Eight of the Biggest Talent Management Challenges Large Organizations Will Face in 2021

What challenges do large employers face as they step intrepidly (perhaps sheepishly) into 2021? As we run up to the New Year, we’ve asked the workplace consulting team at SimplifyVMS to share their perspectives of large-employer talent management challenges ‘2021-style.’


2021 promises to be an interesting year for the business world. Many industries, lead into it facing a strong head-wind of regulatory demands, a growing appetite from customers to buy and work remotely, and the unfortunate majority are still in recovery mode having seen their results nose-dive in 2020.

Some things haven’t changed:

  1. We’re told the planet is still dying
    There remains a global shortage of talent
  2. Competition is increasingly ‘global’ in any market (even niche ones)
  3. Digital technology is rampant, and growing more impactful from one day to the next

Jumping off from what has to be described as one of the most remarkable (or should I say dysfunction) years in business history—arguably since Her Majesty’s government introduced the Limited Liability Act in 1855, which allowed investors to limit their liability in the event of business failure to the amount they invested in the company—the coming year has all of the hallmarks of being a challenging year for business owners and leaders.

How companies plan to resource their business plans, is one of the first items on the offsite workshop agenda. Hence why we took a moment to ask our team of workforce practitioners for their perspectives of the hill climb large employers face to tackle resourcing plans in 2021. They came up with eight of the most challenging aspects of delivery of recruitment/placement services that large employers face in 2021. In no particular order they are:

Challenge #1. Evolving to an Agile Workforce

Organizations today must adapt to survive. Spin the clock back to the Year 2000, business models rarely changed—happening once every few years, and only then if you were unlucky. Now, change is a constant. When COVID-19 struck, it was possible to see how well thousands of companies reacted to a series of sudden and irrevocable changes; most notably, a significant and sudden fluctuation in consumer habits leading to structural industry changes to markets and business models, a shift to remote working, and a seismic shift in resourcing capacities and possibilities. The variations in the ‘speed to react’ exampled by organizations was palpable.

The Pandemic has shown a failure to be adaptive—both in business models and approaches employed to serve the—is an existential threat. Having the ability to adapt the skills and capacity of a workforce is a key influencing factor in the necessary make-up of an agile enterprise. Organizations today combine a permanent and contingent workforce to balance risk with capacity, continuity with agility, and competencies with an ever-evolving resourcing profile.

Challenge #2. Embracing a Total Talent Management (TTM) Approach

Organizations know that inefficiencies are built into processes when there’s more than one way to source talent. If not checked, the resourcing demands that pass through HR and Procurement get ‘processed’ differently; potentially in parallel. For example, a Hiring Manager that ‘thinks a permanent FTE is needed’ to fulfil a department need might approach HR, while next door, another Hiring Manager is busy recruiting a similar role via the Indirect Procurement team, with neither individual knowing a third Hiring Manager is speaking with the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) about using robotics, web chat or AI to automate the same role.

There are many ways ‘jobs’ can be fulfilled. Enlightened talent practitioners agree that—to maximize time-to-hire while minimizing operating costs—a Total Talent Management approach is the best way to install common governance, decisioning, etc. through a unifying triage process that is the responsibility of ONE organizational entity. That said, achieving a TTM approach is non-trivial given that many departments need to be involved, and it requires a people-process-technology—data approach.

All in all, that makes for a challenging ‘change project’ best served through an outside-looking-in-perspective. Notably, it also requires a best-fit technology able to embrace best practise solutions and incumbent systems. Visibility of key metrics, such as the total cost of talent, is today challenging due to the fragmentation of systems, organizational silos and command and control structures.

Challenge #3. Implementing Adaptive Processes Through Adaptive Technologies

As business models change, processes must adapt. No two deployments of a Vendor Management System are ever the same, and they must flex over time.

Organizations want workflows to combine their own blend of best-in-class tools. They will also have differing supplier tiers and structures, along with purchase-to-pay journeys what differ. Technology needs to be architected to flex and be configured, not customized. This is today more possible thanks to digital innovations like cloud computing containerization, big data flat file structure, evolving interoperability standards like RESTful APIs, etc.

Challenge #4. Satisfying Compliance and Regulation

In most territories and regions, regulatory structures have tightened. Laws surrounding the privileges and rights of consumers and individuals are adding to the already complex areas like Data Security.

As organizations spread their wings towards a global commercial footprint, and look to source talent from further afield, they risk falling foul of regulatory variations between territories not limited to employment and pay laws, data privacy and financial conduct principles. Programs have to reinforce both training to make sure individuals appreciate their responsibilities, and practical details such as travel insurances. Additionally, programs must seek to consistently federate common working practices across permanent and contingent parts of the workforce.

Challenge #5. Embracing Fairness and Parity in Programs by Adopting an Inclusive Approach to Governance Across the Entire Workforce

Organizations must model programs to instil the right values, act on inappropriate attitudes, and reinforce cultural diversity. Talent management approaches and technologies have a key role to day in supporting and amplifying these initiatives.

Challenge #6. Equipping for Remote Working as the Next Normal

Remote working has proven itself to be a viable go-forward approach. Companies, including Microsoft, have already signalled their intentions not to go back to age old inflexible management attitudes that prohibited home working and insisted workers suffered the daily commute to an office. Talent management methods and systems have now to step in to fill the void in remote recruiting, skills testing, interviewing, etc. that have been historically framed on the assumption that ‘things would happen in an office.’

Challenge #7. Creating a Culture of Curiosity by Becoming Data Driven

Digital technologies have sped up the pace of systems. Business happens in real-time, and businesses today need to adapt how they work at the speed of light. All of this presupposes that decisions are able to be made at a far lower level in the enterprise, in a more granular way, and that they can happen in a cadence that is at—or at least near—real-time.

Challenge #8. Reinforcing Brand ‘Norms of Behavior’ into a Workforce Made-up of Permanent and Contingent Workers to Deliver an Above and Beyond Customer Experience

The 21st century has become the era of purpose, and every brand needs a purpose to stand out. It’s never been more important to achieve above and beyond customer experiences. As consumers have become ever more discerning and ‘Want-What-They-Want-When-They-Want-It’, businesses have had to respond accordingly. Customer experience has become the major competitive differentiator in a variety of industries and disciplines. Customer experiences generally fails when a human doesn’t achieve a level of behavior consistent to the brand values, ethos and story. When organizations adopt a blended approach to their talent pool, combining permanent and continent workforces to cater for varying demands, they need to find smarter ways of reinforcing norms of behaviour consistent to their brand values.

Summary — 2021 might just turn out to be the ‘Year Flexible Working Goes Center Stage.’

With all of these challenges to contemplate, talent leaders might feel somewhat dejected: At first glance, the talent management challenges facing organizations might appear an impossible mountain to climb.

Nevertheless, there is hope that 2021 might still turn out to a watershed for the talent management discipline for three good reasons:

1. One of the biggest inhibitors to innovative talent management change programs in the past has been a shortage of boardroom sponsorship. That’s less likely to be a problem next year. We think the pandemic has helped management teams turn a corner. Old ways clearly don’t fit the new digital era. Executive sponsors are ready to change. They need to create an adaptive workforce that delivers an above and beyond customer experience while flexing up and down as needed to respond to the pressures of market forces because, if they don’t, then to make ‘no decision’ might be the last decision they ever make.

2. Digital technologies are becoming ever more enabling, and they are facilitating a faster pace of change.

3. Through the passage of time, millennials are increasing their influence in the boardroom—and it will be millennials, who know that a job for life is a pipe dream for the many, that will dictate the agenda for talent management strategies in 2021.

About SimplifyVMS

The digital tech that runs flexible working for businesses around the world. 

Simplify is a technology company operating in the contingent workforce and service procurement market. Our savvy team of technologists create unique and agile solutions that enable human resource, procurement, and talent sourcing professionals to maximize profitability, optimize their non-employee labor programs, and gain visibility into their extended workforces.  To find out more, get in touch.

About the Author

Ian Tomlin is a management consultant and writer on the subject of enterprise computing and organizational design.  He serves on the SimplifyVMS Management Team.  Ian has written several books on the subject of digital transformation, cloud computing, social operating systems, codeless applications development, business intelligence, data science, office security, customer data platforms, vendor management systems, Managed Service Provisioning (MSP), customer experience, and organizational design.  He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.