War for Talent

The Performance Paradox

Paradox_000004474493XSmallAt the European Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) conference in London earlier this week, a speaker introduced us to Neuroscience, a clearly complex topic and definitely not something one can claim to be an expert on after a 45 minute session! I did, however, learn 3 key things which I hope will stick with me for more than the duration of the conference, and I would love to share them with you now.

  1. Threat is bigger than reward.
  2. The brain searches for threats every 5 seconds.
  3. The “SCARF” Model.

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KISS and end the War for Talent!

Do you ever sense that things are too complicated? I do. And two things make the feeling even worse:-

  • The increasing frequency with  which it occurs; and
  • The conviction that we are the ones who make things over-complicated.  

Abc_000005448371XSmallThat is why I so enjoyed Steve Roesler’s recent blog “Employee Retention: How About “Thanks!”?  As always he makes things so simple. Here he quotes research that nearly 20% of us are never thanked at work, and over a third of us only hear the words once or twice a year. In other words more than half of us do not get adequate thanks for our efforts at work. Thus Steve does not find it a coincidence that roughly the same percentage has no loyalty towards their employer!

By juxtaposing this with the fact that a Google search of “The War for Talent” results in 138,000,000 hits, he suggests that optimising people is clearly a massive concern and that we are looking in the wrong places.

If you think that is a misinterpretation of the Google results, a similar search of “Employee Engagement” returns 40,400,000 hits.  So it would definitely seem that we are over-complicating the issue. And, possibly even worse, we may be misrepresenting the problem.

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Talent Wars or Talent Waste?

Are people’s capabilities diminishing? Our own observations would suggest otherwise. Likewise science would probably point to the opposite. So why has talk of the “War for Talent” come to the fore over the past 15 years? How can there be a shortage of talent in a world that has more people than ever before?

Something has to be wrong somewhere.

The root of the problem lies in the implicit distinction between talent and people. You can’t actually separate the two. Think of it like this: if your car runs out of fuel the only way you can get it restarted is to refuel. So why do we view 'talent' differently? If you have a shortage of talent the only way you can alleviate that lack is to develop new talent. I am sure you will agree that seems pretty obvious. Yet many people still don’t ‘get it.’ Unfortunately management seem to top the list. They still seem to remain adamant that it is something you go out and buy.

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Talent wars

Talent wars 000015991993XSmallAh, the “Law of Unforeseen Consequences!” It is now 15 years since McKinsey first published their article, “The War for Talent.” I wonder whether anyone – including McKinsey themselves – could have foreseen what this would launch.

At the time of publication McKinsey were responding to the growing global economy, forecasting a looming shortage of people with the right skills to enable businesses to achieve their objectives, and hence predicting an idiomatic ‘war’ as companies ‘fought’ to attract the "talent" they needed. Even with the economic downturn the demand for good people remains and, arguably, has even grown.

Yet, despite this, little seems to have been done to mitigate this need or alleviate the problem. In fact in many ways actions taken by ‘Management’ could be said to have made the problem worse.  Certainly that appears to be the case when the HR Director of a leading international recruitment firm writes about the “War on Talent.” More than merely an ironic spin on McKinsey’s article, this is a not-so-subtle indictment of the manner in which organisations misuse and abuse what they themselves often call their greatest asset. Certainly you need to give more than a little consideration to what the lady says, because she should know. After all, hers is a multi-industry perspective rather than a single organisation one. 

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An Essential Element for Employee Engagement

Are you really surprised?

Sometimes it seems that we research things where we should – certainly if we are worth our salt – already know the answers. Perhaps this is necessary to reassure us and give us the confidence that we are on the right road. Certainly the results of the latest global survey by Blessing White, highlighting trust in senior leadership as an important factor in employee engagement appear to fall into this category. After all, would you really expect people to be totally engaged if they felt the senior leaders were a bunch of ... (you fill in the blank!)

And certainly the conclusion that "Trust the boss" implies is that senior management “deliver engagement.” But is that the correct conclusion?

The “disconnect” showed only 36% of engaged employees trusted their line managers, compared with 75% percent of the total sample population. This is very surprising, not just because the percentage that trusted senior management remained almost constant for both groups at around 50%, but because traditionally HR have led you believe that dissatisfaction with one’s immediate manager is the primary cause of:

  • Employee disengagement; and hence, ultimately,
  • Employee turnover.

Yet here you have more engaged than disengaged people who distrust their line manager – and all while the overall trust in senior management shows insignificant difference. So clearly there is something here that warrants your deeper consideration.

The conclusion that trust in senior management is important may be valid, but do you think it warrants the degree of promotion that it’s given? After all, only 30% of people are engaged anyway. And even for those employees “under half trusted their senior leader!”

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

So if it is not the employee’s immediate manager that elicits engagement – and it clearly isn’t – and it isn’t trust in senior management – which may be a factor, but clearly not as significant as the report suggests, then what does?

Barking up the wrong tree #18562881Are you barking up the wrong tree in your endeavours to win “the talent war” or “the hearts and minds” of your employees? What if engagement is intrinsic? Certainly, that is what I have always believed. It is what the name Zealise is intended to convey and what the solutions we promote and champion offer you - the means to inspire your people to fulfil their own potential. Isn’t that the recipe for true engagement?   

The Talent Trap

Is the HR profession doing it again?

Whether or not you believe that bankers’ bonuses caused the near-collapse of the industry and the subsequent economic crisis that just won’t go away, you might still argue that it is all the fault of HR. After all, no matter what your view,the debate about excessive executive remuneration would not be happening if it were not for the now ubiquitous doctrine of performance related pay (PRP) or incentive remuneration (IR.)  And whether they conceived the notion or were simply followers of the cult, HR cannot escape blame.

For the last three or four decades the PRP/IR net has spread ever-wider. Initially designed to link senior management and executive remuneration to the achievement of objectives, PRP/IR gave large bonuses the respectable "coat of contingency" that made them more palatable. This, however, proved to be the thin edge of the wedge. The trickle down phenomenon soon became a cascade and PRP/IR spread through the ranks to the point that it became endemic, even in the public sector. 

And who can count the cost of that; not just financially, but in terms of the corrosive effect it has had on the workplace? It is no wonder that employee engagement levels have been declining in conjunction with the rise in PRP/IP, for it comes with a narrower and more intense focus on measurement and performance that stifles the human spirit. And this despite the evidence of people like Harry Harlow, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and numerous others, that incentives only work for routine mechanical tasks and for more complex problems can actually have a negative effect. In the light of such research it is perhaps no wonder we have an economic crisis.

Of course you can make excuses for HR for this. PRP/IR does seem so logical. But it was letting the genie out of the bottle. Once introduced it became a monster that was too big and too daunting to put back in.

But you have to ask yourself if the profession is not in danger of making another similar, potentially catastrophic mistake with talent management?

Talent management is rapidly becoming one of HR’s key strategic tools. And – just like PRP/IR it sounds wonderfully plausible, proper and praiseworthy. But the term is dangerous. You don’t hire talent – you hire people. You don’t manage talent - you manage people. You don’t grow talent - you develop skills (albeit from a source of talent.) So while it sounds good to talk about “identifying, growing and retaining talent” you are already in danger of losing the plot. Your objective is to help people to find, develop and optimise their talent and so fulfil their potential.

Organisational TelescopeThink of it as a telescope, with a series of lenses. Each lens helps to make the object (objective) nearer. And when individual and organisation share the same objective you both have a greater chance of success. So the more fulfilled people you have in your organisation the more successful your organisation will be. But it all starts with the person.

If you understand, remember and practice that you won’t fall into the talent trap. You will remember and you won’t, will you?

Talent Management versus Employee Engagement

Do you sometimes wonder if HR has a split personality?

It certainly seems that way at times. For instance take the following 2 statements taken from the same talk by Vance Kearney, Oracle EMEA HR Director.

Statement 1:

“Talent is less available and the only way you can recruit talented staff is if their current employer has made a mistake with them [and they want to leave].”

Statement 2:

“Engagement is a good thing, but we are often ignoring skills and talent. If you engage poor talent in your organisation, you are not going to get the outputs you want.”

There are any number of points that you can take issue with, not least the perpetuation of the prevalent HR tendency to separate talent and people. Is there really less talent today than there was 5 or 10 or 20 years ago? Have people really become less talented? The fact that there are no longer 30 pages of recruiting in the Sunday Times is surely more indicative of the changing nature of the recruitment market than anything else.  

However, you can see the inherent contradiction here, can’t you? If there are truly less people on the market today than there were previously, and people only leave because “their current employer has made a mistake with them” is this not de facto evidence that employee engagement efforts are becoming more effective? Of course that would seem to be the logical conclusion. However, it is not borne out by the latest Gallup survey results which indicate that only 11% of employees are engaged – or to put it another way 89% are disengaged. Nor is the UK, where Kearney is based, excluded from this as this recent report also shows.

It would therefore seem that Kearney’s stark warning that “talent management should take precedence over engagement” is totally misdirected. Not only is the science questionable, but:-

  • Talent comes in the guise of people;
  • People are more engaged when they are fulfilled and their talent is recognised and appreciated.

Infinity ring 000010184406XSmallThus it should be obvious to any manager worth his salt – especially an HR manager – that developing talent and engaging people are one and the same thing! HR will never get it right until they realise this, and headlines like "Internal talent is best - and better than engagement" certainly won't help!  

Hanging on to your elephant's tail?

Elephant's Tail_000016874894XSmallWhat on earth?

I was re-reading Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick” the other day, when I was tickled by his question, “What would you rather have, the tail of an elephant or an entire ant?”

Of course it helps to know the context. After all, unless you are the elephant or an old-school maharajah wanting an elephant’s tail to keep the flies off you, there cannot be much demand for elephant tails!

Actually, the quote comes at the end of the chapter in which Semler talks about profit-sharing and the fact that employees at Semco are entitled to 23% of the profits. Effectively he was the principle “donor” in this arrangement, and he conceded that he felt 23% was “awfully high.” However, he explains his decision to go along with it by saying, “But I kept telling myself I stood to make at least as much money in partnership with a motivated workforce as I would as the sole beneficiary of the fruits of less inspired workers.”

Wow. Here’s someone who really understands the power of ownership and the glorious, potent effect it has on employee engagement.

His point is that employee ownership is what unleashes the true economies of scale and unless you have a fair and equitable basis for sharing profits you are basically operating with at least one hand tied behind your back. And, in case you think this is latent or blatant socialism, he makes the point elsewhere that “Few ideas are as capitalist as profit-sharing.”  

So where do you stand? Do you want to hang on to your elephant’s tail, or do you want the ant?

3 Key Principles for an Engaged, Energetic & Effective Organisation

In another Eureka moment the other day I realised that I have never shared the key principles that drive all my business endeavours. This is despite the fact that they are integral to everything I have been doing and all that I have been striving for.

However, what makes it worse is that these principles are fundamental to all business and commercial activity.

Still, they say it is never too late, so let me rectify my oversight and spell them out now.

Embracing these 3 principles enables you to cut through complexity, reduce the sense of personal pressure and empowers you and your co-workers to build and sustain personal and organisational success. You will also make your life – and theirs – more enjoyable, more fulfilling and more rewarding.

1.    The organisation has a purpose. Any organisation exists to provide a product or service and as such has a clear role to play in the world. This provides its raison d’être and is the central axis around which everything revolves.

2.    The organisation is one team. As long as the organisation is clear about its purpose everyone in the organisation has a part to play in enabling it to fulfil that purpose.

3.    Organisational success depends on every single member of the team. Nobody wants to do a bad job and we all want to make a difference. Thus the more fulfilled and successful each team member is individually, the more successful the team.

You will agree there is nothing radical or alarming here. In fact there is nothing new: it is all stuff you already know but have somehow buried and forgotten. And, in doing so, you have made your own life more difficult. It is no wonder your efforts to restore a sense of engagement, energy and enthusiasm feel futile. How can you expect to inspire others when you are sabotaging your own endeavours?

Of course reawakening to, resurrecting and recommitting to these principles is only a first step. You must still put them into practice. You need to weave them together to craft the organisational integrity that enables you to optimise your people and their potential, inspiring greater personal effort, energy and engagement that powers through your organisation to bring improved performance, better results and sustained success.
So wouldn’t it be great if you had a mechanism to do all this? Well, it exists. And my mission is to help you to find out more about it and successfully shape the new tapestry for your organisation. So why not explore with me how my employee ownership model could help you to win the talent war, transform your organisation and shape a future that benefits everyone?

Reaching for the sky in performance improvement?

Performance improvement. Are you struggling for it? Is your organisation?

Don’t worry – you are not alone. A quick search on performance improvement in Google returned 32,200,000 hits. That’s right, 32 million! If that doesn’t give you some idea of how ubiquitous the subject has become I guess nothing will.

Do you ever feel that in trying to improve performance you are embarking on an endless quest? You wouldn’t be wrong, for it is becoming permanent. That is possibly why the term ‘continuous improvement’ has become almost as popular. A Google search reveals 21+ million hits for continuous improvement: a term which has only really come into the lexicon in the past couple of decades.

Yet there is nothing new about this. Humankind has been doing it for ever, and indeed owes its progress and survival to the innate endeavour to always get better.  Indeed it is a law of life. So there is absolutely nothing wrong with always striving to improve.

And it makes perfect sense that, “Organisations already invest a lot of time and money developing managers to handle the performance of others. However, it's widely believed this is something that most companies can still improve upon to get the best out of their employees." (HR Magazine)

Challenge iStock_000003187407SmallAnd yet, you have to ask yourself how effective their efforts are. I don’t know about you, but I cannot help feeling that they are not investing that well or putting their ladders in the right places. You see, the focus remains on "getting the best out of employees." And surely that is the wrong focus. Don’t you think you would do far better to invest in “making the best of your employees?”

Perhaps you can thank your lucky stars that few, if any, organisations measure the return on management investment in getting the best out of their employees. Yet when you think about it, is it even feasible to do so? After all people determine their own effort; not their managers. And apart from that there are too many other variables involved to realistically measure the management contribution. That being the case, you have to ask yourself if this investment is the best use of resources.

But I can hear you asking yourself, “What happens if I don’t make this investment? How else can I ensure that performance does improve?”

Surely, if people motivate themselves, the answer lies in investing in the people directly: in allowing them to be the best they can be and to fulfil their own potential? For too long we have been “managing”; using status and position to drive others’ behaviour and thereby creating a rod for both employees’ and managers’ backs. Maybe it is no wonder that performance improvement has become such an issue!

For real performance improvement perhaps it’s time to shift that ladder. That would be true talent management. What do you think?