Leadership & Culture

Should HR reinvent workforce development from the bottom up?

Today’s large organisations have a lot on their plates when managing their workforces.

With hundreds or even thousands of employees to develop in line with the changing needs of a business, it’s understandable why creating highly prescriptive learning and development pathways would be seen as the best way to manage skills into an unknown future.

But what if the best way is asking employees what they want to do instead?

That’s one hypothesis put by Deloitte in its 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report. In Beyond Reskilling: Unleashing Workforce Potential, Deloitte argues that COVID-19 has shaken up how we should think about employee potential in the world of work.

“During COVID-19, leaders called upon workers to expand their roles to whatever needed to be done – and workers rose to the challenge, identifying critical needs and deploying their capabilities against them from the bottom-up,” the Deloitte report reads.

“The pandemic showed that, when given the chance to align their interests and passions with organisational needs, workers can fulfill their potential in ways that leaders may never have known they could, positioning the organisations to thrive in the long-term.”

Do we need to be reconsidering the value of overly manufactured employee pathways?


Giving workers more agency and choice

Even prior to 2020, Deloitte argues it was clear that workforce development approaches that were focusing too narrowly on skills alone were unlikely to help organisations, workers or leaders build the resilience required to navigate an environment of perpetual change.

Instead, it makes the hypothesis that empowering workers with agency and choice will create more value for organisations than overly prescriptive approaches in future.

“Organisations that afford workers the agency and choice to explore passion areas will be able to more quickly and effectively activate workers around emerging business priorities than organisations that take a prescriptive approach to filling skills needs,” it says.


From ‘proactive’ to ‘creative’ development

This will go against the grain for many HR and learning and development professionals. With established org charts, hierarchies, development pathways and skills maps, the creation of a clear, systematic and reliable structured pathway seems the best way to face the unknown.

If this is all flipped on it’s head, and a wider conception of employee potential is injected into workforce pathways management, does this not just create more complexity and more unknowns? Will our employee capabilities and passions take us in the right direction?

Deloitte suggests this is not a shift from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ - but to ‘creative’ instead. In a world where automotive workers are able to retool production lines using 3D scanners and computer simulations to manufacture ventilators, dare we rule out the power of possibility?


Managing people in a bottom-up world

The creation of ‘opportunity marketplaces’ could begin to integrate employee agency and choice into development pathways. By making defined opportunities like professional development, training, mentorship, project participation, networking, promotion available through platforms, they can match evolving project needs with employee passion.

Likewise, Deloitte suggests more widespread use of AI to understand markets, business opportunities and workforce skill requirements of the future would create more of a bottom up approach to informing workforce development over time, rather than relying on top-down, inflexible strategic approaches that confine development within preconceived limits.