From Pause to Play: (Re)Visting talent spend as we approach new ways of working post ‘freedom day’.

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News outlets are describing today as New South Wales’ (my home state in Australia) ‘freedom day’. (Some) Restrictions have relaxed (for some). A beer at the pub is possible. A calendar invite saying ‘haircut’ is highly probable.

Some (physical) workplaces also reopen today. There’s evidence that some employees are on their way with news outlets also reporting on traffic delays.

I started to wonder, as I regularly do, how will leaders talk about work and talent in the context of reopened offices today?

A multi-level perspective of language recognises that how leaders talk about work and talent influences whether individuals feel like their leaders have provided a group hug (with physical distancing in mind, of course) through framing talent as an investment and electing to keep the workforce intact. Will such leaders greet their teams at the door with a smile and a ‘welcome back’?

Compare this verbal and (inferred) psychological contract compared to where leaders talked about talent as the organisation’s most considerable expense or pursued a strategy of targeted or voluntary redundancies.

For individuals working under these leaders and these workplaces today may be the day of realising that many of their colleagues are not coming back. While some desks and chairs may be empty because some previous colleagues may have elected to leave the workplace by choice. Other physically empty spaces are because others were let go or sacked.

Return to the office day, for the latter group, may resemble less of an experience of feeling valued. Rather today (re)ignites feelings of being whacked.

Regardless of the approach adopted, we would benefit from separating the evaluation of previous talent decisions from current results. The past is the past. Today represents a new day – a day to determine where you need to recalibrate expectations and where workplace and talent practices are steadfast.

From pause to play means we evaluate where we need to reset our thinking. All of us involved in business take the time to pause and reflect. Let us put our heads together, think about our current, previous, and future actions with awareness and empathy and without insults.

Before we talk about talent spending, let’s first acknowledge that talent management – notwithstanding crises – is fundamentally complex. An organisation’s workforce is simultaneously its most significant expense and asset. Leaders are continually making decisions about whether to buy or build talent, invest in performance or potential, and focus on the needs of today or some future day.

Additional complexity arises because talent is dynamic. The individuals, skills and capabilities, position and roles deemed valuable yesterday – are not automatically talent in the current day.

A better approach is to frequently talk about talent and discuss what does talent mean as we transition from yesterday, to the everyday to a future someday? Or similarly. Let us revisit talent spend as we transition from pause to play.

Start by asking this fundamental question – talent is –  and insert your answer here. Then follow with deliberate reflection and diagnose the reasons underpinning the above answers and take note of the why (or three why’s) of talent. XXX (your answer) is talent because, because, because…

Can you and your team articulate who – the individuals – and what – the skills and capabilities or jobs are disproportionately valuable within the context of strategic ambitions and operational needs as it stands today?

Answering the question – what talent is, is pivotal.

Take the time to pause and reflect, when we talk about talent, what do we mean? 

Where, when and how have our collective meanings changed?

Do we have a solid foundation for informed decision making about where our workforce benefits from stabilisation?

And where should we invest in rearranging?

Below are aspects of your workforce where you can reflect and evaluate what talent is and is not (now) – is it the talent we wanted to keep, or that which we did not want to lose?

Or are some individuals, skills and capabilities or jobs valuable in times of crisis contrasted with being of little value when dormant?

Better questions are at the heart of responsible decision making for talent management is a judgment-orientated activity whereby organisational actors make judgments about the value of specific individuals, skills and capabilities, roles, jobs and tasks within their workforces; make decisions based on judgments of value; and where decisions about (disproportionate) resource allocations are based on prior judgments of value.

We are aiming for situations where decisions and resource allocations are deliberate, informed and enacted with intent. 

Start by looking in, collect data from a workforce stock take, and then evaluate – to what extent you, your team and your organisation:

  • have overspent (decrease talent-based resources where optimisation and return of improved performance of workplace relationships and tasks is unrealised)
  • need to supplement ­ (additional talent-based resources to ensure business continuity)
  • could benefit from an augment (revise talent-based resources to align with updated strategic plans which now account for future pandemics or world-wide crises)
  • where you need to reinvent ­(significantly alter or redistribute talent-based resources deemed valuable for the strategies of yesterday, but lost talent status when updating or pivoting the business or are no longer valid because of updated strategic plans and the required ways of working for a future someday)  

And best of all –

  • where you are content (talent-based resources remain optimised and aligned with operational and strategic requirements).  

The yesterday, today and future someday require leaders to make decisions. Take the time to pause and reflect on what talent is and means today.

We should be aware of where, when and how we will benefit from pressing play, recognise that talent will always be dynamic and complex. Complexity, however, is not a barrier to informed and responsible decision making as we transition our understandings of talent not only from yesterday, to the everyday to a future someday; but as we revisit talent spend in the coming days and weeks as more organisations ask (or demand) individuals to return to office and society transitions from pause to play.

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