The 21st century is a battle ground when it comes to talent management. Talent is in short supply, and therefore in high demand. Some talented individuals see the modern employment landscape as a seller’s market, where they can offer their services to the highest bidder, and demand inflated salaries, along with a constant stream of opportunities and support.
For talented individuals, whether it’s those with potential, or those with a strong track record, the power has shifted from employer to employee, with many talented individuals jumping from one employer to the next, depending on the best offer. Loyalty to one employer, or even to one career path, is likely to be the exception rather than the norm.
So how should a leader respond?
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What is talent and talent management?
According to the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development):
- Talent consists of those individuals who can make a difference to organisational performance either through their immediate contribution or, in the longer-term, by demonstrating the highest levels of potential.
- Talent management is the systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement, retention and deployment of those individuals who are of particular value to an organisation, either in view of their ‘high potential’ for the future or because they are fulfilling business/operation-critical roles.
If we accept these definitions, then this is a wide-ranging and complex area. Most organisations, and the CIPD themselves, view this as the domain of HR professionals, but it should also be seen as a leadership and cultural issue.
The ability to attract, nurture and retain talent starts at the top of an organisation, with a recognition that this is a strategic issue with a direct impact on organisational effectiveness. It is therefore worthy of inclusion in the strategic planning and thinking of the senior leadership, followed by the commitment of time and resources to give it appropriate priority.
What are the challenges of talent management?
1. Encouraging passion
Talented individuals want to work for an organisation and in an environment that suits their values, attitudes and expectations. They generally won’t settle for ‘a job’ just because it pays quite well and they are capable of meeting the job requirements. Those attitudes may be typical of the average employee (though even that might be a dangerous assumption) but are simply not enough to attract the real talent.
Highly talented individuals believe they are worth more than that, and want to be aligned with the organisation (or vice versa) and for it to be doing something that they care about. They want a job that engages and suits them. The simple truth is, that most organisations and most senior leaders just aren’t ready for these kinds of employees, or able to meet their needs and aspirations.
Many commentators, particularly Philp Whiteley and Neela Betteridge in their important work ‘New Normal: Radical Shift’, and more recently Vlatka Hupic in her watershed book ‘The Management Shift’, feel that commonplace business models, based as they are on economists’ views of what business is for, are in need of a radical re-imagination to deal with a very different and fast-changing world.
2. Embracing new interests
Part of that re-imagining is driven by the changing nature, needs and behaviour of younger recruits – especially ‘digital natives’. It is from this more recent cohort that much of the ‘talent’ we are talking about will come. They interact with the world through technology as their first instinct.
Conversely, many of the senior leaders at the head of organisations are ‘baby boomers’. These two generations typically have a very different relationship with technology and modern methods of communication such as blogs, webinars, tweets and messaging. Many of the under 30’s that are often the ‘talent pool’ out in the market want to work in an organisation that feels, thinks, behaves and represents itself like them. They expect to be valued and developed, and to have interesting, satisfying and challenging work.
The senior leadership often believe that it is enough to pay them (reasonably) well and give them holidays and a few benefits. There is a fundamental mis-match of expectations here, and it has to be resolved if talent is to arrive and stay.
3. Offering impressive salaries
A recent conversation with a CEO indicated that he was keen to ensure that his organisation paid ‘above the average for every job’….. yet his strategic plans and vision talked about being ‘the best in the industry’ and being ‘the most innovative organization in the field’.
My question is, how do you expect that to be the outcome when you are setting out to employ people who are a bit above average? Why would the best people in the field come to work for you under those circumstances? I’ve already said that they expect to be valued.
The salary package is the headline of that and the thing a talented person will see upfront. If they self-select out of your prospective talent-pool by choosing not to apply for a job with you, you won’t have the chance to ‘sell’ your organization to them, no matter how good it actually is.
4. Giving engaging work
Talented individuals won’t tolerate a boring job for very long, if at all. Many senior leaders in my experience take the attitude that ‘I had to pay my dues and so do they’, and therefore expect talented recruits to ‘learn the ropes’. Bad news: they won’t.
The world has changed since you left school or university, Mr or Mrs CEO. We live in a world where everything can be discovered in 5 keystrokes, and most functions can be done with an app. There is no appetite for drudgery and a very short attention-span, so if you want to attract and retain young talent, you need to design interesting and challenging jobs that engage people and are enjoyable.
“Enjoyable?!” I can almost hear the snorting and indignation from here. But face facts. If you can’t do this, one of your competitors will. Then you’ll lose twice: you won’t get the benefit of the talent, and your competition will, and will use it to out-innovate and out-perform you.
5. Attracting talent in the first place
Talent moves in packs. Once you have attracted a pool of younger talent, others will gravitate towards them. I remember Steve Jobs being asked ‘how do you manage to find all these talented people?’ and his answer was significant. ‘We don’t’ he said, ‘they find us’. He said they received upwards of 200 CVs a week from the best of the available talent. They had become a talent magnet.
Is your organization a talent magnet? If not, how will you increase it’s magnetism?
6. Being open-minded
Working styles and patterns are different young professionals, especially for the high-performers. The ‘baby-boomer’ generation was taught to keep their head down, work hard and follow the rules, but these guys don’t think or work that way. It’s easy to look at them and say ‘they can’t spell’ or ‘they can’t get up in the morning’, but that’s just trying to force them to behave and think like their parents or grandparents, and they’re not going to do that.
Instead of berating or belittling them for not being like you, consider the skills they have that previous generations couldn’t have dreamed of, such as the ability to multi-task using different tools and formats (I’ve taught students who were listening to music through one headphone while talking on their phone, or working on a PC while chatting to a colleague through a window in the corner of the screen).
The new generation of talent also has the ability to work collaboratively to create ideas or content. I once taught some post-graduate students who completed a 4 week project in 3 days by posting the key questions on several websites, gathering the many responses, synthesising them for the best answers, and then collating these into a finished report which they sent out for comment and revision. This was not ‘cheating’, but using the available technologies to their full potential, and deploying many skills that are hugely productive in the modern workplace.
In summary, talent doesn’t necessarily think like you, behave like you, or work like you. It probably doesn’t look or dress like you either.
It may well be difficult to manage, especially if you attempt to turn talented individuals into clones of you. So don’t. Talent needs proper attention, like an exotic plant, so keep it in the right conditions, provide the right environment, and feed it regularly.