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What's Ahead: Pursuing the Growth Agenda

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Friday, April 1, 2011
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Over the last year, uncertainty has been a watchword in economic life around the globe. Whether the world economy will recover strongly, weakly or not at all has remained an open question. For every prognosticator who has claimed to see the sunny uplands of prosperity just ahead, there has been another warning grimly that our economic rollercoaster is about to enter the dreaded double-dip.

The year 2010 might best be described as a year of disruptive change related, not only to a difficult economy but also to deeper trends in the world of work that are certain to impact the workplace for the foreseeable future. In the face of change, we've seen issues of engagement, retention, wellness, trust and leadership come to the fore.

In the year ahead, some of these same issues will continue to demand attention -- but in new ways. We see signs that organizations will increasingly pursue a growth agenda. But whether they achieve their goals will depend on how they respond to the changes continuing to disrupt workplaces.

This year won't simply offer more of the same. As a result of the measures that they've taken in the last two or three years, many organizations have restructured their operations, built up a considerable war chest and now stand poised to pursue a growth agenda.

In a recent Right Management poll, nearly one in four HR professionals told us that 2011 will be a year of recovery marked by increased hiring and new talent-development initiatives. While the stories of 2010 will continue to resonate in 2011, this new growth agenda will cast the familiar issues in a new light.

The pressing question will focus on whether continuing changes in workplaces will derail -- or enable -- growth. We foresee the growth agenda being influenced by four key trends:

* Continuing workforce discontent. In late 2009, we reported that 60 percent of employees said they planned to pursue new job opportunities as the economy improved. Our latest research shows that figure now stands at 84 percent. Employees are more unhappy and dissatisfied with their jobs than ever.

Seventy-five percent report working more than 40 hours a week "almost always," 19 percent "rarely" trust their managers to make the best decisions and 57 percent trust them only "occasionally." Organizations with employees who are disengaged and seeking opportunities elsewhere are highly unlikely to meet their growth objectives.

* Heightened competition to attract and retain top performers. As organizations gear up for growth, they will be looking to fill talent gaps with selective hirings. Despite the sluggish economy, however, the demographic trends are making themselves felt and top performers are increasingly difficult to find.

It's little wonder, then, that many organizations are attempting to poach talent. As our research discovered, last year 56 percent of employees who held titles of manager or higher were approached by an outside organization to discuss job opportunities. In 2011, growth-oriented companies will need to work harder to attract and retain top talent.

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* Intensifying employee needs and expectations. Employees 24 to 35 years old were among those most often approached by outside organizations. Winning the competition for in-demand talent will increasingly mean meeting the intensifying needs and expectations of a diverse workforce.

Employees are seeking flexibility in relation to how, when and where they work. They are also increasingly impatient to be provided with meaningful opportunities to advance in their careers.

* An increasing reliance on working virtually. Seventy-five percent of employees report that some work at their organization already gets done virtually and 45 percent anticipate an increase over the next year. Dizzying innovations in technology are making working virtually a new opportunity and a new reality in many workplaces.

Working virtually can improve productivity, but it can also present serious challenges to managing effectively and to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Organizations seeking to drive growth by introducing greater opportunities for working virtually will need to manage those opportunities with care.

Changing for Growth

In the context of the trends, driving a growth agenda in 2011 will likely prove a complex and challenging endeavor for organizations. There is nothing new about change. In the workplace and elsewhere, change is always with us.

As a leader, you cannot look to the past. You must manage change by finding better ways of alleviating workforce discontent, competing to attract and retain top talent, meeting heightened employee expectations and supporting virtual work. The solution lies in aligning your talent strategy with your business strategy. Talent will be your only sustainable differentiator and your enabler -- or inhibitor -- to achieving growth.

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