I don’t know if anyone has used the term “antebellum” to describe the period before our economic collapse, but it seems appropriate. A term that literally means “before the war” has historically been used to describe the period before the Civil War. As our workforce and the economy continue to improve, we are just beginning to gain a bit more perspective on what really happened to all of us over the past few years – which was a true socio-economic battle with many casualties.
As far as organizations go, it is clear that business strategy and focus have changed since the “antebellum” period of rapid growth and prosperity. Prior to the collapse, companies were focused on the following areas in business and workforce development:
- Diversity and Culture
- Flexible Workforce
- Flattening Organizations
- Networking and Interconnectivity between Business Units
These strategies were all targeted on managing growth and profitability; charting a course for a flexible, multi-functional global workforce. That was truly antebellum.
In the post-war era, we have seen these priorities re-assessed and re-adjusted. Now the target areas within organizations include:
- Leadership Development
- Regional Focus with Global Impact
- Rebuilding with Diversity and Culture
- Virtual Work Environments
- Aligned and Networked Business Resources
Organizations are now focusing on rebuilding their human infrastructure through strong leadership and employee development programs. Companies recognize that they need to tap into a diverse workforce talent pool, bringing in individuals from varying backgrounds that can multi-task through rapid reorganization processes. All corporate resources are now shared, not dedicated to a single business unit. All of this activity is taking place simultaneously within target regions that will have a global impact in the months and years to come.
So, what has really happened is that the trends of the antebellum period continue in this post-war period, with a twist. Businesses remain lean and mean while they rebuild their organizations. New employees will feel less secure because of all of the change going on around them. But they will also feel more engaged, now an active part of organizational development and workforce restructuring.
There are still many unknowns in the workplace in 2011. What is clear is that as businesses get back on their feet, they will be looking for highly-skilled agents of change.
Whether we like it or not, we are all change agents in this new and slightly unnerving economy.