The Top 5 Signs You’re Already Losing the Talent War

I just returned from attending and speaking at the HR Management Institute’s conference entitled, “Enhancing HR as a Strategic and Transformative Business Partner in Times of Volatility and Change”.  It was a compelling event in which our team had the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the most progressive HR executives I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with throughout my career.  Upon my return home, I read an article about Yahoo’s CEO making the decision to end telecommuting at their company.  The irony of this decision hit me immediately.  One of the few companies to survive the dot com crash over a decade ago, a company that is entirely built around the value proposition of internet connectivity, is retreating to an Industrial Age, brick and mortar mentality.  Just as the rest of the business world is poised to leverage new thinking and new technologies that will catapult the foundations of internet connectivity to transparent engagement and rapid innovation.

These two recent experiences compelled me to share my insights on the early warning signs that you may already be losing the talent war (and by the way, 2.9 million workers voluntarily left their employer in January, the highest level since June, 2008).

1. You’re resisting flexibility in the workplace ~ I haven’t worked out of a traditional office setting since 2000.  I’ve worked with teams of dispersed associates scattered around the country, and now around the world, and we’ve created remarkable value.  Knowledge workers warming a seat in a cubicle does not ensure productivity or innovation.  At a time when, according to the CEB Executive Guidance ~ 2013 report, CEOs are looking for an additional 20% increase in productivity, forcing knowledge workers to waste time commuting to an expensive piece of real estate doesn’t make sense.  The American Consumer Institute reports that over 350 billion days per year are spent community.  The lost work time and transportation expense represents roughly 7.2% of our gross domestic product.

Even worse, the not-so-subtle message Yahoo is telling its employees is, “We don’t trust you and feel compelled to babysit you to ensure you’re getting your work done.”  Gen Y workers are interactive, online, mobile workers.  For them, the lines between work and life are blurred.  Take that flexibility away from them and you wont have to worry about engaging them; they’ll be working for your competitor.

2. You’re still exclusively entrusting psychologists to train your next generation of leaders ~ McKinsey & Co.® published a study in July, 2011 that identified only 1% of “C” level and one step down executives scored excellent in eight core leadership competencies.  Ninety percent scored below average.  The Corporate Executive Board’s Executive Guidance ~ 2013 report identified the top ten, key competencies shared by more than 23,000 current high performers in today’s fast paced, ambiguous business environment.  Of these ten competencies, only three were identified and measured by the McKinsey study. A study published a mere eighteen months ago.

According to a study conducted by Doris Gomez of Regent University, and published in 2007 in the International Journal of Leadership Studies, corporations are spending in excess of $45 billion a year on leadership training.  That’s a breathtaking investment level for the reported outcomes and painfully obvious disconnect revealed by the McKinsey and CEB studies.

I don’t mean to take the organizational psychologists to task.  I’m sure they have good intentions and work hard at their profession.  They simply are not solely equipped to train the leaders we need today and for tomorrow.  Psychologists have long dominated leadership training efforts and leadership development firms.  If they have been so successful, why do we see such a disconnect?  The fact is, leaders develop leaders, not academics that have been comfortably observing on the sidelines, with no skin in the game, while the rest of us are engaged in the day-to-day trenches, actually leading fellow human beings.  Academics enrich the discourse through their research and scientific method, but this needs to be mindfully blended with real world, leadership experience.

3. You’re still focused on yesterday’s leadership model ~ Transactional leadership is about as relevant today as a rotary dial phone.  Command-and-control leadership tactics are the fastest way to disconnect Gen Y and Gen X workers and create cross generational and cultural rifts in the workplace.  Why?  Because transactional leaders focus exclusively on leveraging extrinsic goals and values.  What motivated and engaged a homogenous workforce once dominated by white, male Baby Boomers rings hollow in today’s multi-cultural, multi-generational workplace.

To engage today’s remarkably rich and diverse environment, one must include intrinsic goals and values in their approach to leadership.  Authentic relationships, opportunities for personal and professional growth (Gen Y and Gen X don’t differentiate between the two), and purposefulness, of feeling a part of something meaningful and larger than ourselves, transcends multi-cultural orientations and multi-generational perspectives.  It speaks to how we’re neurologically wired for survival.  It speaks to that which makes us human beings.

4. You’re still focused on training hard skills and not developing the soft skills of your talent ~ Training is fine for health and safety, but it does nothing to move the needle of effective leadership, employee engagement and innovative collaboration.  It is rote and boring (a Harvard study demonstrated that traditional lectures improve conceptual learning by only 14%).  Companies must embrace more compelling opportunities that include experiential learning and environments that support the development of emotional intelligence competencies (research shows that 80% of success in life can be attributed to one’s emotional intelligence, with the remaining 20% based in cognitive abilities).

For years we’ve been told to leave our emotions at home when coming to work.  The fact is, this disengages us from our authentic selves and creative abilities.  Emotions are a part of our primary survival mechanism.  Emotions inform us, guide us, and connect us on a neurological and biochemical level.  This also harkens back to the problem of having psychologists running leadership development.  The mainstream academic field of psychology dismissed emotions as messy side effects until the 1980s.  Shocking, right?  It shocked me when I discovered, while reading Richard Davidson’s book, “The Emotional Life Of Your Brain”, that up until about thirty years ago, mainstream psychologists were entirely enamored with behaviorism.  Progressive researchers like Dr. Davidson struggled to even get approval from their institutions, never mind the funding, to conduct psychological studies that looked into the relationship between the brain and emotions!  Thankfully they prevailed, and the field of Affective Neuroscience was born.

5. You’re still conducting traditional diversity and inclusion training as a compliance-driven have-to-do ~ As an esteemed colleague of mine says, “We have diversity, what we don’t have is inclusion.”  Many organizations still conduct D&I training at the same level of enthusiasm and strategic importance as they conduct health and safety training.  Employees are sent an email, told when and where to show up, and they check off the box for another year.  The demands and pace of business are such that we had better be fully engaging our entire workforce.  And if we’re to capture that 20% improvement in productivity CEOs are looking for, I don’t think we can consciously or unconsciously relegate a single employee to the sidelines.

We need all of our associates to feel authentically cared for and genuinely included in the central conversation of the business.  If we don’t, one of our competitors certainly will.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

3 Comments

Filed under Diversity & Inclusion, Experiential Learning, Health Care, Leadership Development, Organizational Culture

3 responses to “The Top 5 Signs You’re Already Losing the Talent War

  1. S. De Kalb

    A great article, and very true about training senior leaders from the top end of town. I’m more interested, however, in how many organisations go deeper than C-level and one-level further down to spend any real effort on developing leadership skills. From what I see, middle management gets no serious focus whatsoever from people who talk about leadership development. Surely the benefits of doing so would be huge to any organisation into the future…?

    • Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! You’re correct, middle management is provided few resources for professional development. Then companies wonder why the greatest obstacles for change reside at that level of the organization. They’re often left to ‘sink or swim’ on their own. This isolates middle management, imparts ambiguity, which in turn, typically cultivates fear and uncertainty. This is about to become a major obstacle for creating a nimble organization in today’s fast paced economic landscape.

      I was in the Navy and middle management, the Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers, were the ones that actually led the vast majority of the ship’s company. Leadership was imparted in every sailor (not everyone took to it, but it was there as part of the fabric of the culture). Business needs to take note, and invest in similar ways with their front-line leadership.

      We believe you cannot start too early in developing leadership skills: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZl6Ke1YFpM

      Thanks again for commenting!

      Terry

  2. Interesting title to the article – I thought the Talent Wars were already over, and Talent won? In all seriousness, thanks for your thoughts.

    The Yahoo! case is an interesting one, as is the “me too” response by Best Buy, who have been using ROWE for almost 2 decades. The former I can understand – for Yahoo!, it’s not about productivity, it’s about creativity and innovation – and remaining relevant against competitors like Google. Google doesn’t (really) have any work-from-home policies, and that’s never been a problem for them, and the same argument about technology enablement of remote work could be made about Google, except that Google isn’t rolling back the program, they’ve just never really had one.

    In Best Buy’s case, it’s curious – they purposefully implemented Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) and have been a case study for the movement – claiming tens of millions of dollars in savings. Rolling back the program seems an unusual move.

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