary to solidify and grow market share, and to outpace your competition now and when in recovery. Critical positions have a differentiated impact on one or more of your business’ strategic capabilities. Importantly, critical roles can (and often do) exist at all levels of an organization. To be effective, however, requires brutal honesty– not every manager, leader or executive is critical in a time of crisis. Think DoorDash or GrubHub – delivery drivers are THE most important role to execute the business strategy and meet key operating objectives.

Assess Talent.

Building for the future, especially at this stage, is crucial for short and long-term success. Document the requirements for optimal performance in your critical positions, looking beyond the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities. Key employees will be those with exemplary leadership, communications and a positive influence on the organization, who lead from the front with persistence and perseverance. They are champions of your intended culture, with obvious and measurable impact on their co-workers as well as your customers and clients. Take an inventory of your team. If you don’t have a solid process for talent assessment, seek an outside expert and consider incorporating reliable, validated assessment tools into your process. Should you need to reduce staff now, employees in critical positions who are recognized for their outstanding contributions must tip the scales toward retention.

People Strategy – Stage your recovery.

Just as important as a business strategy, you will need a people strategy. Assess what you’ll need to retain essential staff during the crisis and implement these measures quickly and carefully. Similarly, pay special attention to respectful, transparent messaging for staff who will be furloughed, laid-off or who will lose their jobs. Open lines of communication are key and how you treat employees during this time can make an enormous difference in your ability to recruit them back, post-recovery. Consider whether this time can be used for employee reskilling, retraining, and technology implementation. Without active engagement, many employees will look for other work and will not be available when you would like them to return. Develop a back-up plan well in advance of your needs.Coming back to full productivity will take time and may require a staged recovery. Clearly define what milestones will necessitate bringing internal processes back online. For instance, how much lead time will you need to ensure an effective restart? Generate a rolling schedule for activating critical positions and required support roles at various points in the recovery process.Be thoughtful and address what has changed. Many businesses believed they could not run effectively with a remote workforce but are now experiencing solid team performance.Consider whether your “future-state” means something new, such as less office space and more virtual teaming, compressed work weeks, or redeployment of talent to other strategic aspects of your business.Now is the time to plan for your future. It will not be business-as-usual; it will be something new, and if you’ve done your homework, something better. 29Bison is here, ready to help. In this time of chaos and uncertainty, let us be your guide. Your people are our business. Call us anytime 215.337.3111 or email us at info@29Bison.com

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