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Talent management in VUCA times

March 1st 2020: the unemployment rate in Belgium is historically low at 6% of the active population. The Flanders region does even better with only 3,3% unemployment (source EAK Statbel). The war for talent has never been tougher. Rapidly growing salaries, creative recruiting activities & techniques, an explosion of employer branding budgets and many more side effects popped up.


March 18 2020: Belgium enters a “lock down light” mode, due to Covid 19. 1.000.000 Belgians are losing (temporarily) their jobs due to technical or economic unemployment. That is 22% of the active population. Hiring plans are being revised downwards on a large scale, even frozen in many cases. It all happened in a 3 weeks timeframe.

Is this the time of the U-turn? Will we experience a “power position switch” back from candidates & employees to employers? Will it become easier to retain talented employees? I don’t believe so.


Cathedral thinking

People always make the difference. Be it in a boys scout organization, a soccer team or a business, not only having diverse talent is important, they should also work seamlessly together to guarantee sustainable success. Business management however situates itself quite often in the eye of the daily storm and rarely has the time/vision to work mid or long term. While building and maintaining sustainable organizations, the DNA of a company and finally success require long term planning and permanent “people” attention. The HR team, in co-creation with senior leaders, has more than ever an important role to play. Identifying what talents are needed, making sure to have them on board and further develop them will become increasingly important in a volatile world. When Gaudi and the investors started working on the Sagrada Familia in 1882, they engaged passionately in a project of which they knew they would not see the final result themselves. It was a project which would have long term impact for many people across Barcelona, Spain and the world. For many generations. They practiced “cathedral thinking”.


Agility across the board

At the same time, we continue to live in a global world – despite potential protectionism that might pop up in some regions. Competitors for all businesses will come from all sides of the world. And they will be highly creative in coping with the economic crisis. Particularly technology will accelerate the rate of change. Taking strategic and business decisions in time and act quickly will become increasingly important. This will require -at any time- having the right talent on board that is capable of embracing change, even driving it. What is true today, might no longer be true tomorrow.



The generation thing

The last couple of years there has been a lot of talking and writing about millennials (the so called “Gen Y”). In a good and a bad way. Today they are gradually occupying the majority of jobs across the globe. I’m a believer. Co-creation, teamwork, work-life blend, sustainability… These are just a few of many topics that they have put on the radar screen of companies. When an employer fails to offer the “value ecosystem” that millennials preach, they’re ready to quit. Gen Z, the early 20-ers entering the labor market today, are even more bold: on top of wanting everything introduced by millennials, we experience them being highly ambitious, impatient, expecting to learn – permanently, much more into job hopping and finally rather micro-career driven. Retaining them will require organizations to stimulate frequent job content changes, flex work, flex anything. And even then…we better get used to a generation of job hoppers popping up.



Some food for thought, looking ahead:

  • What are values that will stand, today and tomorrow? What is the organizations DNA and culture? Who are the talent profiles fitting?

  • What talent is needed? Who is already on board? Who is making the difference – so able to build the cathedral? What is lacking (so hiring and/or retraining)? 

  • To what extend is the organization embracing and facilitating agility (empowered teams, short decision cycles, flex & homework, facilitate regular job changes,….)?

  • Do all employees have their career companion? Making them able to reflect regularly what they like & want? What drives and engages them?

  • Is there a proactive talent attraction attitude and plan in place? Ensuring short term business continuity as much as long term cathedral building?

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