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Looking forward to 2010 with Libby Sartain

4 min read


As part of our upcoming year-end report, I spoke with Libby Sartain, the former chief human resources officer of Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines, and former chairman of the board of the Society for Human Resource Management. She is co-author of “HR from the Heart” “Brand from the Inside,” and “Brand for Talent,”  and a member of our SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. Our year-end reports publish on Dec. 8 and Dec. 15. If you’re not already a SmartBrief on Workforce subscriber, sign up today so you won’t miss it!

We’re getting mixed signals about the health of the economy right now. What effect will that have on how employers recruit and retain workers in 2010?

I don’t think the economy, at least the jobs economy, will bounce back in 2010. I think organizations will be slow to add back a workforce, and employees who stay will do so for job security reasons vs. engagement. That causes an element inside organizations of disengaged workers who are not as productive and positive as they should be. Employers would be wise to survey workers and assess and address issues during the year — so that when the economy does bounce back, these workers won’t bolt.

One of your areas of expertise is successful employer branding. Professional workers are increasingly focusing on their own personal brands. How should employers best respond to that?

Personal branding is a relatively new phenomenon for employers. Social media guidelines should include a section about personal branding vs. the corporate brand and that relationship. Employees are well served when workers are proud to exhibit their employer and role as part of their personal brand, yet the same judgment should apply as to the use of social media. Remind employees about the boundaries and responsibilities as a worker, including protecting proprietary and company information, relationships and brand reputation. The goal for employers is to be the kind of brand that workers are proud to tout as part of their personal branding.

What will be the greatest challenge for HR professionals in the coming year? How do you suggest they overcome that?

There is a general mistrust of the corporation, creating skeptics in the worker population arising from multiple rounds of layoffs, setbacks, etc. Rewards have been reduced with many organizations eliminating contributions for retirement and health care. To communicate and establish trust is a huge challenge. It may be time to refresh the employer brand in response to what you learn from your workforce.

What will be the biggest opportunity?

Strategic workforce planning is a huge opportunity for HR professionals. In the past few years, the marketplace for talent has churned like never before. Organizations’ need for talent has intensified, while the supply and demand of essential workers ebbs and flows. The need to engage workers is strong, but the very environment in which we operate makes engagement more difficult. The speed at which change occurs in today’s business environment has produced an era of volatility making it difficult for any organization to craft a practical strategic workforce plan with a view much beyond the current budget cycle. At the same time, the market for talent has tightened, even in a down economy. There are segments of work where supply of workers cannot keep up with demand.

In the past, the solution for business has been to hire workers on the open market versus growing them from within. And, when faced with business setbacks, the reaction is to reduce the workforce of workers who may be needed later when conditions improve. Yet, as the need to control costs while maintaining optimum talent resources has escalated, this approach has proven to be unsustainable over the long term. Hiring from the outside is expensive and the workers with the right skill sets are rarely readily available. Reductions in force nullify all investments made in the workers who are let go.

Hiring from within is a big opportunity within strategic workforce planning. Faced with the reality that their jobs might be eliminated despite good performance, employees will be more open to lateral moves and developmental assignments. And companies, desperate to fill key roles, will be willing to give them those opportunities.

HR should work with variables to predict future workforce needs and how can you develop your own workers to fulfill those needs.