Top Five Staffing Challenges for 2011

When you're developing your business plans for 2011, don't forget your staffing strategy. Most organizations do little if any workforce planning. In fact, in a 2007 study of more than 900 HR managers, less than 50% of respondents planned their staffing needs more than 30 days in advance. However, with a little proactive planning, you can greatly reduce cost, improve productivity, increase your access to top talent and accelerate your ability to adapt to changing market conditions.

The following are five common business challenges companies will face in 2011 along with a few ideas for staffing strategically to deal with them.

Managing growth. For some organizations, business has already picked back up. For many, it's about to. Are you prepared? Do you have people with the skills and experience you will need to manage the upswing? Do you have the capacity?

When forecasting 2011, be sure to evaluate best, worst, and most likely scenarios. As you look at each forecast, ask yourself:
  • What talent will be required to implement this plan? Be specific about the types of people you will need, the level of experience required, the skills they will need to have, and when you will need them.

  • Where will your business experience capacity constraints and how will you adapt? Will you need to hire or can you supplement your team with contract staff?

  • Where will you find the talent you need? Will you develop from within or hire from the outside?

For most organizations, 2011 will be a year of improvement mired by uncertainty. The most effective way to deal with uncertainty is to develop a flexible staffing strategy that will allow you to easily ramp up (or adjust down) your workforce to match your workload. And don't limit your thinking to low-level positions. Flexible staffing is an ideal solution for any project-based work, including accounting, customer service, engineering, finance, HR, IT, and even marketing and sales. Flexible staffing can also be used as a tool to free key executive and professional talent to focus on strategic initiatives.

Meeting seasonal demand. All organizations have peaks and valleys in their workloads. To reduce costs without negatively impacting quality or capacity, implement a planned staffing model. Planned staffing involves forecasting your seasonal peaks and valleys, adjusting your core staffing levels to meet your non-peak demand, and then proactively recruiting temporary help to augment your core workforce during the peak periods. Using just-in-time temporary staff can reduce labor costs 20% or more when compared to paying overtime, and it eliminates the cost of over-staffing during non-peak times.

Accessing specialized talent. If you are looking to expand into new markets, develop new products, implement new technologies, or take on just about any other strategic initiative, you're going to need leaders and employees with specialized skills. Do you have the people you'll need already on staff?

Most organizations don't, and as a result, they turn to high priced consultants to supplement their internal talent. Before you hire a consulting firm, look at your staffing strategy. Thanks to the 2009-2010 recession, many exceptionally talented people are now working as independent contractors and through professional staffing agencies. Today, you can find top people in technical, scientific, manufacturing, healthcare, finance and accounting, and other job disciplines readily available at a fraction of the cost of hiring a consultant.

Retaining top employees. Unfortunately, job satisfaction has been one of the biggest casualties of the recession. Employee dissatisfaction is at an all time high, and more employees than ever before are reporting that they are actively seeking new job opportunities. As the economy picks back up, your risk of losing key employees increases.

To avoid a painful loss of top talent, be proactive by determining:
  • What positions are most at risk? Who can't you afford to lose?

  • How happy are the incumbents? Get out and talk with them about their career, their satisfaction with the company, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

  • What can you do to become an employer of choice? Find out what matters most to your top employees--oftentimes it's not just about money. Look to make changes to your policies, procedures, and even your work environment to make your firm the best option for the kinds of people you want to employ.

In addition to evaluating your risks, double your efforts to recognize and show appreciation for your top talent. Whether it's a bonus, an extra day off, a celebration lunch, or even just a quick email to say "thank you," taking time to recognize your best people is a critical aspect to retention.

And finally, you may want to be proactive about recruiting. If you're worried about losing key talent, don't wait for the loss to occur, start recruiting now. This is an ideal time to build relationships with "A" players in your industry, so that when opportunities arise, they will want to work for your organization.

Managing increasing workloads. Many employees are already feeling overworked and overstressed. They've been asked to "do more with less" for the past two years, and they are at their breaking points (as evidenced by recent declines in U.S. workforce productivity). It's time to re-evaluate the workloads of your team members and determine what is reasonable. Reassigning tasks and removing some of the workload may make your staff more productive. You may also look to offload some of the work to new employees or temporary workers. This will not only reduce the stress on your team, it can also increase productivity by reducing errors, decreasing the costs of scrap and rework, improving employee retention, and increasing customer satisfaction and repurchase.