Three paths forward: Which way to go in 2023

HR leaders need to zoom out and start preparing for 2030. Here’s why:

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By Jeff Schwartz, VP of Insights and Impact at Gloat

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” 

So said Yogi Berra, the famed NY Yankees baseball player, coach, and manager who won 10 World Series rings (an all-time record) participating in 21 world championships.

Business and HR leaders in 2023 face a unique fork in the road. There are unprecedented shifts in talent landscapes, including unemployment rates that hit a 53-year low, plummeting employee engagement rates, and surging layoffs. To add another layer of complexity to the equation, HR and business executives—those at the forefront of navigating these challenges—are experiencing record levels of burnout.

After several years of nonstop disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to understand why business and people leaders are feeling fatigued. Unfortunately, 2023 isn’t the time for HR teams, and their organizations, to catch their collective breath.

Instead of waiting for other executives to make high-stakes decisions or hoping for a year of “normalcy”, HR must place themselves at the helm of their organization’s agile transformation journey.

Inside leaders’ three choices for talent and people strategies in 2023

When it comes to defining talent and workforce strategies in 2023, most HR leaders are weighing three options. The first is what I call the “path back to 2019”. It describes leaders who are approaching today’s challenges with yesterday’s mindsets, looking to go back to the old way of doing things by returning to pre-pandemic policies. Usually, this belief is manifested primarily by leaders who imagine— with nostalgia—returning to the good old ways of working.  On the other hand, employees are often more eager to shake up the pre-COVID status quo and are looking ahead to what’s next—building on what we all learned and experienced in the time of resilience and adaptation of the last several years in the COVID-19 era.

The search for a “normal” year is what I consider to be the second option. Leaders who are contemplating this path are likely burnt out, and they’re just hoping for a year that’s uneventful—even if that means that their business isn’t progressing as much as it might. Executives who feel exhausted and are looking for time to pause, reflect, and recharge are most likely to take their strategy in this direction.

Finally, the last option is what I call the “lean into the future path”. Leaders who are exploring this direction are zooming out and thinking about what they’ll need to do now to set their businesses up for success over the next five to ten years. Now is the time to work backward from the future we not only anticipate but the future we want to create as business and HR leaders by 2030.  These executives likely recognize that the last few years were about experimentation, resilience, and adaptability as we had to survive and respond to the challenges that COVID-19 set into motion. Now it’s time to set a direction that will drive impact through 2030 and beyond.

4 reasons why zooming out and leaning into the future is the only path to success

While there are three different directions that business and HR leaders can go in, there’s only one path that will lead to long-term success: zooming out and making innovative moves that break from the status quo and build the next future. There are a few reasons why focusing on the future and the bigger picture now is essential for leaders who are looking to ensure their organization comes out on top.

#1. It’s time to look beyond cutting costs and add value

During times of market volatility like we’re in today, cost-cutting measures quickly, and often,  become the top priority. Cutting costs isn’t enough to set your organization up for success in the long run. Instead, leaders must devise workforce strategies that go one step further by actually generating value across the business. Cost efficiency and productivity are essential goals but need to be shaped by a view of future direction.

While both the “returning to 2019” path and the “keeping things steady” direction can help businesses reduce costs in the short term, neither of these options will create future value for the business, its customers and its workforce. To do that, leaders must start thinking ahead to 2030 by prioritizing key themes including upskilling and reskilling, breaking down silos, reallocating talent to meet emerging demands for new products, services, and customers, and the changing expectations of workers for purpose, growth, and flexibility.

#2. The skills race is accelerating

The war for talent has turned into a race for skills, growth, and motion. Rather than thinking about merely filling jobs, leaders are addressing the questions needed to unlock agility and prepare for our rapidly changing environment. They’re asking, “What skills do we need? What capabilities does our workforce have? How can we help our people upskill and reskill to prepare for the future of work? How can we create multiple career paths within and across our organizations so our employees can find and access more opportunities for growth inside our organization and outside?

Skills visibility is essential for being able to answer these queries with confidence. When leaders gain increasing transparency and insights into their workforce and the breadth of skills, capabilities, and interests of each employee, they can make more informed decisions about how to access, grow, and reallocate talent.

Rather than guessing which skills their organization has and what capabilities to hire for, many companies are turning to workforce intelligence solutions to get a more in-depth understanding of where skills and talent lie. These tools help managers identify skill gaps early so they can get ahead of them and put information and opportunity in front of employees to pursue internal projects, new careers, and learning —inside your organization.

#3. The employee-employer relationship is evolving

Part of preparing your organization for 2030 is recognizing that your people don’t want the same things from their employers as they did in 2020. The employee-employer relationship is rapidly evolving, and it’s up to leaders to ensure their organizations are keeping pace.  When employee expectations change, and this may be one of the biggest takeaways of the past several years, employers must respond to the Great Reassessment as workers are exercising their desire for growth, purpose, and flexibility.

In addition to shifting expectations around when and where work gets done, people are looking for increased access to career development opportunities: two out of three employees say they would leave a job where internal mobility wasn’t offered.

If you want to safeguard your talent development strategy from the havoc caused by high turnover, empowering employees to take ownership of their career development needs to be a top priority. Putting workers in the driver’s seat of their professional lives is a marked shift from the way things used to be done, but it’s a change that organizations will need to embrace if they’re looking to maximize workforce reskilling, upskilling, engagement, and retention to drive productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction. All of which can be measured by HR and finance for their impact on the top and bottom lines.

#4. There’s proof that the future-forward approach is paying off

that are taking this  “future-forward approach,” zooming out and seeing the bigger picture—and the results they are achieving speak for themselves.  Vanguard companies are focusing on the next generation of decisions to manage the future of work in the next normal. These challenges include shifting to talent marketplaces and workforce ecosystems, dynamic reskilling and upskilling, cultivating multi-chapter and multi-directional portfolio careers, improving hybrid work, and redesigning jobs to combine human and machines to augment, not automate, employee performance, wellbeing, and innovation.

One example of these vanguard companies is Mastercard, which credits its internal mobility initiative with helping the organization unlock over 100,000 hours of capacity and save approximately $21,000,000.  In the words of Mastercard’s Chief People Officer Michael Fraccaro, “We saw the start of this internal talent marketplace where people were willing to utilize some of their time—10%, 20%, or 30%—to actually work on things in adjacent businesses or functions. And that has been a real eye-opener, which is why we are partnering with Gloat because we see this at a macro level and we see this as part of the future of work as well.”

MetLife is another leading organization achieving immediate success by preparing for the future of work. As their Chief Human Resources Officer Susan Podlogar explains, “We have 130,000 hours that have been released into the [talent marketplace]. 64% of our projects are outside of somebody’s silos. So employees are getting access to cross-functional, cross-country, and cross-region opportunities, which has opened up who we are as an organization.”

So, in 2023, “if there’s a fork in the road, take it.” The choices are clear: go backward, tread water and stay in the same place, or chart a course to 2030. In 2023, after three years of responding and adapting, business and HR leaders have the opportunity to choose their future course and focus on the next generation of challenges for the future of work, workforces, and workplaces. To close with another familiar refrain, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do. Where are you headed?

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