Global Resilience Solutions > 2015 > December

Leadership Excellence: Attract and Retain Great People Part 2

So, talented people are breaking down your door. What do you do next? Back to basics. Forget about what other people say your applicants can do (their degrees and references) and forget about what they can persuade you they can do (their interview skills). What can they show you that they’ve done? What are the basic skills they actually need for their job? Tip: in a lot of cases, skills such as writing, reading, research skills, problem solving and constructive teamwork are things you actually need far more than any of the nonsense qualifications that usually adorn job notices.

So, give them some problem-solving assignments to allow them to demonstrate these qualities. Let them show how their skills and creativity can benefit you. All the people who spend their lives colouring inside the lines, all the people who get ahead by kissing asses, all the people who skated through higher education without learning basic skills can be quickly weeded out, leaving you with highly-motivated people ready to contribute.


How Not to Keep Good People Around

So, you’ve hired creative, talented people who are willing and able to improve your business… and slowly it dawns on them that they won’t be allowed to do that. Maybe it’s a problem of bureaucracy, poor business processes, or simply poor leadership.

Well, that’s no biggie for the employee. Statistics overwhelmingly show that we are living in a post-loyalty economy. The workforce has finally woken up to the fact that, with the era of stable employment ended due to the bottomless stupidity of corporations, they really have no reason to be loyal to any organisation that isn’t loyal to them. If you won’t let them move forward, they’re not going to stick around.

You may have seen and, no doubt, been on the receiving end of some of the many, many ways in which organisations of every kind squelch or drive out talent. Make a note of these self-destructive behaviours, not only to avoid them when you find yourself in a leadership position, but to know when to jump ship when you see them happening around you:

Overloading your team with menial admin: If you can’t keep the administrative burden contained and within the purview of those individuals who have the talent for dealing with it, don’t expect your people to get anything done.

Poor incentive structure: If your people can’t grow with their contributions, the organisation’s finished. Even in a small business, the employees should grow with the business they’re helping to build. You need to make sure that people get both recognition and remuneration proportionate to their contributions, and above all, that credit is not stolen by their superiors. In many organisations, people who are “politically adept” (I believe that’s the PC term for “slimy”) advance, while the competent and talented (read “too honest”) are left behind. Tap into that pool, and see the difference it makes.

Giving people jobs they’re not suited for: People must be able to build careers where their talent and passion lies, and not shunted into something they hate. Even within the same position, employees may find themselves loaded down with jobs that have nothing to do with what they signed up for.

Constant changes of direction: Even in a rapidly-changing economy, you need to give your people a reliable direction and long-term goals to invest their time in. If you’re always reactively changing direction, if the ground is always shifting under their feet, they’ll just give up trying.

Failure to invest in training: If you want the talents of your people to grow (and some HR departments don’t, lest they ask for more money- you can’t have your cake and eat it too), you have to let them continue their training and form connections in the industry.

These are only the problems that directly affect career motivation. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on the many other ways in which poor leadership and defective organisational culture collude to crush the morale of employees (Heck, that’s a whole other list with 45 bullet points!).

But the central and most basic cultural problems that drive away talent are a top-down command structure and a cheap-labour approach.

A top-down hierarchical structure is very efficient for producing cars on an assembly line, but for most emerging businesses, it is a talent-squelching liability. Have you ever had a boss who pretended to consult you on some problem and then did the opposite of what you told him was the only sane option? Or announced a major change of direction as a fait accompli?

The problem with both the top-down structure and the cheap-labour approach is that while both temporarily make things simpler and cheaper for management, the organisation will not grow or improve. Management will never know what contributions their employees could have made, because they actively deter them from trying to contribute.

But if you’re among the leaders who’ve realised that the only way forward in the modern world is to make full use of the talents of your people, then you have to meet them half way. If you want them to be loyal, you have to start by being loyal to them. Your people and their talents should be the source and driver of your growth and your direction, and they need the leeway and the incentives to do that.


The video above applies to a millennial retention effort, although clearly its effects go beyond just that generation. But as you watched it, you may have been thinking, “Here’s a company that half gets it, but only half.” They’re certainly trying to create a pleasant work environment. But that is only half the battle. You can pile on all the cakes you want, but core question for any talented person is, “Are my talents producing positive impact, or are they being wasted?”

You may have experienced organisations that hire “change consultants” to mollify their workforces during a restructuring process. But the problem isn’t the employees’ fear of change. They should be the drivers of change, not its victims. Their ideas and initiatives should be a permanent and abiding source of adaptation for the organisation. This is the bottom line. If your employees aren’t being allowed to contribute on that level, then their talent is going to waste.


Teach a Company to Fish…

Every one of you will at some point be in a leadership position, whether in business, the public sector, non-profits or elsewhere. The single most important thing you can do as a leader is attract and retain talented, competent, creative people with the capacity to improve your business.

In order to do that, you need to recognise all of the poor leadership you’ve ever been subjected to for what it really is- the baggage of a bygone era. If you can engage the creative genius of your people from the beginning of the search process and sustain that engagement throughout their time with you, then talent will flock to you. Remember, it’s all about the basics- not management and employee, but what we can create together.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger
~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.

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