In their report, “Productivity – getting the best out of people” published in July 2015, the CIPD said “With interest rates low, now is the right time to invest in improving product and service offerings, business processes and workforce development – do it now before skill shortages become widespread, rather than waiting for them to emerge”.  In that report data from surveys of UK HR leaders helped to explain why some businesses are more productive than others. The CIPD found that “Business strategy seems to matter – positioning in the marketplace, responsiveness to change and the organisation’s internal culture. In addition, we find that firms that invest in workforce training tend to have higher productivity.”

In a quarterly up date in July 2016 Mckinsey said “More sophisticated analyses of big data are helping companies identify, recruit, and reward the best personnel. The results can run counter to common wisdom”.  The report gave examples of how the effective use of people analytics and technologies helped some significant US organisations to profile employee and performance data, improve workforce planning, refocus recruitment, address unconscious bias in selection, improve retention of top performers and drive up productivity.

As these two reports show, skills shortages and productivity present a big agenda. So what should organisations focus on and what influence can HR and recruitment practitioners bring?

The companies in Mckinsey’s report were well placed to exploit technology and they focused on high priority data ready areas, which included recruitment, retention, performance and workforce planning. Learning from such examples of good practice I would suggest that HR and recruitment practitioners, if they aren’t doing so already, should aim to profile their existing workforces and analyse performance data to understand what factors determine good and bad performance, for example in personality, attitudes and behaviour.

This might well cast new light on the best “person-to-organisation-fit” and the best “person-to-job-fit”. Perhaps also to enable “anti-fit” selection exercises to bring on people who would naturally challenge the status quo and can help to reshape business strategy and organisational culture where it is required.

Armed with this type of insight, HR and recruitment practitioners should be strongly placed to influence the cultural development of their organisation. In particular by putting factual insight into practice alongside intuitive judgement in workforce planning, recruitment and training.

Also consider line managers who are ultimately tasked with making decisions on external recruitment and promotion. They need to be equipped to interpret data in a factual way, avoiding unconscious bias as far as humanly possible. Here HR and recruitment practitioners can lead the way. A more recent report by the CIPD “A head for hiring: the behavioural science of recruitment and selection” provides some helpful pointers.

As the CIPD recommended very robustly in their July 2015 report, investment in people is needed before skills shortages emerge to hinder productivity in UK businesses. And as Mckinsey’s report showed, data, analytics and technology can provide the tools. Equipped with the right tools, HR and recruitment practitioners can play leading roles in building highly productive, diverse and culturally strong organisations.

This may all sound great in theory, however the key to success lies in gathering and analysing relevant information about existing and prospective employees. Smart technologies can provide the key. In particular, engaging, mobile enabled tools, for example that use video interviewing and talent profiling, to generate unbiased factual insight about people, performance and fit to organisations and jobs.

A starting point might be for HR to look at how well equipped line managers are to make the best selection decisions for their organisation, particularly in view of possible skill shortages and their impact on productivity. This could well uncover opportunities to invest in new technologies, processes and training that improve the quality of hiring and people development, ultimately leading to better workforce performance and productivity.