U.S. companies reluctant to hire during this Great Recession should consider the longer range impact on innovation and business competitiveness.
The risk of not hiring in front of the curve could hamper, if not choke, the infusion of desired skills into the workforce.
With U.S. corporations recording the highest profits on record last quarter while more than 20 million people were in need of full-time work, we can expect the Obama administration to revisit this topic with corporate CEOs in 2011.
Feeding workplace innovation in 2011 will require new menus and enhanced service. So, let's look at three ways that companies can bridge gaps between today's hiring freeze and future workplace innovation.
1. Fear of Change
Fear is more than a word. It's become a widespread disease in the U.S. that threatens to change our country's entrepreneurial DNA. Fear is insidious. It can rewrite an organization's cultural DNA in unwanted ways for years to come.
Innovation doesn't come without disruption and creative destruction. Business leaders without the mindset for embracing change cannot expect their knowledge workers to value and model entrepreneurship.
Consider the re-entry of professionals returning to work after a dry spell of 27+ weeks. How would your organization appear to them? Would they notice others reluctant to question, challenge, and disrupt the status quo? Does your onboarding and new hire orientation programs align with the realities of the workplace?
A new hire who perceives the organization's culture as fear-based, and who might also be carrying their own "fear baggage" of long-term unemployment into the job, will quickly grasp what a company's formal culture says and what its informal culture does.
Feeding Innovation Now: Leadership teams could develop a 2011 plan for rewriting the organization's DNA from a culture of fear to one that values and rewards change as the means of keeping the company in front of the curve and its competition. This presents a great opportunity for HR leaders to partner with their executive teams in redesigning tomorrow's workplace for the new world of business.
2. Stale or Obsolete Skill Sets
I've noticed that unemployed professionals tend to contemplate personal renewal and career reinvention after they've been out of work for at least six months. It doesn't seem to register that they might not be able to find the same type of job in their field until they've reached this "unemployed marker".
But it's a grab bag of sorts when these same professionals attempt to reinvent themselves without knowing the future needs of employers who, in turn, may not know the required skills their organizations will need a year from now.
This means that professionals who might otherwise receive emerging skills training as part of their jobs must now second guess--and frequently pay out of pocket--for critical knowledge and technologies that may not be in demand by employers tomorrow.
The longer that people remain out of work the greater the risk that their skill sets will become obsolete and employers unable to meet their immediate and future needs within the existing labor pool.
Feeding Innovation Now: This is where a partnership between private industry, government, university extensions and community colleges could come together to close the short-term and longer range hiring needs of employers while providing unemployed Americans with training in emerging technologies, entrepreneurial skill development and career enhancement at no cost to them.
The U.S. Government could provide two-year tax breaks for corporations willing to invest resources for funding these community partnerships while agreeing to prioritize their hiring from this pool of talent. This "Hiring for an Innovative Future" initiative could possibly "nest" within the existing H.R. 5116: America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (currently awaiting President Obama's signature) that aims "to invest in innovation through research and development, to improve the competitiveness of the United States, and for other purposes".
3. The Reinvented Organization
Reinventing the organization is a good thing unless you're on the outside without a means of looking in. With entire industries adapting, reinventing, and innovating in response to this Great Disruption, unemployed professionals who have not been part of the process will need to play catch up.
Innovation generated within an existing business stems from entrepreneurial types; people who understand the company's products, services, policies and processes and who can skillfully use their peripheral vision to see opportunities where others see problems. These change catalysts know how to navigate and get things done within the company, across its borders and, quite often, influence how the business is perceived beyond its walls.
However, these skills require both formal and informal learning and on-the-job mentoring, something that doesn't happen overnight.
More energy is required to close the gap between the extent of an organization's change and the length of time someone is out of work.
The training costs associated with bringing new hires up to speed, particularly for professionals who've been out of work for longer than six months, might serve as a deterrent for hiring the long-term unemployed. But organizations overlooking the "gems of experience" and the entrepreneurial professionals capable of contributing at a faster clip, risk not adding the right mix to their existing talent pool at the right time.
Feeding Innovation Now: Learning and Development leaders could reinvent their existing onboarding and new hire programs to include entrepreneurial management training within the first six weeks of someone joining the organization. It's important that your existing employee base also goes through this training as part of a "re-boarding" process to ensure that everyone is playing on the same field.
By providing consistent narratives and case examples of what success and Responsible Risktaking looks like for your business, you're able to define the innovation playing field and establish trust in the company's values. Trust serves as a support net for people in helping them own their decisions and accept responsibility for their actions.
These are just a few of my ideas to get things pumping for the U.S. in 2011. What ideas do you have for rebuilding an organization on a more entrepreneurial footing while globally competing and still generating higher paying jobs for Americans? We can create our own predictions. Feel free to contribute your ideas on how we can do better in 2011!