Gartner Research

Lasting Redeployment Lessons From the COVID-19 Crisis

Published: 13 August 2020


The impact of the coronavirus on the way we work and the ongoing shift to digital business will require more movement of talent in house. Functional leaders can learn about proactive mechanisms from a consumer goods company, Lloyds Banking Group, Blue Shield of California and Qantas.

Out of necessity, companies have discovered just how dynamic their internal talent pool is. Businesses have long wanted to make better and more creative use of their in-house labor market as automation takes hold and skills needs shift. But they have struggled to execute on it — the inertia to stay in silos is strong. Now that the pandemic has ripped apart the seams of resistance, companies should capitalize on what worked and prepare themselves for more redeployment.

The sudden lockdown and recession caused by the outbreak pushed companies to shift employees around in unexpected ways. Internal auditors helped finance track cash flow and support IT in the transition to remote work, HR recruiters staffed the company’s hotline, sales personnel offered customer care, marketing gave support to account managers, and the list goes on. These represent just some of the extraordinary redeployment tales shared with us this year. It’s become the norm. Nearly 60% of organizations have moved talent to other parts of the business, according to our May Talent Strategy and Budget Shifts Quick Poll.

Figure 1: Talent Strategies in Response to COVID-19/Economy

The virus’s impact on the way we work — or don’t — along with the ongoing shift to digital business initiatives will require more internal mobility. To make it work well, company leaders need to create:

  • A culture of redeployment

  • Dynamic systems to manage organizational skills from both the supply and demand sides

Organizations with successful redeployment efforts involve a broad ecosystem of stakeholders. Traditional leaders in this space, such as talent management as well as learning and development, should offer guidance and support as needed; they must also avoid becoming a bottleneck. Active engagement from senior leadership, managers and employees is essential, whether it’s for a short-term project or a long-term realignment of personnel. Each of these constituencies has a different set of responsibilities:

  • Senior leaders decide on and oversee strategy

  • Managers accept and actively engage internal talent transitioning from elsewhere

  • Employees seek clarity and support to remain productive throughout transition

The internal audit department at a consumer products company redeployed all 25 members on a single day in March off the back of quick cooperation between staff, management and top brass. When it became clear that travel restrictions and resistance from the business would make the second quarter audit plan impossible to conduct, the chief audit officer (CAO) proposed to the CFO that the team help other parts of the company.

The CFO was happy and acted fast — clearing the proposal with the audit committee chair and asking finance leaders that morning to reach out if they could use help. Casual conversations with other executives in the office that day identified more areas where internal audit could contribute.

By that evening, assignments were ready, mostly in finance areas to support the increased focus on cash management in the early days of the outbreak. The CAO already had a talent profile of the internal audit team, which helped him map skills, abilities and experience to business needs and requests for support. It also helped that contacts in the business were requesting specific people they had worked with before.When the CAO approached his staff about the sudden change, he explained that he would prefer to ask everyone what they were interested in and where they would like to go, but that the crisis necessitated some “top-down” decision making. To do what’s best for the business meant that employees didn’t “have a choice or a voice right now,” he said. The CAO emailed the assignments on that first evening and told everyone that a more detailed discussion would be on the agenda at their team meeting early the next morning.

Broadly speaking, the CAO received positive feedback. Some employees had tough questions about whether it would be better if a few people should stay back to “keep the lights on” at the internal audit function; some asked what would happen to their projects. The CAO’s response: “It’s not time for half-measures. Let’s go all-in.”

With the business facing severe disruption, the CAO was actually able to provide more “clarity and certainty” about the redeployment plan than about the schedule for the “internal audit plan.”

An important part of that process was “setting clear expectations for the team about what this means,” the CAO told us, by offering clarity to employees about who their assignment line manager would be and the timeline, in this case three months. It also meant confirming three people — the employee’s internal audit line manager, the assignment line manager and the employee — understood the objectives and commitments for that time period.

“Don’t go in with the auditor mentality,” the CAO told the team. “Go and learn.” He emphasized that team members should build trust and credibility at the start by “getting the brief and delivering the brief” for their first assigned tasks.

The internal audit staff stayed connected during their rotations with a virtual campfire, charades and a happy hour featuring a pub quiz. During an online team meeting, the auditors talked about what they had been doing and where they had been redeployed.

Engagement and communication from leadership is just as, if not more, important in long-term reassignment of personnel. To prepare for the rollout of its Talent Bridge redeployment program, Blue Shield of California, a healthcare insurance nonprofit, executed a series of integrated education and communication initiatives at all levels of the organization.

Blue Shield developed Talent Bridge to help employees throughout the organization find new roles when they are displaced by workplace changes, such as digital transformation. The CEO got the rollout started, announcing redeployment as the default option for all displaced employees as part of an ongoing dialogue around organizational transformation.

The chief human resources officer and other senior leaders then began to share early Talent Bridge success stories in regular all-company manager meetings. In turn, those managers led education sessions with their teams and provided resources about the program. Finally, the members of those teams completed regular training on Talent Bridge specifically and on broader issues related to workforce development. The training was designed to help them understand the full context for pursuing redeployment and the benefits it might have for their careers. As a result, all stakeholders were equipped with the necessary resources to fully participate in the Talent Bridge process (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Senior-Level Engagement and Integrated Action to Instill Commitment to Redeployment

Moving talent internally involves a juggling act: identifying available skills, talent needs and matching the two sides in real time. There are a lot of ways to obtain the relevant information, and organizations must find the method that suits them best.

When asked what made it possible to redeploy staff quickly, several leaders told us that a skills inventory proved to be an indispensable tool and that a lack of one can be a barrier. Some organizations already had one and others created one quickly.

While an inventory can be useful, leading companies are moving toward a more responsive system to manage the supply and demand of skills. Schlumberger, a Paris-based oil and gas company with more than 100,000 employees, created a career portfolio “backpack” for all staff. It encompasses who employees are, what they know, where they have been and the support they have available to them. The six elements of the career portfolio are competencies, behaviors, exposure, experiences, personal brand and network.

The career portfolio backpacks are updated on a regular basis and, figuratively speaking, travel with employees throughout their careers at Schlumberger. The backpacks are accessible through the company’s online career platform. To lower the burden of collecting the information, some of it is automatically fed into a website that employees and managers can access and update.

The details come from common documents like internal résumés and performance reviews, but also more novel sources, like calendars, coaching data and mentoring conversations. Employees can make updates themselves but, to prevent misrepresentation, managers have approval rights and can also edit information about a direct report.

A major benefit: The backpack creates transparency about employee skills, making it easier to fill critical roles and help direct staff to capability needs.

To create a more dynamic way to manage organizational capabilities, consider creating a skills-sensing network. Under this system, HR coordinates a group of cross-organizational stakeholders with the purpose of identifying, addressing and monitoring enterprise skills.

Network membership changes to fit strategic needs, embraces ambiguity, prioritizes action over perfection and frees up HR to move fast on the things it knows and can anticipate.

To figure out who should be in this network, consider the following questions:

  • Who can offer expertise?

  • Who should be included early?

  • Who will be most affected by this skills change?

  • Who will be responsible for funding reskilling or redeployment solutions?

  • Who would sense change in skills needs first?

  • Who stands to benefit?

Fundamentally, this is about sharing responsibility for skills management throughout the organization. For example, a network member from a business unit brings local knowledge of skills supply and demand, and HR members can contextualize this information using their knowledge of global talent strategy and expertise in HR best practices.

To remain nimble, it’s not necessary to involve every viewpoint at every step. Different combinations of the network keep the strategy flexible enough to respond to business needs at the pace of change (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Flexible Network Members for Identifying and Addressing Skills

Lloyds Banking Group leverages a cross-HR team that partners with business unit representatives to sense new requirements in real time and builds in opportunities to course-correct. Members of the cross-HR team meet weekly, monthly and annually with relevant stakeholders to revisit and adjust their plans, enabling the workforce to maintain focus on meeting the actual — not predicted — needs of the organization.

Ways to reallocate talent run the gamut from informal conversations, such as the ones the management team at the consumer goods company had when the pandemic hit, to systems that reveal matches, such as the skills-sensing network at Lloyds Banking Group.

At Qantas, HR uses a combination of internal marketing and leadership insight to pair skills to the function’s needs. This helps the company move HR talent so that the initiatives that are top priority at any given time receive the skills they need when they need it.

HR leadership, along with business partners, assess the importance of projects at a monthly staff meeting to decide where to distribute resources. During that meeting, leaders discuss whether anyone should be redeployed based on changing needs and priorities, even if it’s before the employee’s current assignment has been completed.

HR advertises its planned projects internally to pools of the function’s available staff, highlighting the combination of skills and capabilities the team will need. The organization relies on a mix of candidate applications and HR leadership recommendations to match employee skill sets with project requirements.

Over a two-year span, HR doubled stakeholder satisfaction.

by Eliza Krigman, Kaelyn Lowmaster and Sara Clark

contributors: Reuben Harwood and Elyssa Klett

Contact Eliza with comments or questions

This article is from the .

Recommended by the Authors

This research outlines three key activities HR leaders should include in the transition process from temporary assignment to regular role.

This provides benchmarking data from HR leaders on the uses of these strategies, including internal redeployment efforts.

Many HR leaders are focused on reskilling and redeployment because of COVID-19-associated limitations on hiring. Learn how to create a skills-sensing network as part of a dynamic approach to enterprise skills management.


Human Resources Research Team

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