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Act or face an exodus of talent

Tuesday, October 20, 2009   

With the post recession recovery well under way, talent-wise, who will be the winners, the losers, and the ones who didn't even realise there was talent war until it was far too late?


In this feature we look at the challenges faced by the people ultimately in charge of organisational performance in relation to talent.

Let's first create some perspective here.  In virtually every firm right now there are people who, over the past year or more, have seen their friends and colleagues made redundant, will have had to carry the workload of those departed, and will be generally feeling unloved and hard-done-by as management teams have forgotten the niceties of employee communications whilst struggling with trying to keep the majority of employees in work. 

Whether justified or not, some of these employees are angry, some of them are calm and collected in their thinking.  Either way many people have been biding their time, waiting for the labour market to start moving again, so that they can vote on their perceived treatment with their feet.

And just like after the last recession, vote they will - and it's often the people that employers can ill-afford to lose who will be targeted and wooed by recruiters.

The question that all organisational leaders should be pondering is this: are we going to take first mover advantage and act now, or wait around 'just in case' and thereby risk being acted upon?

First mover advantage?

Throughout the economic downturn, some firms have been using the dynamics created by questionable employer behaviour to create competitive advantage for the recovery.  By this I mean, despite having to rationalise some areas of the workforce, at the same time they have seized opportunities to recruit key talent from their competitors - diminishing that competitor talent pool whilst boosting their own.  The reason I know this to be fact is because my firm has played an active part in developing and executing such strategies for the past two years for talent savvy clients.

It is no coincidence that these firms are always out ahead of everyone else in their respective markets in virtually every respect.  To these firms talent is everything and they never allow themselves to lose this focus, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

Rogers adopters curve.jpg

By way of illustration I have taken and rather crudely adapted the Roger's Adoption Curve, which breaks organisational behaviours into Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards.  If you are not familiar with the model a simple explanation can be read by clicking the link here 

As the illustration below shows, the Innovators have never really stopped recruiting, taking their opportunities where they can. Early Adopters started acting the moment signs that the pit of the bust had been passed through and are already well under way in repairing any damage to their employer brand and actively boosting their talent pools.

The bloodiest battle is likely to be in the middle ground where almost 70% of jobs lay, within the Early Majority and Late Majority.  Leaders of organisations that fall into this category need to be on their guard against the trap of 'Old HR' thinking.       

recruiting curve.png


The previous post on For The Want of a Nail recalled how the winners in the last recession took compeitive advantage by seizing the opportunity to attract key talent from their competitors.  Confirming that the same patterns are about to be repeated, my own firm has already overseen two client campaigns in this area; looking at where the talent gaps will be soonest felt, using market intelligence to pick the right messages and actions to take advantage of the mood of competitor workforces.

Sounds like warfare tactics, doesn't it?  Well be certain of one thing:

The war for talent hasn't gone away, hostiities have just been postponed whilst the banks had their crisis. 

Before the unsuspecting know what's hit them, key people will be heading out of the doors and, depending on what actions are taken now, that trickle could soon become a flood.  Before they know it, firms will find themselves firmly back in a skills crisis.  Remember that?

There's plenty of people out of work, aren't there?

It has been suggested to me that a shake up of the workforce might not be a bad thing, seeing as there are so many people who will, apparently, be glad of a job.  I've no doubt that this is the case at some levels.  My views on this stance can be summarised with three questions:-

Q: How many firms do you think released their best people, compared to those who took the opportunity to move on those who, in truth, probably weren't performing anyway?

Q: Would you be so relaxed if your top ten people anounced, say, in December that they've been made an offer that they can't refuse?

Q: When you've replaced those key people with those who were glad of a job, trained them, suffered the negative impact on productivity whilst you recruit and integrate them into the business, will you wish you had been more proactive in keeping the talent that was already on the payroll?


Exactly the same happened after the last rececession. Maybe such people think that redundancies have been badly handled or have bee opportunistic actions to cut costs?  Almost certainly many people are being asked to pick up extra workload previously for no additional reward.  It could just be a matter that th


Those HRDs who are able to lift the FDs head away from balancing the books by more cuts, and instead concentrating on increase sales, market share and productivity, will be the ones who win in the long term.  Conversely, those who wait until key people start disapearing out of the doors and into the likes of the clients just described, will find themselves very firmly on the losing side.


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