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Forecasting an unpredictable future with 'Workforce Shaping'

Mike DiClaudio, Principal, U.S. People and Change, KPMG LLP And Paul Lipinski, Principal, U.S. People and Change, KPMG LLP

Mike DiClaudio, Principal, U.S. People and Change, KPMG LLP

With disruption lurking at every turn, organizations need to create a more agile approach to ‘future-proofing’ their workforce.

Does your workforce strategy have you ready for tomorrow? Even more so, do you have the capabilities to foresee the changes required to excel in an environment characterized by an ever-changing workforce?

Chances are, you’re not sure. Disruptive technologies aren’t just reshaping business models; they’re reshaping the way work gets done—placing a premium on technical savvy, agility, and adaptability.

The workforce itself is changing, too. Millennials are fast-becoming the largest generation in the workforce, bringing with them new ideas about career paths, work-life balance and new ways and methods to get things done. Meanwhile, increases in life expectancy suggest we’re approaching a time when many workers could live to 100 years of age, and in doing so, pursue multiple careers in their lifetimes. In addition, the concept of “workforce” is expanding far beyond employees and outsourcing partners to include a growing population of “gig” workers and automation in the form of physical and digital robots.

All of this is heightening the challenge for employers seeking the optimal approach to securing not just the top talent, but the right talent. And the challenge does not stop there. Organizations need to consider the major implications for workers in this new workplace and how it translates into the employee experience. Those who want to count themselves among tomorrow’s disrupters rather than the disrupted must adopt a new way of thinking about their workforce.

Traditional workforce planning—a point-in-time exercise aimed at matching job-seeker skills to current job openings— won’t be sufficient. Not in a world where person and machine, tethered by artificial intelligence and intelligent automation, work ever more closely together. Or where the breakdown of functional silos as a result of technological innovation calls for a more nimble enterprise, one in which a diverse range of workers are able to collaborate on short notice in agile, project-based structures.

"Traditional workforce planning—a point-in-time exercise aimed at matching job-seeker skills to current job openings—won’t be sufficient"

To prepare for this tomorrow, organizations and human resources functions must embrace a concept we call “workforce shaping.”This new approach to talent identification, acquisition, and development calls for HR to partner with the business to visualize future scenarios— enabled by data models and market signals—of how the enterprise itself might evolve. It also requires looking at how specific functions might change, down to the task level, and then determining the workforce capabilities those changes will require. For example, how might the organization’s business model need to adapt to meet evolving customer expectations? How will automation impact current employees’ tasks? What skills and capabilities will tomorrow’s employees need to thrive in this new environment? Armed with answers to questions like these, companies can begin to hire employees capable of adapting to whatever tomorrow brings.

As you identify the right talent for your organization and build a workforce of the future, it’s more critical than ever to think about how this translates into an evolved and personalized employee experience. These changes can cause friction, particularly across a multi-generational workforce, but developing unique employee value proposition that takes into account the digital, social or environmental considerations across the entire employee lifecycle can help combat this.

Paul Lipinski, Principal, U.S. People and Change, KPMG LLP

The emergence of these needs requires completely new capabilities within the HR organization and an evolved relationship with the business. Unlike strategic workforce planning, which is typically owned by HR, the business leads workforce shaping. HR’s dedicated workforce shaper will be responsible for understanding the talent a business needs to succeed and the best way to fill this role with both permanent and flexible human talent—and with technology solutions. The person in this role serves as a facilitator and a consultant to the business units, bringing methodology, workforce knowledge and people analytics to help business owners adapt their talent strategy. Equally important, the “employee experience architect” will work hand-in-hand with the workforce shaper to build an experience that meets the real-time demand of the organization’s workforce.

HR must be as nimble and agile as the workforce it is intending to build because with this role comes the need to embrace and expand out-of-the-box skills and thinking. It requires a deep, strategic-level understanding of industry and marketplace trends that will translate into ascending job skills and a potentially transformed workforce.

Enterprise credibility is always at stake for HR, but technology can help. In the form of sophisticated analytics, HR and business leaders have the ability to test their theories and predict talent needs more precisely than in the past. Partnering with strategic analysts who have a keen sense of the business’s needs and goals can help convert those findings into strategy. It also helps leadership build a business case for a stronger, more ready workforce.

More than a one-time undertaking, this needs to be an ongoing exercise in which the business and human resources department partner to shape the workforce—an exercise that inextricably ties talent to business strategy. Workforce shaping works from the future backward to inform the key talent decisions you can make today to have the highest impact tomorrow.

It is impossible, of course, to know exactly what tomorrow’s workforce should look like. But waiting to find out isn’t an option. Proactive workforce shaping offers organizations the chance to ready themselves today for what tomorrow will bring.

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