Close this search box.
Close this search box.

When It Comes To Building Talent, The Five-Year Plan Is Obsolete

That long-term outlook is outdated in a world where CEO tenure has shrunk to, on average, five years. Think shorter term.

How do you hire the right worker with the right skills for a future that you can’t see?

That’s an increasingly urgent question for companies as rapid changes in technology and consumer preferences combine to spin the business cycle at an ever more dizzying pace.

It used to be that companies could put in place a five-year hiring plan to match their long-term strategy and have some confidence in hitting the mark. Indeed, many companies still approach strategic hiring and skills acquisition that way.

But it is an outdated approach in a world where CEOs last, on average, five years, according to the Harvard Business Review, and where new technology is rapidly affecting workforce capabilities and expectations. CEOs and their boards need to think about what skills their workers will need in the near term to succeed. What do they need to know in the next one or two years? Not five.

Covid-19 has accelerated these trends, confronting CEOs and boards with questions from investors, employees and other stakeholders about their business models. For example, the shift to online ordering and pick-up has made us all question why we ever waited in line at stores or restaurants.

This accelerating shift toward online consumption because of the pandemic is pressuring companies to turbocharge their digitization strategies and ensure they have the employees with the right skill set to make the transition. It’s become clearer than ever that technology is core to the business, not just an add-on.

The most successful companies in the coming years will be those that can thrive amid this unrelenting uncertainty and tech-driven change. To do so, they’ll need to embrace a skills-acquisition strategy that is more flexible and responsive to change than has traditionally been the norm.

There is a lot that companies, and their HR departments, can learn from the Agile approach used in software development. It’s an iterative approach to project delivery that builds software incrementally instead of trying to deliver it all at once. Applied to people, it means directing resources at skills development in small amounts to push boundaries, yet gauge effectiveness quickly. Depending on how much traction the business gets from its investment, it can either double down on those skills or scale things back. It’s a little like buying advertising through Google keywords where you can find the most bang for your buck by testing different iterations of words.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to skills development in this era. Smaller companies in particular will, more often, have to go out and buy talent, paying a premium to make up ground in areas where they’ve lagged. Bigger, more sophisticated players won’t have to do that as much, often getting better results by investing in training and developing their own people.

Whenever possible, a company’s first instinct should be to look inward. There are major efficiencies to be had by training people who already know the business. In addition, companies that provide stability skills growth to their employees rather than panicking at the first sign of trouble win loyalty. This is important for building trust and affinity with customers, too.

We’re certainly not back in the 1950s, the vaunted “job for life” era. But this is an exciting time to learn and grow because of technology. Companies, and their boards, should worry more that employees will leave if they aren’t improving their skills than the possibility that training will be “wasted” if they then leave.

That’s not to say that companies should burn capital providing the same development opportunities to all staff. It’s better to take a selective approach based on individuals’ performance and interest. And borrowing from the Agile principle, investment in any particular type of training can increase or decrease depending on the results.

Here at the University of Phoenix, we’ve had our own successful adoption of this approach in meeting our growing need for data analysts in recent years. Since the cost of hiring data analysts was prohibitively expensive, we decided to build the capability internally using training materials and micro-internships for exceptional prospects.

As a result, we’ve been able to create a whole new analytical team from current staff. It’s been a win-win: We now have the skills needed to accomplish core business goals, and the newly trained employees have new skills that bring greater job satisfaction and offer wage growth.

This kind of smart investment in your people can boost employee productivity, loyalty and engagement. Once you give people space to learn and grow, they often give you more than you ever expected.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.