By Scott Vollero
Economists are a pessimistic bunch. Even typically sober publications like The Atlantic love to give voice to doomsayers who can’t stop talking about how bad things are (or about to get). It’s enough to make you want to climb into bed and pull the covers high over your head.
Then again, maybe the eggheads have a point. The economic experience of the past decade has been alternately traumatic, depressing, boring, and maybe — for certain people in certain places — moderately hopeful. It’s never a bad idea to look around for the next shoe to drop.
For employers, the best defense against an uncertain economic future is a strong, dynamic workforce. It’s one thing to parry challenges you can see coming a mile away. It’s quite another to face black swans and sudden swoons with confidence and conviction.
But building a dynamic workforce is easier said than done. Some would argue that it’s easier to place bets on future uncertainties than to sort through so many proverbial haystacks to find the talented human needles capable of meeting them head-on.
Let’s set the haystack aside for a moment — it’s scary, no question. First, let’s take a look at how to dispassionately evaluate your workforce for gaps and inefficiencies that could compromise your ability to face the economic challenges we all know are coming. The first step to recovery, after all, is admitting you have a problem.
1. Measure Your Passion Quotient
Are your employees passionate about their work? They should be. And, if they’re not, you need to ask why. Their apathy could compromise your ability to win and keep clients, compromising your bottom line.
Size up your employees’ “passion quotient” directly, with frank surveys that ask questions about their buy-in (or lack thereof) and commitment to the cause. You can also gauge employees’ passion indirectly, by objectively and subjectively evaluating their effort and work quality.
2. Check Credentials
Credentials don’t guarantee quality work. An advanced degree isn’t a tonic against laziness or incompetence; in some cases, it’s actually a smokescreen for such undesirable characteristics. But, by and large, you want to have subject-matter experts playing on your team. If the candidates with the best resumes consistently slip through your fingers, there’s probably a good reason. When those candidates wind up at the competition, your whole company suffers. If you don’t address the issue quickly, you could develop a reputation as a second-rate employer — one that’s formidably difficult to shake in competitive industries.
3. Evaluate Resilience & Flexibility
Strong workforces are flexible and resilient. They’re able to adapt to new information, unforeseen challenges, and sudden shifts in the state of play. They’re steady in crisis situations, no matter how much happens at once or how little control they feel like (or actually do) have.
The best way to evaluate these attributes is to observe your workforce at crunch time. Do they stay cool and calm, or do they panic?
4. Look at Inflows and Outflows
One of the many measures money managers use to gauge fund performance is known as net inflow/outflow. When a fund’s capitalization grows, it experiences a net inflow. When its capitalization shrinks (as investors request their money back), it experiences a net outflow. You can probably guess which is bad.
Employees aren’t literally made of money, but their net movement — and the frequency with which they apply for open positions — is a good proxy for public perception. As your company’s stock rises, talented candidates flock to your HR department and existing employees stick around, producing a net inflow of talent. As your company’s stock falls, talented candidates look elsewhere, and existing employees start updating their resumes. Beware the net talent outflow.
5. Listen to the Chatter
Who said gossip is unhealthy? Painful as it may be, one of the best ways to gauge the strength of your workforce — and determining how your company is really perceived outside the cozy bubble of your executive suite — is to pay close attention to current and former employees’ off-the-cuff comments. Mind you, it’s not healthy to obsess over such things. But it’s not a bad idea to spend an hour or two per week with your ear to the ground on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed and the like.
Alright — you’ve assessed your workforce and can bravely admit where it falls short. What can you do about it? To start, these three things.
1. Identify and Support Rockstars
It’s not clear whether the 80/20 rule applies to workforce dynamics. It’s probably unrealistic to expect 20% of your employees to account for 80% of your company’s value-add. But that doesn’t mean your rockstars don’t do more than their fair share. Always be on the lookout for talented, loyal employees who clearly want to grow with your company — and always be willing to give them what they need to succeed.
2. Always Be Hiring...
...even if you don’t have any open positions at the moment. There’s no harm in taking applications — at the very least, an open-door policy expands your talent network and keeps your company on talented candidates’ collective front burner.
3. Go Beyond the Paycheck
To attract and retain truly talented, game-changing employees, it’s not enough to simply outbid your competitors’ salary offers. Though in-demand employees care about that bottom line number, they know they’re going to get paid well anywhere at the end of the day. No — they’re more concerned with solid benefits, workplace flexibility, and work-life benefits that leave them feeling like they control their own destiny.