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Four Guiding Principles for Rethinking Your Workforce

With 46 percent of employers reporting difficulty filling jobs and looming uncertainty around how artificial intelligence and automation will impact the future of work, CSR and HR leaders are testing and innovating new models for managing talent that are critical to the future success of their companies.

In June, we had the privilege of bringing together a group of these leaders at the Gap Inc. headquarters in San Francisco for REWIRE: Unlocking Talent Strategies for Today and Tomorrow. Throughout the event, participants from FSG’s Talent Rewire Innovation Labs shared stories about how they are gaining a competitive advantage by shifting policies and practices to better support the hiring, retention, and advancement of populations that have historically faced more barriers to employment.

For companies rethinking talent, we encourage you to think about 4 guiding principles.

1. Don’t go it alone

In piloting new ways of working with employees, it’s important to acknowledge your organization’s strengths and where you might need to bring in additional support. Many HR systems and policies were developed decades ago in a very different context and aren’t well designed to support today’s workforce. Bringing in nonprofit partners can expand your organization’s capacity to hire, retain, and advance new talent pools. 

Take FSG client WorkLab Innovations, whose Sustainable Workforce model aims to increase employee retention and engagement.

This model consists of a fee-for-service arrangement between a nonprofit partner and an employer in which the nonprofit embeds a resource navigator in the workplace to support frontline workers with financial planning, coaching, legal assistance, housing, and other resources. Research shows that this partnership decreases absenteeism, improves workers’ financial stability, and increases retention and engagement.

2. Create opportunities for professional growth and advancement

In an effort to better understand how employers can improve engagement and retention of frontline workers, FSG worked with Hart Research Associates to survey over 1,200 entry-level, hourly workers between the ages of 17 and 24 across a wide variety of industries. These young people shared valuable insights about what they look for in an employer, the challenges they face, and what makes them stay or leave their job. One finding was that youth are more than twice as likely to stay at their job for more than a year if they see their job as part of a longer career pathway. This benefits the business by reducing turnover cost and creates a robust pipeline of internal candidates for managerial roles. Chipotle has a clear career path for entry-level employees that is transparent about skills needed for promotion and the wages and benefits attached to each stage of growth. Such insights are invaluable in understanding how to better support your workforce to improve competitive advantage.

3. Align your efforts with your core business

Companies have different mental models about how and why they engage in societal issues, and this can influence the degree and pace of change. Because workforce is a fundamental part of what makes businesses function, these efforts are often most successful when they are designed with input from HR and operations teams in the core business.

Workforce efforts that originate in the business can yield powerful benefits. For example, FSG worked with home improvement retailer Lowe’s to develop a business case and strategy for their work to strengthen the pipeline of skilled trades workers in the United States. Lowe’s started with 2 major components. The first was an internal program called Track to the Trades that provides comprehensive support for Lowe’s employees seeking to pursue trades careers. The second was an external communications campaign, created in partnership with industry associations and other companies, called Generation T that aims to grow interest in the skilled trades for new generations entering the workforce. With these efforts, Lowe’s is addressing a critical business need for more skilled trades workers and driving greater employee and customer engagement. The programs, which were piloted earlier this year, will soon be rolled out nationally across communities in which Lowe’s operates.   

4. Redefine talent to meet the needs of your business

While policies, structures, and practices are important to rewiring talent for a new era, they must be supported by a fundamental shift in how individuals in the business are thinking about talent.

Recruiters need to redefine talent in ways that truly meet the needs of the business, which can mean shifting how they value diverse experiences. Frontline managers need to understand the challenges faced by their employees, and also receive the training and support to be both people and process managers.

Dave’s Killer Bread, a participant in the Talent Rewire Innovation Labs, has been honing their Second Chance Employment approach, which consists of hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds who demonstrate accountability and want to make a change.

Genevieve Martin, the Executive Director of the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, discussed her personal transformation at the REWIRE conference around redefining talent. Early in their journey, hiring conversations with people who have criminal backgrounds could be awkward and challenging. However, as Genevieve realized that she had to engage in a new way, ask different questions, and really listen, things began to shift. Instead of simply turning down candidates because of their criminal records, she began to look for 2 key things in her conversations—that candidates took ownership for their actions, and that they had made an effort to turn their lives around since their release. She found that these traits translated to a strong work ethic on the job, and that second chance hires were some of the best employees at the company.

“Be prepared, you will have an uncomfortable conversation in this process at some point in time, and that is okay because that's when it gets good,” she reflected. By leaning into those uncomfortable conversations, she was able to uncover the skills and qualities that were a great fit for the roles she needed to fill. By shifting the way they defined talent, the company unlocked a largely untapped talent pool that has supported them successfully in a period of rapid growth.

Learn how to put these principles into practice through FSG’s Talent Rewire
Innovation Lab >

Learn more about FSG’s Corporate/CSR services >

Talia Alongi

Consultant