To meet demand for critical and emerging skills, HR leaders should combine build, buy, borrow and rent strategies according to their organization's needs.
As the effects of the pandemic begin to ease in many of the world’s major economies, improved job prospects, new skill needs and changing employee expectations all threaten to reduce the availability of critical skills and capabilities. HR leaders must deploy the right mix of talent strategies to solve the skills gaps that threaten their organization.
“Most organizations will need to adopt a mix of various strategies to address today’s skills challenges,” says Ryan Hill, Director, Advisory, Gartner. “HR leaders need to select flexible strategies that enable the organization to pivot quickly and fill gaps likely to occur as conditions change — including an exodus of skilled talent. Some talent strategies also work better than others in meeting the needs specific to a recovering economy.”
For example, organizations in highly uncertain environments that need to meet skills needs quickly can achieve faster impact if they borrow or rent talent — using contingent workers or rotating employees to temporary assignments — than hiring. To meet the needs of emerging trends that are likely to stay, organizations may choose instead to invest in buying or building talent, or they may upskill/reskill if talent isn’t readily available.
HR leaders have 11 talent strategies to choose from
There are essentially 11 different talent strategies for HR leaders to consider, either as part of their strategic planning or as needs arise.
Mix and Match 11 Different Talent Strategies to Fill Skill Gaps
Type of talent strategy
Description of talent strategy
Enhance existing or adjacent skills
Develop new skills to pivot from an expiring skill set toward an in-demand one
Hire permanent talent (Buy)
Acquire skills by hiring individuals (full- or part-time, internal or external to the organization) on an ongoing basis who work primarily for the organization
Acquire skills through an acquisition
Pay external partners to perform skills on a contingent or contractual basis
Hire contingent talent (Engage)
Acquire skills for a defined period; individuals may work with one or multiple organizations
Use rotations or temporary assignments (Borrow)
Move existing employees with needed skills on a short-term, time-bound basis to new roles or teams
Form external partnerships (Rent)
Temporarily hire workers from an external organization that currently has less need for those skills
Develop or purchase technology to supply skills
Move existing employees with needed skills to new roles or teams
Change structure, workflows, role designs and networks so existing (or accessible) talent can more effectively perform work requiring needed skills
5-step strategy for deciding how to mix and match talent strategies
The real challenge is figuring out the right mix of talent strategies for the right circumstances. Here are five steps for HR leaders to follow to do just that:
Step 1: Define critical skills needs
First, evaluate the organization's business objectives to identify critical skills needs. Do this regularly as a part of strategic planning. For example, if resources are limited, identify at a minimum those skills needed critically by business units.
Meet with business unit leaders to learn about current strategic plans, major priorities and key initiatives as well as trends that will ultimately affect the workforce. Ask business units to estimate current skills supply and the changes needed to achieve those objectives.
Also make sure to consult line managers and employees and get their ground-level perspective on the critical and emerging skills needed to carry out the work day in in and day out. (Business unit leaders are often less involved in day-to-day work and less informed about the precise skills and capabilities needed.) Other external sources of insight include labor market intelligence, jobs boards, trade publications and blogs.
Step 2: Analyze markets for skills
Second, expand your scope to the whole organization to learn what skills might already be available in the workforce.
Create a critical skills inventory that serves as a repository for information about skills assets throughout the organization. Rather than trying to create a detailed description of every skill, build a “good enough” inventory of critical skills with an eye toward revising and updating it regularly. This approach enables the organization to sense changes to critical skills needs promptly and make adjustments.
Also identify relevant skills adjacencies within the workforce. Adjacent skills are skills closely related to a critical skill and typically appear alongside it in employee skills profiles.
For example, Gartner TalentNeuron™ data shows cloud developers skilled in AWS have relevant skills adjacencies for other software such as Microsoft Azure, Frameworks or Jenkins. By analyzing adjacent skills, organizations can more easily upskill employees and open up possibilities to build internal capabilities more quickly.
Step 3: Prioritize talent strategies
Third, be intentional about how you prioritize. Take into account five main factors:
Costs: The direct financial or nonfinancial costs of the strategy. This can be both short- and long-term costs.
Time: The time required to effectively implement the strategy for the needed skills acquisition.
Long-term value: The benefit of implementing the strategy beyond the immediate needs of the project. For example, will a certain skill enable more innovation or cost savings?
Viability: Internal and external prerequisites for implementing the strategy. This refers to, for example, the capability of HR, learning and development (L&D), recruiting or other functions to implement their part of the strategy.
Impact: What effect will adopting the talent strategy have on the existing workforce. For example, could it increase employee satisfaction or be harmful to employee engagement?
Step 4: Combine strategies into the right mix
Having prioritized the needs, deploy the best strategy mix to drive the impact you need, within the time and cost constraints. Work with business leaders to agree on what that best mix looks like and is expected to achieve.
As noted, each strategy has different implications. For example, hiring permanent talent requires an investment of time and money but yields long-term value for the organization by permanently augmenting skills. But, depending on the overall cost and time to implement vs. the long-term value, it might be better to acquire or assign temporary talent.
Scenario planning enables business leaders to plan for a dynamic, changing business environment and helps drive the conversation about which skills will be required for critical projects and workflows — and what mix of talent strategy is therefore preferable.
While differing circumstances can increase or decrease the likelihood of any strategy’s success, scenario planning provides a way to anticipate how changes may affect a mix of strategies. This, in turn, helps HR and business leaders plan out a mix of strategies involving, for example, full-time employees, contractors and gig workers depending on the budget, skills needs and risk appetite of the organization.
In addition, breaking roles in projects into tasks can yield further flexibility and efficiency. This process helps analyze the jobs that employees with critical skills do and helps identify the tasks that make up those jobs.
“When an organization identifies the tasks that make up a job, it can better explore how else it might acquire the skills to do those tasks, such as reassigning them to other employees, using temporary assignments or rotations, hiring freelancers or even automating the tasks,” says Hill. “Breaking down roles into tasks enables business leaders to identify an optimal mix of talent strategies for its business objectives.”
When making decisions on the suitable mix of talent strategies to address skills gaps, HR leaders need to understand the specific needs of businesses in a recovering economy and assess these needs against the pros and cons of each talent strategy.
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