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The Great Anticipation: Filling Roles Today to Ensure Success Tomorrow

How do you build a workforce that’s equipped to take your organization where you’re headed next—when you’re still in the process of deciding exactly where you plan to go? That’s one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today, as they grapple with unprecedented change and uncertainty. It has significant implications for how we hire, especially for leadership roles.

If Only We Had a Crystal Ball 

Many organizations are in the midst of more significant change than they’ve experienced at any point in their history. Whether they’re evolving to meet new customer expectations, undertaking a digital transformation, adapting their business to support the shift to green energy, or tackling any other significant change, the road ahead isn’t always clear.  

But what IS clear is that the organization can’t afford the negative repercussions of hiring leaders and other professionals based on static conditions that will soon become a distant memory. Chief among those implications is high turnover, whether voluntary or involuntary.  

Between 2022 and 2023, US companies experienced an average turnover rate of 17.3%, per a recent Mercer survey. With the cost of turnover estimated at about one-third of an employee’s base salary, according to research by the Work Institute, getting the hiring right isn’t just crucial to securing the talent you need to move forward successfully; it’s critical to the bottom line. 

Failing to balance the equally important needs of hiring for today and anticipating the needs of tomorrow can lead to other costly consequences. When there is misalignment between your organization’s long-term vision and the staffing needed to support it, you risk falling short of your goals. And when there is misalignment between the role and the environment a candidate is hired for today vs the conditions they’ll be expected to operate in tomorrow, you’re likely to see performance fail and morale decline.  

With most organizations finding their current needs shifting right under their feet, hiring based solely on what you need and know today won’t suffice. Today, businesses must demonstrate the foresight to hire employees who can grow right along with them, bringing the skills and capabilities to perform well in an environment that will likely look very different from the one they initially joined. 

Six Helpful Strategies 

Hiring talent that can succeed in the role as defined today, under current conditions, and also prove a strong fit in an unknown future sounds a bit like looking for a unicorn. As challenging as that can be, the following six strategies can help identify candidates who fit both of these equally critical requirements. 

  1. Gain Clarity Before Hiring. Ensure every hiring manager across the enterprise is clear about the organization’s vision, direction, and plans before they begin the hiring process. That may sound obvious, but long-term directions don’t always trickle down through the organization consistently. Beyond a solid understanding of the current needs and demands, hiring managers need clarity on how the business is evolving and how those changes will (or could) impact the role they’re filling. For example, hiring a senior leader to guide the turnaround of an operating group or the business overall is very different from hiring a senior executive to lead a stable, steady-state environment. Not only are the skillsets different; the type of individual that will be attracted to the role and their anticipated tenure will vary greatly as well.  

  1. Revisit Outdated Job Descriptions. Many companies fall into the trap of dusting off the same job description each time a position becomes vacant. Not only does that risk hiring someone who doesn’t fit the needs of the organization and the specific role today; it almost certainly guarantees you won’t hire with the future in mind. Even at times of peak hiring volume, it’s prudent to pause and think critically about whether the person you needed yesterday is the same person you need today and tomorrow. That exercise might lead you to a larger question: Do you have the right organizational structure in place to support your direction and set you up for long-term success?  

  1. Redefine Potential. Most organizations seek candidates who demonstrate the potential to take on increasing levels of responsibility. That’s why the 9-box assessment tool (a measure of potential vs performance) is so popular, and why most hiring managers ask recruiters, “How much headroom does this candidate have?” But if you gauge potential only through the lens of your current environment, you’re limiting your perspective and reducing the odds of hiring talent that can succeed in a future which might look quite different. It’s essential to define potential in terms of the candidate’s ability to grow into not only a new role, but a new environment. 

  1. Look for a Learning Mindset. As your business evolves, you’ll need leaders and other professionals with the capacity and willingness to learn and stretch. During the assessment process, gauge whether they have good awareness of the learning opportunities around them. Ask pointed interview questions that help you understand how well they’ve learned from experience and incorporated those learnings into their work intentionally. By recruiting candidates that are conscious learners, you’ll attract professionals who can grow with the organization, wherever the journey leads. 

  1. Prioritize Agility and Adaptability. Too often, hiring criteria focus on hard skills and overlook or deprioritize soft skills that are just as critical to success. During times of change and uncertainty, two of the most vital soft skills are agility and adaptability. Be sure to assess how the candidate has dealt with change in the past, whether they have the capacity to think on the fly and shift gears as conditions change, and if they’re inclined to get too wedded to existing plans.  

  1. Assess Their Need for Predictability. Some of us have a high need for predictability, so we gravitate toward a steady-state environment. If you’re hiring for a company that is on the precipice of major change, it’s critical to gauge whether your candidates can thrive in such an environment. It’s equally critical that your job descriptions and interview discussions clearly communicate the dynamic nature of the business. While you can’t make promises about how a given role might change based on an unknown future, you should be honest about where the company is headed and that fact that change is in the wings.  

Though the inherent challenges of hiring are exacerbated at times like these, proven assessment strategies can help attract talent that is well-suited to the journey that lies ahead, even if you’re still mapping it out.  


The Leadership Advisory Practice at Odgers Berndtson helps organizations discover and develop leaders, strengthen value-creating teams, and prepare for what’s next. Learn how our highly experienced assessors and coaches can help you and your team make a positive impact on your organization and those around you.  

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