Talent is always the most valuable commodity in a business. Everyone says it. Most everyone knows it. Bestseller after bestseller on The New York Times list confirm it. I enjoyed reading Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code as much as anyone.
Yet, most companies struggle to go beyond putting up posters that say: “People are the most valuable asset we have.” It is the companies that truly recognize the value of talent – and how best to recruit, nurture, harness, and retain it – that are the most productive and profitable. Employees who see the virtue in their talent, and the importance of cultivating it, can clearly write their own tickets.
But wait, I need to pause for a minute. After I wrote this blog, I realized something was missing, so I’m coming back to inject a thought right here. What I’m writing about can only be effectively applied if you – as a boss, leader, co-worker – view the world through equal eyes. This means if you’re a bigot or can’t believe everyone is equal regardless of where they are along the gender spectrum, then don’t waste your time reading any further. Of course, there’s a good chance you (or I) are unconsciously incompetent on matters of equality, so for all of us, it’s always worth taking a good, hard look in the mirror on a regular basis and asking for feedback from friends (and non-friends)… but now my sidebar has gone on far too long, so let me get back to the topic at hand.
An Unproductive, and Frankly Stupid, Management Strategy in Many Companies
The reality in many companies is so stereotypical it has become a caricature. The typical boss pushes and squeezes and demands performance, and then just squeezes harder when the employee doesn’t deliver the result. The employee stops caring, only works at what the boss can see, and doesn’t really give a sh#% about the company, the clients, and just doesn’t want to do the work at all anymore. It is a miserable model that will never lead to long-term success for the company or the employee. The only upside is that it’s made the Dilbert cartoonist and The Office TV show creator into wealthy celebrities.
So, what gives? Why has this been the way if it doesn’t actually work?
Managing talent is not easy work. It has been a moving target for much of the last century. There was the paternalistic (yet anti-Semitic) model introduced by auto magnate Henry Ford, which fed into a begrudging partnership enforced by public- and private-sector unions. This broke down in the 1980s when economic collapse and competition ripped apart the prickly alliance between employer and employee. The Millennials are here, and Gen Z is knocking on the door wanting integrity and authenticity in the workplace. For a generation raised with electronics and social media, they know how easy it is to play pretend in the electronic world, to manipulate an audience with a photo filter, or the search engine optimization (SEO) behind an online story. While these tools are familiar, many of them want to know there is more substance in their work.
Thankfully, innovation, global competition, new generations of employees, and emerging staff shortages are requiring an overhaul of workplace relationships and the adoption of a new and better model.
A New Model: Deserve Your Talent
Equitable employer-employee covenants are the new gold, with boss and employee held accountable. In the good ones, there is strategic planning meant for both, with career paths, skill development, and job satisfaction giving equal billing to the tasks, priorities, and projects.
This is the landscape for our Deserve Your Talent model, where employers create a culture of never-ending learning and reinvention to develop skills and retain employees while achieving greater levels of operational success. Employees in many ways are their own masters, adapting, excelling, and owning their personal potential now and in the future. To have a remarkable partnership between employer and employee, both must be given room to grow that acknowledges their contributions and responsibilities in the long-term advancement and success of both the company and its people.
Adopting a Deserve Your Talent model requires internal strengths, creating the capacity to dip into a pool of skilled professionals who understand a company's history and culture. This reduces turnover and failure rates that come with external hires. According to the American Management Association, organizations that filled 25 percent or more of middle-management positions with external hires have double the turnover of those that choose to elevate homegrown candidates.
The goal of a Deserve Your Talent strategy is to find, train, and elevate employees with high potential who are already inside the company. The first stop is always in-house for promotable talent and not Craig’s List or a headhunter. You make this known in the company, and employees begin to strive for more. High-performers who are confident in their own potential have better opportunities and know they will be rewarded.
For employers, it is critical that Deserve Your Talent becomes a process and not propaganda. To preserve talent inside the organization, employers must seek out potential and foster it. Invest in aptitude rather than hiring a resume. See your current employees for who they can become (rather than who they are). Remember where you were five or 10 years ago. Provide experiential training and honest feedback, maintain the ebb and flow of talent, and encourage employees to take the steps necessary to grow.
In this approach, rather than squeezing and choking every last bit of work out of our employees, we can relax a bit. And breathe. Then we can take a look at what is working and what isn’t and try to figure out what is choking off their proverbial airway. Maybe they just need more oxygen, more space? Or a barrier removed physically, mentally, politically? We work to see the aptitude even when the employee can’t see it in themselves, and try to identify the things preventing that aptitude from blooming. Sometimes you gotta change the soil they are planted in or change the plants around them or add different nutrients, and voilà, that seed that wasn’t sprouting can now turn into a solid oak tree.
For employees, Deserve Your Talent is empowering but comes with responsibility. It means owning your potential and taking responsibility for your progress. While employers provide the fertile soil, only the employee can grow their fullest selves through self-examination, openness to learning, hard work and rigorous habits, and assertively fostering their own growth, both personal and professional.