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Talent Development Leader

Time to Pitch In

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Amid talent shortages, take on a strategic and tactical role to move departments from struggling to thriving.

There is no doubt that the Great Resignation and a tight labor market have left organizations woefully understaffed. While some industries, such as healthcare and retail, have been hit harder than others, nearly all employers have suffered in some capacity as they’ve watched high-value talent leave.


For some companies, a lack of trained staff has been a visible, direct cause of missed earnings, revenue, and growth targets. For example, one of my company's manufacturing clients was forced to stop taking orders after seeing a 30 percent reduction in output in one of its plants when it was short staff to cover all the shifts. And a fast-food restaurant chain that my company works with reported a massive hit to its stock after reporting a large slump in sales. That slump was directly due to staff shortages and reduced store hours or even shuttered branches, not because customers don’t want the products.

The impact such talent shortages have on managers and leaders may seem less obvious, but those individuals are a critical part of the talent pipeline. The extra work they are absorbing, not to mention the anxiety they are dealing with on a daily basis as they attempt to keep their teams functioning, is resulting in never-before-seen levels of stress and burnout. And when those managers and leaders resign their positions when it becomes too much to handle, that creates a snowball effect.

Talent development professionals can help combat that dangerous cycle and contribute directly to their organization’s bottom-line performance by being both strategic and tactical.

Strategic role

Before you can begin creating and implementing solutions to address the organization’s unique talent problem, first get an accurate picture of the situation. Gather data for each team, department, and function over a three-year period; then review and analyze open roles and the reasons for them. Present that data to the C-suite in a way that will engage and garner its full support—leadership may not realize how understaffed specific parts of the company have become.

Keep in mind that when a department is more than 30 percent understaffed, a temporary, bandage approach of redistributing work won’t cut it. The TD team is uniquely suited for working with each functional leader to create more significant plans for their area. When the problem is acute, the company will need to realign organizational objectives and metrics until it has corrected the staffing problem.

After the executive level has completed its work on the big picture, tactical work will be necessary at the department and team levels. Get ready to pitch in. That work is crucial for an overtaxed workforce.

Tactical role

The traditional infrastructure-building activities that are in your TD team’s purview—training, succession planning, talent pipeline development, and programs for high potentials, for example—will not solve this acute staffing problem in a timely manner. Rather, now is triage time, which requires immediate action and results.

Don’t pile on edicts of more activities for already overly stressed leaders. Don’t delegate to them. Rather, do the work with or for them.

Roll up your sleeves and help leaders align department goals and objectives and work outcomes with the realistic staffing levels that are on the horizon. You and your team can add value by facilitating department meetings, helping leaders to clarify and prioritize work.

When helping leaders and teams mitigate this new business reality, consider ways you can support.

Reprioritize work. Use the Eisenhower matrix to categorize tasks and projects. This four-box framework for prioritization helps leaders quickly challenge long-held work assumptions and enables them to eliminate some items on their teams’ to-do list and get clarity on what is essential for success in an understaffed environment.

Assist leaders with grasping that less is more in this situation. Make sure they understand that they can’t ask current staff to do everything. That will lead to more burnout and more quitting.

Guide them in determining exactly what they will ask their employees to not act on for the time being so they can instead focus on the core areas that service customers. Facilitate action-oriented planning sessions where teams leave with a short-term (one week) and longer-term (one month) plan for how to work differently until the staffing problem is resolved and new workers are trained and ready to be productive.

Rethink staffing. For departments facing the most severe challenges, ask for additional time to work with them and develop a work plan. Get senior leadership’s approval. Help those departments brainstorm and get unstuck.

Time is of the essence—be bold, and don’t over think your approach. Offer solutions for using staff in other areas of the business or nontraditional hires.


Organizations are reporting great success with rethinking jobs to fit high schoolers, retirees, or stay-at-home parents. Work closely with talent acquisition staff to prioritize the most important jobs to fill based on executive direction rather than based on what is easy to fill or which manager cries the loudest.

Reimagine what is possible and necessary. Constraints are a great time to rethink and retool. Unlock the power of less.

When necessity is the mother of invention, process improvements flourish. Gather cross-functional groups to look at critical workflows, and ask what they can pause doing while still satisfying customers and core service requirements. You may uncover innovative, long-term cost savings in the process.

Step up

While you are facilitating this difficult, out-of-the-ordinary work, you’ll need to capture the hearts, minds, and commitment of employees and their managers. They may resist. But by being transparent about the dire situation, explaining that these solutions are temporary, and laying out the plan to get the department back on track, you will make great strides in gaining their trust and contribution.

You will also need to coach leaders to stay positive and engaged, overcommunicate, and be as transparent as possible. Assist them with creating communication plans that show how important the staff are, demonstrate that they understand employees’ additional stress and responsibilities, and share what they are doing to solve it.

Remember, this is triage time. After you have taken the necessary immediate steps to address the talent issue, then you can resume regularly scheduled TD activities. However, for now, providing short-term, practical, and results-oriented talent management solutions that help sustain the business is the ideal way to establish your value to the company and model the kind of skills your team can develop in others all year long.

Read more from Talent Development Leader.

About the Author

Steve Dion is founder and CEO of Dion Leadership, a leadership and organization development consulting firm based in Michigan. Steve has dedicated his career to understanding and improving organizational cultures through the creation and deployment of innovative leadership development programs, executive coaching, team effectiveness programs, and talent assessment.

Steve is an executive board member at Fast Company. He is a regular contributor to CEO World, Chief Executive, Training Industry, and HRCI’s HR Leads Business Blog. Always innovating, Steve and his Dion Leadership colleagues recently launched a new research-based training product that supports work-life alignment.

1 Comment
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Steve - thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate the nod to re-skilling staff in the face of an ever evolving work environment.
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