July 22, 2015

The Executive’s Checklist for Business Success in an Era of Constant Change

WaterI’ve interviewed a lot of people during my tenure at Recruiter.com, and all of those people have shared what feels like literal tons of (sometimes conflicting) opinions on the states of business, talent, and the economy today. But of all the insights from all the thought leaders, none has stuck with me as much as Guy Kawasaki’s assertion that “a five-year business plan is kind of meaningless.”

Kawasaki’s argument is that we live and work in a time of accelerated change. Customer bases, market demands: these things are no longer stable ground on which to build long-term plans — if they ever were. Instead of aiming for some definitive point in the future, we need to build flexible, agile organizations that can meet the needs of today’s customers and adapt to whatever the needs of tomorrow’s customers may be.

I mention Kawasaki’s opinion here because it serves to underscore much of what Charles Mah, global head of talent acquisition at SAP, has to say about the current business climate.

Mah points out that technology is evolving at a profound clip, and baby boomers, Gen. X-ers, and the millennials are all sharing office space — with Gen. Z advancing quickly. Shifting tech and shifting demographics — in both the workforce and our consumer bases — can mean quite a bit of chaos for companies. But, he says, this chaos is navigable.

“Today, we’re seeing a big shift in the workforce,” Mah says. “We need to ask ourselves: What are the things we need to think about when it comes to hiring, growing, and retaining talent in this changing environment?

To help executives answer this question, Mah and the folks at SAP have developed a checklist for “winning workforce strategies” — and here are the five items on said checklist:

1. Think About the Structure of Your Company to Track, Develop, and Retain Talent

According to a report from SAP and Oxford Economics, “many companies lack the structure … to manage employees effectively.”

“In terms of supporting the new workforce, certain kinds of environments promote better results,” Mah says.

Particularly, Mah is referring to flatter corporate structures that support “rotations, tours of duty, learning on the spot, and structured learning.” These kinds of environments, Mah believes, are better suited to meeting the needs of today’s diverse workforce.

2. Embrace Diversity Across Demographics

Speaking of “diverse workforces,” Mah uses that phrase to refer to more than just ethnic or gender diversity — though, he says, those are important vectors of diversity. But alongside these traditional markers of diversity, Mah also emphasizes the importance of diversities of skills, cultures, and geographies.

Swings“Today, the customer is asking for more,” Mah says. “They want to see how are companies evolving and changing and shifting to meet [their] needs.”

Now that many companies serve customers in more countries than ever before, they need to open up the structures of their workforces to support broader, more diverse arrays of employees. In this way, organizations can better tap into the shifting talent market and better meet the needs of their changing customer bases.

3. Tap Into Employees’ Passions and Values

According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, employee engagement is one of the biggest drivers of innovation, growth, and revenue. Given how competitive today’s economy is — and given how disengaged most workers are — organizations need to find ways to “engage employees, to help them to innovate at a continuous pace — probably a faster pace than ever,” Mah says.

To really engage their workforces, companies must reflect on their employees’ passions and values, and then find ways to help employees embrace these passions. When organizations support their employees’ passions, employees find more meaning in their work — and that meaning translates into increased productivity and innovation.

4. Become a ‘Learning Organization’

Today, more and more employees stress the importance of professional development. Mah encourages employers to become “learning organizations” — organizations that prioritize and support employee learning and development — in order to meet these demands.

“It’s really important as an executive to think about how you are preparing your team and your new hires to get long-term and short-term learning,” Mah says.

By “long-term” learning, Mah means traditional classroom development, as well as training and certification programs. By “short-term” learning, he means giving employees the chance to move around from project to project and team to team, which allows employees to “get on-the-fly learning” and develop relationships with different leaders, who can provide them with diverse forms of guidance.

5. Leverage Big Data

Tape“If you think about items 1-4, those are all changes in the movement of people throughout your organization,” Mah says. “And all of these things — learning offerings, recruitment, engagement — come with data.”

Analyzing this data and making use of the insights this analysis brings allows companies to create “feedback loops that continuously improve the life cycles of employees.”

“For example,” Mah says,

The first 100 or so hires we make, we should be able to track how well they’re doing over a period of time. As we look at how well they are doing — promotions, project impact, attrition rates — we should be able to spot what some of the triggers are that cause one thing to happen versus another. Is it a structural issue? Is it too hierarchical in one team? Is there not enough learning? Not enough mobility? Too much mobility? Too much learning on the fly? Those pieces of data help us think about the skills and learning that are required for our next 100 hires to be successful.

Ultimately, Mah says, the bullets in SAP’s executive checklist are just “themes” — not hard-and-fast rules. These themes can be modified to fit the needs of a specific workforce at a specific company. But the framework Mah offers is valuable — modified or not — as a compass of sorts, one that can point executives in the right direction amid the tumult of today’s business landscape.

Read more in Workforce

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of Recruiter.com.