How can companies thrive in the age of disruption?

Technology has allowed individuals and businesses to work more productively, but it also creates complexity as it defines how and what work is done, as well as the talent needed to keep pace with fast-moving technological revolutions.

There is a bifurcation between highly skilled individuals who are in demand from employers and those whose opportunities to participate in the workforce are severely limited. Compressed economic cycles, increased competition and greater consumer expectations have launched today’s businesses into a state of perpetual motion. More than ever, the barometer of success for companies and countries is their ability to unleash human talent.

This constant disruption has strained existing work models to breaking point. Companies have adjusted to doing more with less; anticipatory hiring in expectation of demand is a thing of the past. Talent is also proving elusive in today’s world of work. According to the ManpowerGroup’s annual Talent Shortage Survey, 35% of global employers are struggling to fill open jobs.

The challenge for businesses in 2014 and beyond will be keeping up with new trends and navigating changing work models. To succeed, companies need to be agile in the face of potentially disruptive headwinds.

Employers that leverage a range of flexible work models – incorporating full-time and part-time workers as well as outside contributors with in-demand skills connected through virtual networks – will maintain a serious advantage. A varied structure of permanent, contract and virtual employees helps control costs and taps a wider range of skills.

Businesses should also consider what skill sets they need versus what they have, identify the skill sets they need to execute their business strategy, and then think about how to best close the gaps in order to accelerate business performance and access the talent they need. As demand for their products and services waxes and wanes with changing market demands, so employers will need to be thoughtful in their use of different work models that will produce the best results for their organisation. This will ultimately create sustainability and agility in their business.

In addition, forward-looking employers will tap underleveraged talent pools such as women, youth and older workers (research shows that very few companies are actively recruiting from these talent pools in a bid to solve talent shortages). Some contributors may even be volunteers who are part of research networks that have been established to advance the flow of ideas, and become involved because they feel passionate about a topic or an organisation.

Understanding how to unleash human potential is no longer a one-size-fits-one approach. When working out which groups of workers can deliver time to value and how work will be allocated, employers need to take into account how to engage these communities of workers and how to build accountability and rewards. This requires different ways of thinking, moving away from command and control to flexible frameworks that foster true collaboration.

Leaders must challenge their thinking by constantly asking how things could be done simpler, faster and more efficiently. Keeping an organisation malleable enough to allow for rapid change of direction in the face of changing market demands is the only way to cope with certain uncertainty. The need for agility remains constant, and the companies which remain flexible will be sustainable and relevant for the long term.

Jeffrey A Joerres is chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup. He is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos.

This article was first published on the World Economic Forum blog