Why identify critical roles?
Before we get to the ‘how’, let’s consider why it’s important to know the roles that are critical to your survival and success.
Succession planning. Your most critical roles may also be the hardest to recruit. Identifying these roles early gives you time to prepare – either with internal or external recruitment pipelines.
Protect shareholder value. A lack of capacity in critical roles can bring huge impacts in turnover, profitability, quality, and also client and customer relationships.
Employee engagement. Involving your colleagues in discussions about critical roles can help you have productive conversations with your teams, identify candidates for possible promotions, and also explore how content colleagues are in their roles (and who is looking for new opportunities).
Employer brand building. Developing a more proactive approach to talent management is likely to boost your reputation as a good employer that is focused on developing its people.
The quickest route to increasing shareholder wealth is to increase employee performance in critical positions.
(Becker, Huselid & Beatty, 2009)
What are critical roles?
When we talk about critical roles, we don’t necessarily mean the most senior people, or even the roles that are hardest to hire. Your critical roles are likely to be unique to your organisation; there is no defined list of universal critical roles.
Your critical roles will likely be those that:
Add most value. Which roles are pivotal in sustaining your performance? Which roles routinely generate value for the business?
Make the greatest impact. This might be product development teams, researchers, key account managers, or any role that has the potential to transform your business.
Pose the greatest threat to productivity and growth. Another way to look at critical roles is to consider the impact of people leaving at short notice. How would you cope with a loss of knowledge, capacity or capability?
Approaches to identifying critical roles
There is no standard framework or agreed methodology for identifying critical roles. For most organisations, this process is conducted by HR executives or middle managers, and it involves many discussions with people in every department and team.
It’s worth noting that these conversations must be had sensitively, in order to prevent some colleagues feeling that their work is less valuable, or less valued, than that of their peers. Of course, all colleagues are important to the business, and it’s possible to argue that all roles are ‘critical’. However, for the purposes of this exercise, critical roles are those that have the biggest impact on your current performance, and the most significant part to play in achieving your ambitions.
There are several different lenses through which to view what ‘critical’ means to your business. The approach you choose should depend on your priorities. You may use a selection of factors to give a more balanced view of your vulnerabilities and opportunities.
Factors to consider:
What type of value does the role contribute? Is the role connected to turnover, innovation, customer experience – or some other form of value-generating work?
How is this role connected to our business strategy? The roles that are aligned to your strategy, or necessary for achieving your goals, are obviously critical to your success.
Is this role essential for delivering our critical capability? Your critical capability is the thing that differentiates you from competitors. This might be unique services, products, customer experience, or even a sales process.
Critical roles: approaches to avoid
While there is no agreed framework for identifying critical roles, there are many ineffective or misguided ways to approach the task. These include:
- Salary / seniority. Senior colleagues or those on high salaries are not always critical to your business performance.
- Performance. High-performing or high-achieving colleagues may be valuable, but not necessarily critical.
- Reputation. Highly regarded or well-liked colleagues are not always critical.
- Organisation structure. It may be tempting to take an organisation chart and start your analysis at the top, but this may cause you to overlook critical roles lower down the chart.
- Talent availability. While hard-to-fill roles might also be critical, not all hard-to-fill roles are critical.