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Another workplace survey, but what does it really tell us?

Whenever I see a report or economic study that predicts the addition of jobs and the rebuilding of the workforce to pre-recession levels, I am all about digging a little deeper to find out the when and the where. A day late for the folks in my industry can mean far greater than a dollar short.

As you know, I'm a big fan of John Hollon's posts over at, and was intrigued when I saw "New Workplace Survey, Same Old Question: Is It Half Empty or Half Full," his thought-provoking post about Accenture's 2010 Workplace Survey.

For those of us in the desert hoping for the oasis to be more than just a mirage, the results reported by Accenture leave us optimistic. Perhaps the drought is over and jobs will be plentiful. Perhaps we won't go thirsty much longer.

Unfortunately, to echo John's thoughts, when we dig a bit deeper, the results (and the oasis) are not what they seem.

The report provides detailed information on the talent management areas that were impacted by reductions and subsequently, those areas where growth is anticipated. It reveals the criteria used by companies when reducing staff, including most prominently, low-performing employees, and secondly, skills that were no longer deemed a crucial aspect of the business.

So, if companies reduced their workforce by shedding non-performers and those whose skills were not a good match for the business focus, I would assume we would be left with top performers who would position the company for growth -- individuals who together, comprise an organization that can weather any storm and serve as industry leaders. Survey says ... not so much.

Later in the report, we find out that only 14 percent of the individuals surveyed feel their company is able to weather economic uncertainty, and only 15 percent feel their existing workforce is industry-leading.

Allow me to dig deeper. The U.S. executives surveyed were asked to rate the key drivers of their business. Key areas identified were sales and customer service/support. These same execs feel their organizations lack key skills in those functional areas of the business. Why? Companies can't attract the talent because they can't pay the market rate for top talent in those areas.

As the survey wraps, we learn that only 24 percent of U.S. companies (executives) agree they have the leadership in place to help an enterprise through periods of economic downturn, and 32 percent disagree that the right leadership is in place.

I would guess that most folks would like our executives to feel, after weathering the Great Recession, that we can pretty much handle any economic uncertainty with ... certainty.

Does this survey really give me the details and information necessary to form an educated opinion? I think some key demographic data is missing.

    • What are the functional roles of the 117 executives surveyed in the U.S. (CEO, CFO, CPO, CIO, etc.)?

    • What industries are represented in the survey?

    • What geographic regions were most impacted by workforce reductions?

    • What geographic regions are projected to see the largest increases in the workforce?

For me, those are the key drivers to effectively interpret the results. Now, I will share my point of view.

Generally speaking, I think it is good news that 54 percent of the companies surveyed plan to return their workforce to pre-recession levels within the next 24 months.

I think that there are many different ways to define workforce. While this survey touches on expanding the employee base and acquiring talent through "other channels," I again would like to see the data at a more granular level. Where will these jobs land?

    • Where are companies currently operating short? What areas of the business are in the greatest need of resources?

    • Do these executives feel that workforce growth will match the key areas of the business that were identified in the survey (sales, customer support/service and finance)?

    • Will the jobs be located in regions that previously experienced reductions, or will globalization play a key part in workforce distribution?

    • Will the "other channels" be through contractors, outsourcing, or off-shoring? What percentage of growth is projected in each of these categories?

    • When the workforce reaches pre-recession levels, do the executives surveyed feel their organizations will be positioned to better handle economic uncertainty?

I'm left feeling that perhaps existing talent acquisition and retention practices, combined with overall strategy around workforce planning, has left executives with a general lack of confidence.

Prioritization will need to be given to strategically develop future practices in these areas. With a rapidly aging workforce (and more of those resources retiring without considering a return to the workforce as a contractor), a flexible workforce will be crucial in attaining sustained growth and cost control.

Sounds like a business opportunity to me. Something tells me that I'm a day late (as the company producing this survey has surely already capitalized). And if I did a survey on costs associated with solutions being deployed, my guess is that I'm far greater than a dollar short.

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This post was written by former Seamless Workforce Contributor Tammy Taylor.

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