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Talent Strategy after the Recession

It might be sooner, it might be later – but are you prepared for the shift in talent strategy when we pull out of recession? Your key people may be poised to leave.

Tube Lines Case Study

Since 2008, people across the board have chosen the safe option of staying with an organisation where they have tenure, instead of making the leap to a different company. This leads to internal opportunities slowing to a trickle, and a growing frustration for your most talented people. In fact, in a survey of 18,000 employees in European firms, 1 in 4 indicated that they plan to leave when the recession eases.

How do you retain your talented people once the flood gates open?

Talent is a top commodity in today's workplace. While it used to be that a company would advance over their competition by producing a better product, now organisations are recognizing the value of the talented minds and skills behind that creative process.

As a Talent Manager or HR Director, you're juggling the demands and frustrations of both directors and employees. Directors are urging you to recruit and retain high-potential talent, while those talented employees feel like their gifts are being wasted or overlooked because of the lack of openings while the recession lasts. They are looking to be promoted, and they are prepared to move on.

These ambitious individuals are being told that moving to a new company every two or three years is the way to build a successful career – “You can’t afford to stand still”. One of the most common questions people on our internal career workshops ask, is “How long can I afford to stay with one company?’ Worse, online job boards and social networking make it a lot easier to find a good position – whereas people often complain that it’s hard to locate opportunities inside a large organisation.

The lure to change jobs is difficult to combat, but there is one key thing businesses are failing to do.

This is to educate their people about the FACTS of career management. A new organisation may sell strongly the fancy new title, benefits, and increased pay. But are you being equally persuasive about the benefits of staying? Employees don’t see the high price tag of leaving. They may not appreciate that every time they start in a new company, they're starting again from scratch – no one knows who they are, what they can do or how they work. They don't know the subtleties of how the organisation operates, their track record is meaningless in a new environment, and they have lost the network of people with whom they trade favours to get things done.

The benefits of staying, as well as how to locate great internal opportunities, are invisible to the great majority of your talented people. If you want to retain them, you need to re-educate them about career success. You need to blow away the myths - that moving companies every 2-3 years is the way to get ahead. In our interviews of "high fliers," all top performers in their careers, we saw concrete evidence that the vast majority of these successful people stayed in one organisation for 8-12 years.

That's not to say they stayed in the same job; not at all. They moved up, they moved sideways, they moved diagonally. Some of these moves were planned strategically; but the majority were spontaneous seizing of opportunities they had helped to create.

These top performers all affirmed that internal promotions are based on networking and reputation—and you can't easily take those with you when you go.

So 3 questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do our talented people understand the invisible career assets they hold, and the consequences of losing them, if they leave?

  • Do they understand how to use these invisible assets to find internal opportunities – or are they relying on the ‘obvious’ - internal job ads? (Our research into over 1600 successful careers shows that internal ads only accounted for 9% of the jobs that were regarded by high fliers as key in shaping their careers.)

  • Do they need help to develop the approach used by people who drive fast track careers in large organisations? (Talking to our 1600 people with successful careers revealed that 67% of their job opportunities came from informal sources.  But which informal sources, and how did our group actively use these? 35% of their key jobs came from one source – and it’s not networking!  Unless your people know these facts about career management – they won’t understand how much easier it is to progress inside an organisation, rather than by moving organisation.)
Once employees understand the benefits of staying and the price of leaving, they feel a lot more comfortable about staying. But they then need practical insights and tools to be proactive and build their own successful careers. Career management training is vital, as your talented people need to know this – that if you want to drive a successful internal career, you need to :

  1. Become crystal clear about your strengths and how to convey these in both informal and formal situations. This involves analysis to get a clear sense of direction, and knowing how to drip feed information about what you’re looking for. It also requires practice, and expert help in communicating a clear message. People also need help to start spotting the many opportunities to educate their network in the kind of opportunities that would interest them.

  2. Quantify your achievements – Fast trackers collect hard figures that back up their stories - successful product launches, an improvement in customer satisfaction, savings made as a result of their work. Having hard figures at your finger tips is vital to solidify your reputation and help you move up. Many people don’t know how to quantify their achievements, so fail to put them across with the impact they deserve.

  3. Build and nurture good relationships – and put the word out. Fast trackers find ways to keep in touch, and to activate their networks when they are looking for an opportunity. It may be as simple as responding to an email by dropping in on people; getting involved in initiatives outside your area; or taking the time to write a fuller message on your Christmas card.
This combination of actively building your network by doing favours and letting others know the kind of help you need, is a key tactic that successful people use. Doing this consistently threw up unexpected career opportunities that they might never otherwise have discovered.

Our evidence, based on the analysis of over 5000 job moves of successful people, is that the source of 35% of their job opportunities come from their reputation – so doing great work and building your visibility and reputation is the key skill you need! A further 20% come from their network, and a further 12% come from using their initiative to find, create or negotiate positions. By mid career, these three tactics are often the only source of job opportunities.

Equipping people with facts about careers, and the tactics of those who have navigated a fast track internal career is a great way of keeping good people – because it enables good people to find, negotiate and create jobs that keep them in the organisation. It has other benefits as well. In one company we work with, adding a career management element to a high potential programme helped the company to double its internal fill rate at senior levels. Programme participants got clearer about the opportunities they were looking for, and became proactive in seeking them out. They even acted as advocates for each other, if they heard about an opening that matched what one of their colleagues was after.

The results for the company were impressive. While at one stage they were only filling 30% of senior vacancies from internal candidates, after this programme was introduced, more than 50% of senior positions were filled internally – with a consequent saving of over £3 million.

Talent Directors are uniquely poised to provide the help the employees need to discover the richness of opportunity that exists within your organisation. Equipping people with the skills to drive fast track internal careers creates a strong self-directed drive that moves great people up and across the organisation. There is less need to spend lots of effort finding the right moves for people – they find them for themselves.

If you want to plan ahead, and stop a potential stampede – perhaps you should consider equipping people with active career management skills as a retention strategy.

Find out more about T&P’s approach to career management.

You can download this white paper as a PDF.