From Outplacement to Active Placement: A New Approach to Supporting Employees in Transition

Greg Simpson Article

This is what change looks like now.

In December 2016, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote a commentary in USA TODAY to outline her company’s plans to hire 25,000 new people over the next four years to augment Big Blue’s capacity in cloud computing and data science, while also spending more than $1 billion in training and development for its U.S. workforce.

At the same time, however, the company acknowledged that an equal or greater number of current employees would likely be laid off. In shedding some existing workers and hiring others, Rometty said she was fulfilling her company’s critical need for “new collar” workers and skills.

Try to imagine what that would look like in your organization: the simultaneous hiring and firing of tens of thousands of employees.

Obviously, change of that magnitude and pace will spark fear, stress and profound disruption. But despite all the negative consequences, this kind and pace of change is inescapable.

To survive in the current business environment—one dominated by globalization, robotics, automation and other forms of digital disruption—all organizations must be willing to undertake radical transformations of their workforces. The consequences of not embracing and executing change are pretty dire.

A half-century ago, the five-year failure rate for public companies was one in 20; today, it’s one in three. That means over the next five years, one in three public companies will simply cease to exist. Many other venerable companies that at one time or another dominated their sectors will also collapse.

The velocity at which business organizations are failing is merely a reflection of the speed at which the world is changing, in almost every imaginable way.

Chatbots are replacing human call centers. Robots are replacing assembly line workers. Renewable energy sources are quickly overtaking traditional non-renewable energy. New and younger generations of employees are rising to leadership positions. The office is becoming more diverse in terms of culture, gender and age.

At the epicenter of these and other manifestations of change are the employees. They must be mentored, coached, trained, developed and, on occasion, moved out of an organization to make way for those “new collar” workers that Rometty referenced. The need to constantly reimagine and transform your workforce is as inevitable as change itself.

However, transforming your workforce is easier said than done. If it is approached in a haphazard manner, it can totally disrupt the culture of an organization, distracting employees and scuttling their productivity. Even worse, a poorly executed transformation can ruin an employer’s brand and make it difficult to attract and retain top talent.

In the past, outplacement services have played an important role in helping organizations manage workforce transformations to produce the best possible outcomes for both employer and employee.

Outplacement typically refers to a broad array of support services provided to employees in transition. The outplacement industry was built on the premise that employers have a moral, strategic and, sometimes, legal obligation to support employees in transition. The big question facing many employers is—what kind of support should they provide?

The outplacement industry has, for the most part, retained many of its proven values and methodologies. Peer networking, honing interview and resumé skills, and job search techniques remain as relevant and valuable as ever.

Given that no industry is immune to change, however, the outplacement industry has undergone its own profound evolution in recent years.

New thinking and strategies have emerged, in large part driven by the digital revolution. One of the most significant changes has been a proliferation of firms offering virtual services. This has moved the industry away from personal, face-to-face interactions, in favor of a one-size-fits-all virtual approach that focuses on moving displaced workers into new jobs as quickly as possible.

Is virtual career transition a better approach? It can be a good fit in some situations, but most people prefer face-to-face, human interaction with coaches and peers. Even Millennials, who interact daily with virtual and remote technologies, often express the highest demand for in-office transition services.

But what if the outplacement industry has been taking the wrong approach to innovation? Is the industry spending too much time and effort on the debate between in-person and virtual service delivery?

What if the next great iteration of outplacement services is not found in how the support is delivered, but rather by building new ways to connect non-working talent with the best available jobs?

What if we could completely reimagine outplacement services to create a forum where non-working talent is put into direct contact with talent acquisition and hiring managers to build new and impactful relationships?

It’s time to stop thinking ‘outplacement,’ and start focusing on ‘active placement.’

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