Three Keys to Effective Board Oversight of Workforce Resiliency Effectiveness: Purpose, Pace & Performance

Our experience working with boards, executives, and managers in the trenches has strengthened our resolve to advise our clients that certain characteristics of need are evident before they embark on resiliency initiatives.


The term "workforce resiliency" is rapidly becoming a buzzword for favorable recognition and funding purposes and, in the process, hurting the reputation of what are true workforce resiliency initiatives. Boards are challenging the substantive nature of these initiatives by focusing on one to three key aspects often associated with true programs. By asking questions related to these conditions where workforce resilient programs thrive, board members can help their CEOs differentiate between true resiliency versus resiliency theater.

Our experience working with boards, executives, and managers in the trenches has strengthened our resolve to advise our clients to ensure that certain characteristics of need are evident before they embark on resiliency initiatives. We help our clients extrapolate outcomes of incremental adjustments to their existing situations versus resiliency, drawing out those scenarios over the course of 30 to 36 months, to uncover the pros and cons of these alternatives.

It is critically important to define what is workforce resiliency and in what situations are workforce resiliency initiatives most favorable.

Workforce resiliency characterizes the stability, performance, and adaptability to change for a defined scope of activity over a period of time.

Workforce resiliency initiatives tend to be successful when the nature of the activity is to stand up a new or relocated function, fix a systemic underperforming area, or address a surge in demand for resources that will have an ongoing burden to the overall organization. A surge in demand often stems from change in control situations such as a merger, acquisition, or divestiture, a private equity purchase or IPO, or a major contract win.

The first key indicator for workforce resiliency effectiveness relates to purpose. If a manager cannot articulate the purpose for deploying a workforce resiliency initiative, then traditional adjustments to workforce performance may be sufficient. Doing workforce resiliency for the sake of workforce resiliency is theater, and the demand for board and executive management attention is simply not demonstrable. It is the job of managers to have high-performing teams that can handle challenges germane to their responsibilities. However, when there is a shift in purpose that highlights a misalignment in the workforce that cannot adapt due to lack of skill, resources, and knowledge, that could be an indicator.

The second indicator relates to a significant increase in pace. Board members should be able to relate change in corporate or line of business strategy to pressure points of the organization and, if those pressure points are not sufficiently capable to handle the resulting demands of a such a shift in strategy, then, clearly, bolstering those areas with a workforce resiliency initiative is wise and needed. How often are changes in strategic direction made only to learn months later that the organization is not staffed nor equipped with the proper talent to implement those new strategies? Nominal changes in strategy should not require workforce resiliency attention, as that is the ongoing responsibility of an area to adapt to change, but holistic or dramatic change requires a heightened level of effort.

The third indicator concerns the performance of a team or function. Operations is an area of businesses where a perennial lack of investment, often characterized by squeezing cost out, lack of strategic partnership with lines of business, and rotating leadership results in a need for a workforce resiliency initiative. Large firms may simply have a stale workforce where training and certifications were not prioritized for years on end. Small firms, that demonstrate a performance deficiency requiring a workforce resiliency initiative, tend to place unqualified people in key roles based on availability, low pay grades, or simple lack of experience in building a truly resilient team with the proper skills.

Questions for Directors

The following are some questions that boards of directors may consider in the context of advising on the need for investments in workforce resiliency initiatives:

  • Are requests for workforce resiliency funding surfacing in relation to significant changes in corporate strategy, or more randomly with little rhyme or reason?
  • Are requests directed at addressing a sudden challenge coming out of the blue, or have they been percolating over time with warnings of concern from key leaders known to be attuned to change of control challenges, market changes, or transformation skillset changes?
  • For initiatives that have been implemented, are the 100-Day Plans being met? Is the function or department meeting their milestones to address the heightened demand or are they just doing "okay" and appreciative of the extra funding (aka, "workforce resiliency theater")?

How Eliassen Can Help

With an emphasis on speed, expertise, results, and sustainability, Eliassen assists companies with their workforce resiliency initiatives by providing assessments, roadmaps, and execution. We ensure a focus on purpose and discuss the objectives and key results leadership seeks. While our people take action and deliver against immediate needs on day 1, our leadership, in collaboration with our clients, work backward from 30 to 36 months out. We generate a long list of the many challenges you will face to ensure we are not only delivering against the defined need, but also able to adapt to changes. Adapting often requires investments in training and new ways of doing work so that your team has insight to changes before they happen but keeps focused on the day-to-day. Our approach has instilled confidence in boards, executives, and line managers to face the future, not fret about the past.