5 minute read 1 Dec. 2022
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Integrate talent and business strategies to drive better outcomes

By Darryl Wright

EY Canada Work Reimagined Canadian Leader

A culturally adaptable leader skilled in human resource management, large-scale business transformation and leadership actualization. Builds high-performing, engaged teams that deliver results.

5 minute read 1 Dec. 2022

There’s no way of knowing when the market will settle into more predictable patterns. What is clear? It’s time to move beyond fight or flight and recommit to talent as a meaningful business driver.

In brief
  • How can leadership teams learn more about the way talent supply and demand align with business objectives?
  • How is talent used as a strategic value driver?

Integrate talent and business strategies to drive better outcomes 

There’s no way of knowing when the market will settle into more predictable patterns. What is clear? It’s time to move beyond fight or flight and recommit to talent as a meaningful business driver. Organizations that do so now can transform near-, short- and long-term potential into a competitive edge.

Why shift from survive to thrive today?

Nearly three years of pandemic-era disruption, macroeconomic upheaval and geopolitical tumult have pushed many organizations into reactive mode on the talent front — and that’s understandable. None of this has been easy. Acute talent shortages. Pervasive shutdowns. Across sectors and industries, businesses have worked to stave off talent gaps and protect people all while keeping the lights on. But the reality is, we can’t exist in survival mode forever.

When organizations understand more about the ways talent supply and demand line up with overall business objectives and strategies, they can come out of the gates swinging. A data-backed approach allows us to pull talent levers strategically. What does that mean? With the right human-centred insight, an organization can:

  • Aggregate data at the top of the house for a global view of talent gaps and opportunities
  • Prioritize the right skills, roles and people at the right time in the business lifecycle
  • Fuel business continuity plans with clearer insight into which skills would be essential during another crisis
  • Renew the ability to meet evolving regulatory requirements through strategic staffing
  • Employ market mapping to understand where top talent lies — and go get it.

All of this becomes increasingly important as businesses emerge from a time of so much change. A meaningful refresh of human capital intel that puts humans at the centre of the plan and aligning talent needs directly to the current business agenda can make a hugely positive overall impact.

How can we refocus talent as a strategic value driver?

As we emerge into the next unknown, talent and business strategies must essentially be one and the same. You achieve that by understanding how the two intersect, and where the gaps lie. The first foundational step is asking key questions that can help overlay what the business is trying to achieve, and what people and skillsets are necessary to reach those goals.

What should you ask first?

1. Which capabilities will we need to meet business objectives? If business goals have changed, chances are the types of skills you’ll need to deliver have evolved, too. Dig into the kind of capabilities folks will need to thrive in their roles now. Get a sense of what’s missing so you can be strategic about any investments or changes you make. Focus specifically on priority roles to fill, working back from the skills required and job families maintained.

2. Do we have the capacity to meet business demands? Beyond identifying required skills, you’ll also need line of sight into exactly how much of those skills are necessary. Clear lines between how much of a given capability the organization already holds in house and how much more it still needs allows you to be systematic about everything from talent acquisition to training, development to automation and more.

3. What’s the ideal composition? New goals bring new talent needs. That said, an effective talent strategy is balanced. Get an overview of what work needs to be done, when and by whom. That holistic understanding may reveal the need for a rearranged employee mix. It could also highlight the ways contingent and gig workers represent an alternative source of talent that can — and should — be considered to deliver business outcomes.

4. How will changing talent needs influence our costs? As a clearer view begins to emerge, you’ll undoubtedly spot gaps that will require financial investment. Maybe that entails building out upskilling programs, layering in new technologies, hiring contingent workers or acquiring capabilities through inorganic growth. The opportunity to move people with transferable skills across job families may also exist, shifting the focus away from specific functions towards pushing business outcomes. Each of these can bring new costs. Be sure to address those proactively as part of the planning process so the business can forecast, budget and invest wisely.

Taken together, capability, capacity, composition and cost provide a solid foundation to start bringing talent strategy closer to enterprise goals. But keep in mind that this realignment should never be considered a one-and-done activity. Rather, it’s a new way of working, one that seeks to foster closer alignment between talent and business strategies — no matter how uncertain or disrupted the market becomes over time.

This more sustainable, human-centred way of planning requires rigour. That means embedding regular assessments into the business’s planning cycle. From here on out, you want to ensure the enterprise is always looking at how human capital must adapt to best meet the broader business needs. This is key.

How can we embrace a longer-term talent outlook?

Talent strategy and planning has to become part of the cyclical business process to work well. This is also true for investing in the underlying factors that help you deliver on the talent strategy, such as career agility and culture alignment. Add these into the discussion by regularly asking:

  • Do we have enough career agility to retain top talent? It’s not enough to hire good people. You must also keep them. Progression can be a huge influencer on that front. You want to ensure clear career paths and planning are part of an overall approach in total rewards and compensation. Putting your people at the heart of their own professional journey can enable them to succeed over the long term — while moving your organization forward.

Does our culture align with our overall strategy? EY research shows that one of the six missteps companies make is being “bottom up” as opposed to “vision led.” This begs the need for a guiding set of behavioural principles directly aligned to your business’s purpose. That purpose doesn’t just move people forward in a common direction; it underpins organizational culture. Building that culture requires continuous outreach, engagement and two-way dialogue around shared values, ways of working and goals.

EY research shows that while 9 in 10 employers say they put humans at the centre of long-term plans for value creation, fewer than 7 in 10 employees believe them. At the same time, employers are showing a decline in confidence in the effectiveness of their organizational culture. In 2022, 57% of employers feel their culture has improved, a drastic drop from 2021 when 77% of employers felt that way.

These perception gaps matter. They speak to a complicated and diverse workforce, influenced by changing ideals and evolving priorities. Any organization that fails to address these areas with real intention now could run the risk of losing top talent — and a competitive advantage right along with it. Organizations will need to go well beyond platitudes alone to become much more deliberate and intentional about culture-building.

With that in mind, how can organizations create human-centred cultures capable of unleashing potential and fueling growth? Keeping these guiding principles in mind can help:

1. Inclusion happens when it’s seen as foundational to your culture and when people can bring their whole selves to work.

Organizational culture needs to be designed to enable business and strategic imperatives while ensuring a high level of engagement. But inclusion and belonging can only exist at work if all employees feel they can be their authentic selves. When this happens, employees become happier, more resilient, increasingly cooperative and more compassionate. These outcomes reflect some of the Great 8 traits required for individual, team and organizational success.

Employees who can bring their whole selves to work report higher engagement and better performance. Human-centred cultures acknowledge that and foster an inclusive and safe working environment for all.

2. Human-centred culture starts when you lead by example.

Tone from the top has always been important to culture. Leaders must live and breathe their values and embody the behaviours they hope to see embraced across the organization. When leaders are authentic, they foster psychologically safe spaces that prioritize wellbeing, inclusion, work relationships and diversity of thought.

EY research has found that 68% of employers saw significant turnover in the last year, and 43% of employees are likely to leave in the next 12 months. The “Great Resignation” has further threatened employee retention rates, at an exceptional cost to businesses.

Our research shows employers and employees alike want to see greater focus on total rewards, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Authentic leadership will address these demands by putting people’s needs at the forefront and fostering empathy.

3. Culture grows progressively over time.

Culture is a reflection of the way people behave, work, collaborate, ideate, innovate and communicate. So many companies see culture as something they can acquire or establish through a quick sprint.

But it’s more than that.

Culture requires time to take root. Like any kind of evolution, a cultural shift necessitates a long enough runway for people to embrace and emulate desired behaviours. Even with clear action plans, focus, resources and support, culture can’t be imposed. It takes shape gradually, as you lead empathetically and authentically, manage change intentionally and invest continuously. A cultural shift requires role modeling from the top and accountability at all levels.

Creating an inclusive workplace culture requires an organization to put humans at the centre of every structure, program, process, policy and communication. It means thinking about the way shifts in behaviours affect people, from initial hire to retirement. Doing so with intention can enable human-centred culture as the connective thread that unites your workforce and unleashes your success.


Now is the time to connect talent and business strategies. Overlaying what the business is trying to achieve with the people and skills necessary to reach those goals is critical to future success. Start now, and then make this a regular part of the planning process to ensure your organization’s talent strategy is always on and able to deliver solid business outcomes.

About this article

By Darryl Wright

EY Canada Work Reimagined Canadian Leader

A culturally adaptable leader skilled in human resource management, large-scale business transformation and leadership actualization. Builds high-performing, engaged teams that deliver results.