Time to re-think your professional workforce strategy?

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Workforce strategies have changed with economic cycles for the last 3 decades and each time we have settled in to a ‘norm’ that lasts until the next iteration or trend. We have seen the movement to offshore, a balancing of contractor resources and the challenge of the full time employee, especially in Corporates and Government organisations where pension funding has reached critical concern levels.

In addition, the National Press has given a significant airing to the ‘Zero Hours’ contracts and the fact that they may be unfair to the employee. However, we need to take a high level view on recovery and the role of resources and the prudence of managers.

Resourcing strategies are very intimate things. They should be designed to your company needs, for the company that you are, in the market that you operate, with the risks that are inherent in your business model.

With professional skills, is it time to re-think your workforce strategy and business model?

I’ve lived through multiple cycles of down turn and prosperity and the panic of reducing cost at short notice is often a symptom of poor foresight somewhere else in the business. The panic of having to look for cost savings points immediately point to labour reductions as it’s a fixed cost on your books and the easiest (although sometimes the most expensive) and quickest to implement.

A savvy CEO wants to have a predictable business; forecasted growth, resources on demand and needs a focus on core skills that the company sees as part of its competitive advantage. Everything should be manageable.

The resultant HR Directors response is one of balancing the retention of talent, churning staff to keep the company fresh and hiring a fine balance between contracted labour and full time employees. However, are we reaching a position where business growth and decline could act so swiftly that our traditional resourcing models are unable to keep pace with the business? Can they afford to hire full-time professionals if they are not part of a core competency or they cannot gain a return on investment for a significant proportion of the year?

This is where you need to think to the role of the Consultant, who comes in to deliver expertise, not staff management (an important distinction), and for shorter periods of time, rather than fixed terms that you would see with Contractors, Sub-Contractors and Interim Managers.

It may be a subtle difference, but the maturity of the company and senior sponsorship is essential for such a change. Traditionally, Consultants are associated with senior managers and hired directly by them. The Consultants role doesn’t change, but to procure multiple short-term skills requires changes in practice lower down in the organisation.

‘Zero Hour’ contracts were mentioned above and you probably associate this (and accept it’s benefits) with lower level skills and competencies. The Consultant would in effect be zero hour, as they will be bought in for specific competence and professional insight. When they are not needed, they are released.

For some professionals this model is already accepted i.e. The Legal Profession, where you have an enquiry or an assignment and the professional charges you by the clock. The bigger you are, the more opportunity to hire full time to provide basic services. The difficulty is in affording 100% internal professional skills during times of austerity.

For small to medium sized companies in recovery mode, looking for growth and requiring professional skills, Consulting is a serious alternative to hiring, an injection of value add and ideal for short-term impact. For Corporate Mid Market and above, it will be a balance. Larger companies may still want the injection of skills, but after meeting a self-build threshold or in traditional consulting areas where skills do not exist in the company.

So to summarise, the value of maintaining a full complement of professional skills in your organisation is a risk to sustained recovery, which CEOs and HRDs may look to mitigate with consulting models. It is essential to understand your business model and to assess which skills are core to your business for 365 days of the year and those that you should bring in on demand.

The approach doesn’t take away the need to good forecasting as consultant availability will be subject to multi-client activity and agreeing timeslots/activities in advance makes for good management and outcomes.

About David Dugdale
Business Transformation Consultant

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