With the economy once again on uncertain ground, companies that were expanding are now firmly back in redundancy mode, risking huge damage to their employer and consumer brands and incurring significant costs as a result of constantly expanding and downsizing.

In an environment where the only constant is change, this requires a fresh approach from HR; one based not just around the delivery of people but in creating a flexible workforce that can adapt to changing circumstances and meet the business’s core, long-term objectives.

The following points should be considered by HR:

Question traditional recruitment processes

In the past when someone leaves a company the stock answer has been to go out and look for a direct, like-for-like replacement, usually in a full-time, permanent post. But the recession has already highlighted to companies positions that have failed to add value to the business. In such uncertain and complex times, HR needs to challenge whether hiring staff in the conventional manner is the right course of action or if there are other ways of bringing in the skills that are required.

Create a flexible jobs culture

Doing so can be hugely liberating and encourages an atmosphere where individuals only expect to be working for that organisation while their skills are required. Kent County Council, for instance, now has hardly any permanent contracts, meaning it can expand and contract as required.

Futureproof your existing staff

Equipping people with transferable skills through on-the-job training, mentoring or practical development programmes can help them move into different positions further down the line, avoiding redundancy. Versatile skills such as project or people management will help to prepare staff for possible lateral moves into the future whilst helping to retain valued employees.

Only bring in those who embrace change

When you do bring in new staff, use behavioural tools to identify people who are flexible and able to handle uncertainty, change roles as appropriate or move from one project to another on a regular basis, and look for evidence of this at interview. Our IT manager joined without any knowledge of a particular programming language that was required but plays six different types of guitar, so we knew he’d be able to adapt.

Consider external skills

The skills required by a business today may be very different to those needed in two or five years’ time. A greater use of contractors or outsourcing companies allows organisations to bring in skills as and when required, helping them to embrace change and test new concepts and markets without a huge financial commitment or the risk of damaging the employer or consumer brand.

Make use of technology

The internet has changed the way companies do business and has allowed new entrants to come in with alternative business models and low operating costs. HR has yet to fully embrace this. Marketplaces such as Amazon Mechanical Turks or PeoplePerHour allow organisations to engage a global workforce to conduct basic tasks and achieve high-quality results quickly, without entering into any long-term contractual arrangements.

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