Since the term was first coined and likely long before, companies have engaged in a War for Talent. The trouble is, like many modern wars, winning is a tricky proposition. All too often organizations get suckered into a costly, never-ending cycle of buying marked-up talent from competitors and engaging in reactive, “pay-to-stay” compensation practices when even average-performing employees threaten to leave. After years in the mud-soaked trenches, few companies are better off and fewer still can measure the ROI of these activities.
This isn’t to say that the problem is imaginary. In many industries there is a both a talent shortage and a leadership gap – especially in growth regions. I’m not naive enough to believe that leaders can sit on their wallets, but instead of perpetually feeding the meter for the coin-operated subset of transient employees, they should invest time in people managers who are best placed to keep the broader population engaged.
Talent management is a space race
Employees need to be inspired not bought. That means connecting them to a compelling purpose and positive mission. The talent war is unwinnable. What companies can do is engage in a Managerial Space Race – one that shifts focus from compensation alone and addresses the wider needs of employees. To do this, managers must assume the role of captain and lead their crews via the following three actions:
1. Be the vehicle
Any school kid knows it takes energy to launch. Luckily managers don’t need a multi-billion dollar shuttle to help others reach for next level performance. When engaging the hearts and minds of employees, realize that you are the vehicle. Company programs, systems and training may help, but in the end, employees will look to you for career lift-off.
2. Set the vector
Realize the direction you set is critical. In order to earn employee trust and support, managers must clearly communicate the team’s plan and purpose, what you offer as leader, and specifically what you need from them to ensure mission success.
3. Increase the velocity
Once employees entrust you with leadership, you need to demonstrate you’re up to the job. This is best proven by the speed at which you make them “mission ready”. This can be demonstrated by formal promotions, guided rotations, or purposefully chosen projects that help them excel. Most often however, managerial velocity is much more subtle and can be measured with a simple employee survey. Sample questions include:
- Over the past X months to what degree has your manager helped add to your professional skills?
- Over the past X months to what degree has your manager prepared you for your next role (if desired)?
- To what degree do you believe you are a more valuable employee because of interactions with your manager?
Making the most of this new perspective
Management is a privilege, a responsibility, and role that one shouldn’t assume lightly. C-suite leaders carry a burden to be sure, but day-to-day, moment-to-moment the manager/captain is there with and responsible for the employees.
So how can one measure the effectiveness of this new role? Certainly the suggested velocity survey will help highlight your Aces. Companies should also consider the force of Managerial Gravity each people leader generates. This can be viewed as the internal fill rate for managers i.e. do people line up to be on their teams or do they run screaming at the thought of working for or with these people? You can also expand the input to include matrix-reporting lines and informal relationships to get a sense of how many people are actually influenced by and learn from these managers.
There may be an art to war, but when battle fatigue sets in, inspiration dissipates. If companies and individual leaders shift focus to a space race for managerial excellence they can reenergize their employees and leave the competition a world behind.