The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a great reset for both organisations and employees. Today, all organisations are on a journey to become future-fit – quest for a skilled workforce, and pivoting towards greater resilience and agility from an exclusive focus on growth, efficiency and return. On the other hand, employees are seeking faster career growth, re-skilling and upskilling opportunities and demanding flexibility and visibility. While these are two sides of the same coin, the market dynamics of talent scarcity, high attrition levels and economic uncertainty is adding to the challenges. Given this reality, how can organisations strengthen their talent ecosystem while meeting employee aspirations and business requirements? Organisations need to re-look at the talent demand and supply equation.


Traditionally, all organisations operate in a job or role based set-up in some shape or form. All talent decisions are based on employee’s role in the organisation. Although roles are a dominant architecture of work, there is a clear shift happening across industries from roles to skills. Roles can be deconstructed to work activities and skills required to enable a new shape of work. By analysing the skill sets required to deliver a particular work and looking at all the available talent – internal or external and of different types (permanent, contractual, one-off gig etc.), can the demand and supply sides be better matched? Also, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) should be viewed as a ‘work partner’ to substitute, augment and transform work. 

Connecting talent to work

There are essentially three ways of organising work and employees based on a future-focused model – fixed, flex and flow. Organisations should analyse which roles in the organisation fall in each of the three categories. One can undertake a journey to move from left to right on the following continuum and build workforce capacity in a more skill-based, agile and responsive way to what is happening in the external world.

Source: Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau, Sloan Management Review, Spring 2021

Talent in fixed roles

This is the most prevalent scenario in organisations where regular full-time roles exist due to work volume or financial or compliance reasons and employees are mapped to such permanent roles. The human relations (HR) infrastructure to manage employees is a job architecture – job families, sub-job families, grades and roles. Major parts of any organisation will continue to operate in this way, relevant when work and skill sets are relatively stable. However, job architectures are evolving – tall to flat hierarchies, differentiated career tracks (executive, managerial, specialists or technical etc.), fluid structures for startups and new-age businesses where change is constant. One thing is common – organisations are finding answers to the following questions for their employees:


  1. Do we have the optimal number of levels and role hierarchies in the organisation?
  2. Is there enough differentiation across roles in various levels and clarity about what is expected from each role and the associated skill sets, technical and behavioural?
  3. What are the possible career paths (vertically and laterally across job families) for each role, and what change is required in terms of skills for a particular career movement?
  4. How to provide visibility to employees in terms of career options and a developmental roadmap?

A leading Indian pharma organisation with over 20,000 employees globally moved from a 14 grade to seven band structure (plus sub-bands for the last two bands only – 6A, 6B, 7A and 7B) in a phased manner to become leaner, enable efficient decision-making and faster career progression for employees. It is currently working on defining technical skills for each job family and identifying career paths for all roles. The ultimate objective is to have a global career architecture on their technology platform which employees can easily access to explore various career choices. 

Talent in flexible roles

While many organisations are still dabbling between remote work, hybrid work and work from office, it’s essential to look at flexibility from a sustainable and long-term perspective. Flexibility goes well beyond remote or hybrid work and part-time versus full-time work. Some roles are partially fixed due to work volume or certain skill sets can be leveraged across businesses and functions. Organisations need to increase their capacity to flex and flex roles are posted on internal ‘talent marketplaces’ where regular role holders take on additional project work based on skill set match and interests. To comprehensively analyse the flexibility quotient of various roles, the following five dimensions from Mercer’s FLEX framework can be used. 


  1. How (scaling and technology) – degree of variability in the work volume and how easy it is to scale-up or down. The technology used, its role (e.g. augmentation or substitution) and nature of the interaction between workers determines the flexibility that can be offered 
  2. When (hours and scheduling) – preferred working hours (number and timing), discretion in determining these and an understanding of how this will be managed with co-workers
  3. Where (locations and infrastructure) – preferred work location/s and the infrastructure constraints. There is an opportunity to access a wider talent pool but it is likely to require higher levels of trust or monitoring depending upon the nature of work
  4. What (job content and sharing) – flexibility around job content and can tasks be reallocated or shared between employees (working arrangements like role sharing and specific work tasks sharing) 
  5. Who (alternate workforce and automation) – flexibility on resourcing based on work demand - employee, crowdsourcing, gig, contractual resource or AI and automation as work partner 

A leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) organisation has successfully implemented a FLEX Experiences platform which helps employees to identify opportunities across business lines and functions, in which they can develop new skills and gain experiences in a flexible way. Through the power of AI, employees are suggested opportunities that match their profile and aspirations. Giving full visibility to all opportunities available globally, ensures transparency in the way the company develops talent and agility to support evolving business priorities. 

Talent fully flows to tasks, assignments, and projects

When work is more dynamic and capability requirement is for a short or defined time period across different work areas, then workforce planning needs to be agile and skill-based. A Talent Marketplace becomes all the more relevant in this context for deploying skills which are in limited supply or when the skills required are changing quickly.


A leading global insurer set-up a global shared data science capability centre supporting its worldwide functions and divisions by extracting available talent from other parts of the organisation. First step was to define all the skills required in a data science function (e.g., knowledge and ability to use programming languages such as Python and R, Knowledge of Linear Modelling, etc). Talent was essentially managed as pools of skills. All employees were mapped to a single job code and a baseline for compensation that then flexed based on the market price of various combinations of skills (e.g., someone with Python, R and Linear Modelling versus someone with Python, R and Angular). A new HR COE helped business leaders design projects (instead of opening requisitions) that would be posted to the company’s global internal Talent Marketplace. A machine learning algorithm matched the required skills for projects with skills possessed by the employees in the data science centre. It considered adjacent skills, interest and capacity. The algorithm also sent signals to employees as to what skills were trending up versus trending down along with upskilling recommendations.


Adopting the following steps will assist in transitioning to a new shape of work by redesigning roles:


  • Deconstruct roles into key work activities and understand how work and skills required will change 
  • Analyse scope for automation and alternative work arrangements: what work is done, how work is performed, who does the work, when work is done and where work is done
  • Analyse possible scenarios and their impact to arrive at the optimal combination of full-time employees, alternate workforce and automation 
  • Define what work gets done in fixed roles, flex roles, fully agile and flow roles 
  • Drive testing, implementation and finally the institutionalisation of the new work design. 

Connecting talent to work through redesign encourages employees to develop new skills and focus on advancing their careers through a path of skill acquisition. However, it would need effort to institutionalise an agile and flex mindset in leaders and employees alike. As per India cut of Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2022 report, 74% of HR leaders are concerned that remote work will deteriorate the culture. Additionally, 82% of executives are worried about promotion prospects for remote workers. To build a future-focused culture and embed new ways of working, it’s essential employees see that learning leads to recognition, monetary rewards and career growth and leaders see gains for their business. Many leading organisations have already embarked on the work redesign journey to enhance their agility and talent capacity while making skills the currency of work. 


Sukhmeet Singh 

Talent Consulting Leader

Mercer India

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