Building a resilient workforce through training and transformation

Organizations that upskill employees can face the future with more confidence.

Since early 2020, the world of work has been rocked by significant and continuous upheaval, shaking even the most surefooted leaders and organizations, and leaving their teams in recurring cycles of anxiety. Even as companies continue to navigate the post-pandemic era, shifts in automation and digitization continue to dramatically alter workflows across all industries. And with recession fears looming, firms are scrambling to fortify themselves. Those that focus on their employee base—and keep teams prepared for new responsibilities—are significantly more likely to emerge successfully after periods of change. 

“For organizations willing to shift focus toward their employees, there’s opportunity to not only weather a challenging time but also to create a resilient and future-proofed workforce, bolstered by a strong company culture,” says Mike DePrisco, chief operating officer at Project Management Institute (PMI). DePrisco believes that project managers—workers who plan and oversee projects while monitoring employee resources, budgets, timelines, and more—can be particularly instrumental in creative strategies that help lead teams through transformation. 

Preparing and training for change

“In 2022 and beyond, transformation is considered business as usual,” DePrisco says. And though periods of major change require an unwavering transformation strategy, they also require a united workforce at every level. “Leaders seem to have gotten the message about changing expectations and the need to prioritize attracting and retaining good talent,” adds DePrisco, who also notes that executives “now view managing talent as a key business risk—along with risks like cybersecurity, climate change, and supply chain challenges.”

According to PMI, the organizations most likely to handle rocky periods successfully are the ones that make benefits clear to employees at every level. “Professionals need to understand not only the importance of transformation but also the global context in which they work, in order to solve complex problems,” DePrisco says. Project managers, for instance, help implement projects from beginning to end, which requires a detailed understanding of the reasoning behind initiatives—and the ability to explain that rationale to numerous internal teams. That’s crucial for rolling out large changes, DePrisco notes, from introducing technologies to managing groups of workers in new ways. 

In addition to sharing the reasoning behind projects, leaders must ensure their teams have the technical knowledge and other skills necessary to adapt. Nearly 90% of organizations reported skills gaps in 2021 or expected them within a few years, which is especially troublesome given the rapid digitization brought on by the global pandemic. “These gaps will not fix themselves,” warns DePrisco. 

Given the looming recession and ongoing demographic shifts, such as the retirement wave across all industries, upskilling is imperative. Recent research found that—beyond technological know-how—strategic thinking, relationship building, and industry awareness topped the list of in-demand skills. The research also found that the top barrier to developing capabilities, generally, was a lack of strategic prioritization around learning and development (L&D). And since only 22% of organizations monitor the use and completion of L&D programs, this could indicate that 78% of firms might not even know whether the programs they have in place are truly making a difference.

Future-proofing company culture

Upskilling has added benefits, such as increased employee satisfaction (yielding increased loyalty and retention of employees hungry to learn new skills) and improvements in overall productivity and company profitability. With that in mind, PMI launched its Organizational Transformation series, a self-paced series of e-courses that enables project teams to learn the processes, frameworks, and strategies behind large-scale organizational transformations. Developing talent, DePrisco notes, “will simultaneously help future-proof the overall business, improve employees’ ability to adapt to future challenges, and drive transformation from within the organization.” 

In addition to providing training opportunities, businesses must be ready to facilitate a happier, healthier workforce. That includes prioritizing employee mental health and hedging against burnout in a stressful environment—yet the vast majority of firms (even those with mental health programming) don’t detail specific targets for those priorities. And beyond being the financially sound choice, safeguarding employee mental health is a clear imperative for well-functioning teams and cultures. 

Another crucial part of fostering a positive culture and fighting burnout, according to DePrisco, is “employee empowerment in decision-making, a departure from the traditional top-down funnel.” Leaders driving change cannot operate in a vacuum and must incorporate the initiatives of internal teams and external stakeholders, he adds. In light of the Great Resignation, which saw 3 million U.S. workers choose to leave their jobs during the pandemic, employees can be choosy about their job opportunities. With workforce participation sitting just above 60%, a 45-year low, companies that put employees’ well-being and a positive company culture first stand to win out during the talent shortage. 

The business case for transformation—and critically, for empowering employees with the resiliency to survive and thrive through it—is inarguable. With further seismic market-shaking events visible ahead, there’s no option for organizations but to embrace transformation and commit to developing true agility that benefits teams at all levels. “Speed and efficiency have become the new benchmarks,” DePrisco says, “and organizations that are too slow or too comfortable will soon be left behind.”