Adapt or die: Why HR should lead business through change

Over the last 15 years, nearly a third of corporations on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were replaced. Failure to adapt was one of the critical contributing factors to their demise. The rapid pace of change is an ongoing concern for all enterprises, and how organizations handle this challenge will determine long-term business sustainability.

When businesses fail to adapt, it is only a matter of time before revenue, innovation and long-term economic viability begin to suffer. Proactive adaptation to changing work environments and demands includes evaluating new ways of doing business, understanding changes in creating a desirable employee culture and sharpening skill sets throughout the company.

Business Sustainability, Talent Strategy and HR

Business sustainability refers to structuring an organization, from the inside out, to best guarantee ongoing success. To practice business sustainability, organizations must ultimately deliver a talent strategy that allows them to continue to remain agile and achieve strong growth.

Talent strategy has become a top priority for many CEOs, as the ability to compete relies on having skilled talent on board. In fact, PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey found that between 2009 and 2017, the percentage of CEOs concerned about talent gaps grew to 77% from 46%. The key to reducing vulnerability and becoming “fail-proof” is through retention and maximization of talent.

Thus, HR should live at the nucleus of this ongoing innovation toward business sustainability. HR leaders know their people; they know the deck of skills within the organization, and they understand the soft and hard skills it takes to innovate.

An HR-Driven Strategy to Drive Change

The best way to ensure business sustainability and preparedness for change is to develop a talent-centered, people-first strategy, with HR at the helm. What does an HR-driven strategy look like?

Talent as a top priority. Leading organizations hire the right talent with an intuitive and customizable requisition process, screening, interview and application tools, and the ability to search and manage pools of external and internal employee candidates. It’s not about “headcount,” it’s about the right heads, sitting in the right chairs. As any experienced HR leader knows, that requires tremendous organization and a frictionless recruitment process.

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Driving a culture of learning and growth. New generations of the workforce are keenly aware of the worth of their skills, and want to feel an intrinsic motivation and connection with their profession. It’s not just about collecting a paycheck—it’s about identity, growth, challenge, passion, and teamwork. Meeting these expectations is demanding but these types of employees are also invested in learning new skills, stretching themselves intellectually, and will show passion, ushering your organization into market leadership.

To engage employees and create a culture of continuous learning, organizations must provide a suite of learning and training development tools for employees to learn, develop and grow.

Promote from within. Critical to success is empowering and “leveling up” the talent you already have. The age-old notion remains true: it’s less expensive to keep an existing employee than find someone new. The path toward business sustainability must prioritize guiding and training current employees to be ready and able to lead, and qualified to fill open positions as they arise.

It’s imperative for HR to develop a strategy that eliminates skill gaps and provides comprehensive, repeatable and scalable training that empowers employees to pursue their own self-directed path for development and career growth.

Evaluate and develop the skills your organization really needs. Before embarking on any learning initiative, it is essential to first understand the skills that an organization needs both now and into the future. One of the most important functions of HR is to assess the current market and identify the skills needed to keep an organization competitive. With this understanding, HR can complete an inventory of the scope of the skills employees currently possess–including those skills they have but do not utilize in their current capacity–and share the findings with the key stakeholders to develop an accurate assessment of skills and fill in gaps accordingly.

HR has an underappreciated, yet crucial role in business sustainability. Employees are an organization’s most valuable asset. Even with industry-leading products or distinguished offerings, an organization that does not prioritize talent management and career development will fail. HR is key to maximizing and fostering existing talent and acquiring new talent that is equipped with the skills of tomorrow. With close collaboration with the c-suite, insight into where the business is headed and the current talent pool, HR can drive business sustainability with a people-first approach.

Morné Swart
Morné Swart is VP, global product strategy and transformational leader at SumTotal.

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