What HR leaders need to know about the Great Reassessment

Why embracing experimentation now is the secret to future success

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By Jeff Schwartz, VP of Insights and Impact @ Gloat

September 8, 2021

Great Reassessment

The workforce changes catalyzed by COVID-19 are making a lasting impact as we reckon with the great future-of-work experiment it created. In the years following the pandemic’s onset, it’s become increasingly clear that there’s no such thing as a return to normal. Instead, leaders need to think about how they can harness the lessons they’ve learned to prepare for new challenges on the horizon. 

Most notably, talent shortages continue to slow productivity and threaten bottom lines. While people typically associate this challenge with the mass turnover surge known as The Great Resignation, I think Washington Post writer Heather Long coined a phrase that better describes what’s happening now: The Great Reassessment

The bottom line: This is a time of choice and consequence, for both employees and businesses.

What does the Great Reassessment reveal about evolving employee expectations?

The Great Reassessment describes the period of contemplation that employees began experiencing during the pandemic, and that they’re still grappling with today. People are asking themselves what they want to do, who they want to work for, and both where and how they want to work. 

On the heels of not only a health crisis, but also a social and economic crisis, we’re seeing employees also reassess their perspectives on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They’re demanding more from their employers than reports and scorecards; instead, they want to see change. They’re looking for demonstrated commitments to forging new pathways for underrepresented minorities, women, and every category of worker.

This puts businesses at a crossroads. We know that employees are not only thinking more deeply and broadly about what they want, but also making those desires clear to their leadership teams. Choice and agency have been at the center of employee experience for a few years now—and autonomy will continue to be a crucial pillar of the new employee value proposition. 

Why leaders and managers need to change their perspectives

Rather than framing the COVID-19 period as an experiment, some leaders are mistakenly viewing it as a temporary detour. They think of it as a side road, and they hope that if they can just keep the car steady, eventually they’ll get back to that old, pre-2020 highway. 

However, the data we’re seeing on employee preferences, perceptions, and behaviors tells a very different story. Employees are telling us that this Great Reassessment is the unleashing of a long-held desire within the workforce for greater opportunity, more flexibility, and new ways of working. Meeting people where they are will require entirely new directions and approaches from leadership teams.

People and workforce strategies are shifting from static, top-down models to multi-directional and marketplace-driven dynamics as a means to create opportunities and staff projects. COVID-19 accelerated this shift, as leaders quickly recognized that pandemic-induced disruptions were profoundly changing operating models—doubling workloads for some employees while slashing them in other departments. Suddenly, businesses needed a way to rapidly reallocate talent to respond to drastic shifts in demand in real-time.

Most organizations didn’t have the systems in place to redeploy talent efficiently. Many businesses lacked insight into their people’s full potential; rather than seeing all of the skills their employees had, they only knew about the role they’d been hired to do. In contrast, the visionary companies that were already harnessing talent marketplaces gained visibility into all of their workforce’s skills, enabling them to tap into them when they were needed most. 

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Harnessing COVID-19’s lessons to carve a path forward

COVID-19 turned everyone into futurists. We’ve all experienced unprecedented changes and accelerations in the way we work—now it’s time to reflect on those experiences and harness the best practices that emerged to tackle a new set of challenges. 

At Gloat, we saw leading organizations like Schneider Electric and Seagate shift from piloting talent marketplaces to launching them on a global scale in response to COVID-19. Harnessing marketplace dynamics gave these companies visibility into their internal talent, allowing them to connect employees to new jobs and reallocate workers as priorities shifted.

Outside of formal talent marketplace platforms, we also saw companies of all shapes and sizes begin to explore marketplace dynamics. Look at the automotive industry, which jumped into the COVID-19 response by pivoting from manufacturing cars to making life-saving ventilators. These companies used marketplace dynamics to understand what their employees’ capabilities were and where those capabilities lived within the organization.

Marketplace dynamics came into play within the pharmaceutical industry, when companies began working to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just pick up the phone and ask for mRNA and respiratory coronavirus researchers and technicians, because those people didn’t exist. So they identified employees with the drive for this challenging work, as well as the fundamental scientific expertise. It wasn’t about finding people who could exactly match their requirements, but instead harnessing potential and creating an internal marketplace to bring the work to life.

Redesigning the way we work

The Great Reassessment is one of many signposts telegraphing that it’s time to shift the way we approach work, replacing static systems with real-time marketplaces that equip leaders with the insights and visibility needed to respond to emerging challenges in real-time.

Almost a decade ago, Michael Nielsen commented that “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points,” which is so true and so relevant to where we are today. Now that we’re entering a new phase of post-COVID working, the instinct that some leaders have—to walk back this period of disruption and return to “normal”—is a risky one. Instead, executives must recognize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they have to fundamentally reimagine the way their businesses work, allowing organizations to become more responsive and proactive to emerging opportunities.

Rather than sitting back, now is the time to embrace vigorous action and experimentation. The shift from administrative systems of record to AI-driven platforms will enable new models of talent management and ensure all employees have the visibility and agency needed to access projects, gigs, and learning experiences. 

To learn more about how the Great Reassessment is transforming the way we work, check out our research report on the Great Resignation.

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