How to Align Employees to Achieve Success in the New Economy
Interviewed By Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Executives were so busy slashing costs and meticulously revising the business plan to survive the debilitating recession, many of them overlooked the need to create a complementary talent management strategy.

Now their efforts to capitalize on the long-awaited economic rebound could be thwarted by employee defections and talent shortfalls, unless executives take immediate steps to align the disparate strategies.

“When employers institute furloughs and pay freezes and shift benefits costs onto employees it empties their emotional buckets,” says Rob Rogers, a Principal with Findley Davies, Inc. “The impact of reductions in rewards and talent management often goes undetected, until the damage is done.”

Smart Business spoke with Rogers about the process of realigning talent management with the business plan, before the window of economic opportunity closes.

Why should executives revise the current talent management strategy?

Now that the labor market is improving, top performers and workers with critical skills will be reviewing their recessionary experience and making stay or go decisions. They’ll consider whether they were treated fairly or if the company’s revised rewards continue to justify their energy, loyalty and trust. If the emotional damage is too great or the total rewards are too small, employees who possess critical skills or key institutional knowledge may be vulnerable to overtures from competitors. And since talent management refers to the holistic process of selecting, developing and rewarding human capital, it’s highly possible that many retained employees lack the necessary skills or knowledge to achieve the revised business plan or thrive in an increasingly demanding environment. To solve these challenges, employers must revitalize training and development programs and recalibrate total rewards to make sure the company’s talent management strategy complements the current business plan.

How can employers achieve emotional and intellectual realignment?

Assess the ability, willingness and motivation of your work force to thrive in the new economy by taking a series of pulse surveys to assess these critical areas:

  • Intellectual readiness. Do employees possess the appropriate skills and competencies to help the company compete and meet evolving customer demands for new products and services? Can they help the company do more with less?
  • Emotional readiness. Do employees understand the new business model and revised expectations? Have they embraced the need to sustain recessionary cost reductions and lower operating expenses? Are they engaged and ready to meet new challenges?
  •  Employee value proposition (EVP) effectiveness. Does the current EVP match employee preferences? Does the compensation program reward and motivate employees to achieve the revised business goals? Will the company maximize the ROI for rewards expenditures under the current structure?

How can employers close the gaps?

While it’s traditional to address proficiency shortfalls through employee training, mentoring and other educational programs, increased accountability is the only way to incite and sustain permanent change. Reformat the existing performance management system and employee goal-setting process to include the attainment of new skills and competencies. There is a tremendous opportunity for technology solutions to assist in this process. Don’t overlook the role of line managers in facilitating the change management process. Require supervisors to model new behaviors and actively support the evolutionary process. Although executives often hesitate to increase investments in training and development in an uncertain economy, the challenging environment provides an ideal opportunity to retool your work force. Research shows that employees consider opportunities for professional development to be an important component of EVP.

How can employers motivate employees by aligning rewards with business outcomes?

Since employees consider monetary and non-monetary rewards when assessing the return for their contributions, create a complete inventory of rewards and gauge their effectiveness by mapping each component to the goals in the business plan. This will not only expose gaps and troublesome misalignment but also allow employers to ascertain whether the rewards are capable of inciting goal-oriented behaviors and activities. For example, employers may want to offer bonuses for improving customer service or reducing R&D costs if these goals are critical to achieving vital business outcomes. Be sure to involve employees in the rewards discussion, because our research shows that employees are capable of making prudent choices when they are armed with the facts and employers are often surprised to find that low-cost benefits like flexible schedules or telecommuting do a better job of motivating and retaining employees than higher-cost perks.

How can executives support realignment?

Closing gaps and bolstering engagement requires an inclusive and holistic communications program that starts at the top of the organization. Executives must provide a road map so employees can align their efforts with the company’s goals. The leadership must clearly articulate the new expectations and the need for fresh behaviors, so employees don’t revert to old habits as the economy improves. Finally, be on the lookout for change, so you can recognize new habits and refill employees’ emotional buckets. Remember, a misaligned talent management strategy can be temporarily camouflaged by a rebounding economy and, by the time it surfaces, it’s often too late to prevent the departure of valuable resources.