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Stuck in Talent Gridlock

I recently participated in a roundtable discussion with HR executives in London, UK. The participants were managers responsible for talent management and resourcing strategies for elite multinational firms. The subject of discussion was “agile resourcing” – i.e., how to make the work place and the workforce more flexible. The goal of agile resourcing strategies is to make sure that companies always have the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time. But these executives were clearly frustrated in pursuing this intent.

The consensus of the group was that existing corporate culture, policies and practices act together like an obsolete highway system to slow the movement and flow of talent throughout the organization and constrain the flexibility needed in the workplace to enable the vision of agile resourcing to be realized. After all, it’s hard to move, let alone be agile when you are stuck in a traffic jam. Management hierarchies that constrain movement remain the norm despite much flatter organizations. Advancement opportunities are still solely vertical in the majority of organizations and there are far fewer of them. Many older workers are stuck in the middle or higher echelons of the organization with nowhere to go. They are burned out and chomping at the bit to do something different, but have few options. Some older staff is reluctant to move on because they feel their pensions and retirement plans are not enough to sustain them. They feel pressured to continue working to maintain their current lifestyles and to make retirement actually possible. Many would like to take on new roles and restructure their professional and personal lives but both they and their employers are stymied by the inflexibility of conventional job definitions and employment arrangements.

On the other end of the spectrum are young workers. Companies are again becoming interested in how to attract, motivate, and retain young talent. But the new crop of workers entering the workforce is more diverse than ever and their needs vary greatly. Many want personalized employment deals tailored to their life stage, life style and individual needs and priorities. But companies are reluctant and/or unable to fundamentally change how they operate to meet the need for flexibility of this group. And even when young talent is convinced to accept a bog standard employment package, most end up leaving within eighteen months, frustrated by the prospect of waiting years to move up or across the organization or to take on new jobs and responsibilities.

Adding to these generational woes are gender inequalities. Women are increasingly finding corporate environments hostile to their interests, particularly if they have a family to care for. A fortunate few can opt for part-time hours and reduced commitments but those that do, especially in higher echelons of the organization, are often marginalized and overlooked for promotions and advancement opportunities. The one-size-fits-all, all-or-nothing mentality that pervades most corporations is stifling gender diversity (and more agile use of female talent) in the workplace.

So what can be done? Each of the roundtable participants pointed to their own corporate leaders and cultures as the chief inhibitors to progress in dealing with these challenges. They indicated that it is in the interests of those at the top to keep the status quo, so few feel any real pressure or necessity to change. Yet the types of changes needed to make organizations more flexible and attractive to younger, older, and female workers can only be made with leadership from the top. But time is running out for most big corporations. Job one is to change the mindset of top managers. Otherwise, it will be impossible to introduce the kinds of flexible workplace practices that can enable true resource agility and attract and retain the younger, older, and female workers that large corporation’s will increasingly need to stay competitive in the future.
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Tony DiRomualdo is a business researcher, writer, and advisor with Next Generation Consulting. He works at the intersection of people, business strategy, and information technology to help companies create a committed and high performance workforce. Tony can be reached at td@nextgenerationconsulting.com.

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The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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