In his latest article, Winning the War for Talent 2.0 in Malaysia1, Professor Sattar Bawany of the Centre for Executive Education in Singapore comments:
“Lower your prices and competitors will follow. Go after a lucrative market and someone is there right after you, careful to avoid making your initial mistakes. But replicating a high-quality, highly engaged workforce is nearly impossible. The ability to effectively hire, retain, deploy and engage talent—at all levels—is really the only true competitive advantage an organisation possesses.”
I would hazard a guess that most of you agree with this statement. However, it’s what you do about it that actually makes the critical difference in your life and in the lives of the people you lead.
And so, what do you know?
Whether you’re big business or not, you understand that the workforce of today is not the same as that of yesteryears and that you need to learn how to adapt to that reality and engage with talent in a way that they can appreciate. Therefore, while it is important for you to pay attention to your strategic direction, the globalisation of your services, the need to constantly refine and develop your product and the ever-changing bottom line, you also need to place enough emphasis on the people front. The people you choose to bring in – these are the people who choose to work with you and for you.
Some of you have more resources at your disposal than others, but there is a lot that you can do to ensure you attract and retain good talent that isn’t contingent on the money you choose to throw at them or the size of your company.
There’s this ongoing debate around how the Gen Y ought to be managed, how they profess loyalty not unto their employer but unto themselves. I feel that at times, some of the emotion behind such debate is a little off center.
Those who are brought up in a different era will undoubtedly look at things in a different vein. Ultimately however, it should not matter if Gen Y want more autonomy, more information flow or more assignments that truly stretch. What matters is that you can’t force others into a box and make them into little mini-me’s. You can’t judge them according to the standards you grew up in. These differences in the workforce are the result of change, change that you have to accept is part and parcel of development, innovation and advancement. Change resulting from being in a different time and place, of the face of the market and of the pervasive influx of technology in your lives and the consequent ripple effects. Your job, as leaders, is to find a way to make things work, to make your organisations relevant and inspiring and to align the goals of your organisation with that of the individuals you seek to bring to it.
So, how do you find, retain and grow good talent?
1.Networking is critical to ensuring you are able to find good talent
You open yourself up to a bigger source of good talent, and one that is not entirely reliant on your efforts alone. Others are on a search similar to you. They will have different experiences, they may get burnt, learn a lesson or two and be willing to share their story. They may have some good experiences and be willing to let you in. But there is a real skill involved in networking effectively. For one, you need to integrate your efforts online and offline. Spread your reach. Secondly, if you want to be noticed and if you want assistance, the best chance you have is when you decide to focus on giving before getting. See how you can be of benefit to your network. Thirdly, developing your network goes beyond simply introducing yourself via social media or asking people to recommend you or give references. It involves real connection, one that is established at a deeper level and which makes it clear to the other party that you are not taking a copy/paste approach to developing relationships. With practice and driven by the value you can create for others, you may be able to reap rewards by establishing and maintaining your network.
2. Employment references are an important part of this process
Yes, there are limitations to the use of references. You are only likely to provide a reference from someone who is willing to provide a glowing report. The chances are high that you can get a friend or colleague to provide such references. Given these factors, you would therefore want to put in place systems that can overcome some of the limitations of the employment reference. For example, you could do a reference check on the person providing the reference : Is he who he says he is? Bottom line, you don’t rely on references exclusively.
3. You need to develop the skills to find the talent who aren’t looking for you
Let’s face it – if they are good at what they do, chances are they are gainfully employed, very much engaged and they are not looking to move. That is not to say that you have no hope of getting them over. Locating these great talent will take time and may not be smooth sailing but anything’s possible. Be careful though : you need to ensure, before you start, that you are able to make a compelling case for them to reconsider their options.
4. Can you identify good talent when you’re face to face with them?
This is both an art and a science. You need to know not just what to assess but how best to do so. As Carol Quinn argued, in The Truth in Interview Part I2,
“Applicants are learning more about getting a job than interviewers are learning about hiring”.
Skills in itself are not an accurate indicator of job performance. And at some stage, you might have come across the skilled applicant, who was able to outsmart the interviewer and present a picture of herself that, in the final analysis, did not match reality. The question therefore is whether, as an interviewer, you are able to ascertain what you need to look for and have the tools to do so.
5. Understand the importance of employer branding
You put all the things you need in place. You build up a picture of who, you as an organisation, are. You reach out on various platforms – website, social media, offline networks – to create and maintain this consistent image. You understand the value in doing this, you nurture this delicately and hope to build on your successes, layering on, significant ideas of who you are, as an organisation, hoping that it matches the impressions created in the marketplace.
6. You remember the team in place
You remember one thing : the talent you already have in place. These are your brand ambassadors and they too have their own network. You don’t lose sight of this fact as you work to ensure that the impressions you create about who you are, needs hold true internally, within the organisation as well. Failing which, disaster may strike.
7. Wherein lies your focus?
Finding good talent is impacted by your focus areas. Sometimes, it may be easy to forget that everyone brings something to the table. We may each have our weaknesses and no doubt, these should be addressed but the strength movement, is one based on sound principle. Marcus Buckingham, author of published bestsellers, ‘First, Break all the Rules‘ and ‘Now, Discover your Strengths’ is right in asserting that it’s far more about harnessing the best of what you bring to the organisation than addressing what is weak within the individual.
“Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his ‘skill gaps.’ You will find that this one shift in emphasis will pay huge dividends. In one fell swoop you will sidestep three potential pitfalls to building a strengths-based organization: the ‘I don’t have the skills and knowledge I need’ problem, the ‘I don’t know what I’m best at’ problem, and the ‘my manager doesn’t know what I’m best at’ problem.”
― Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths
In the end, you take the best of what you have to offer and make that compelling to the talent you seek to bring in. None of this is rocket science. Talent management frameworks have their place and significance but this is about making real connections, about being human in how you treat people and in seeing the relationship for what it is.
If you can do that, if you can connect authentically with your talent, if you can make them see the vision you have for your organisation, if you can put this across well and see how you can align what you want to achieve, with the growth paths your people are on, that alignment will create a world of wonder, passion and engagement.
1 Appeared in the October 2013 issue of HR Matters Magazine
2 The Truth in Interview Part I
Rowena Morais is the Editor of HR Matters Magazine, a quarterly print publication aimed at Human Resource professionals. She is also the co-founder and Programme Director at Flipside, a business services company with offices in Malaysia and Singapore, providing professional certification training. Here, she provides strategic direction as well as oversight on client training and corporate functional areas. Rowena blogs about developing habits, execution, growth and personal development. She lives in Kuala Lumpur with her husband, two young kids and now, a newborn. Connect with Rowena at email@example.com.