5 Keys to Manage Your Talent Risk

Talent and innovation are at the top of the minds of global CEO's according to PWC's 14th Annual Global CEO Survey. People issues are now at strategic center-stage for corporations around the world.

It is troubling then that Sarah E. Needleman of WSJ reports, based on a recent Mercer survey, that 40% of employees ages 25 to 34 and 44% of those 24 and younger have one foot out the door. Mercer's survey mirrors the Conference Board's Survey of earlier this year that showed how employees were the unhappiest they have been in 22 years of tracking job satisfaction rates. CNNMoney also reported that  84% of Americans are unhappy with their current job (see Shawn Achor on "The Happiness Dividend"). That which is most crucial to CEO's at this time is at greater risk than it ever has been in recent history.

Consider the costs associated with replacing and retraining talent. Add to this cost, the strategic risk that exiting talent could take knowledge and IP with them for use in their own startups or in their new jobs with competitors. Clearly, the risk of talent loss should now be a primary focus of risk management for corporate leadership. The management of this risk cannot be delegated to HR because the solution to talent flight lies in the hands of line managers, not HR.

What are the tools that management can use to engage, inspire and retain talent? Achor argues that employee happiness is the guardian of the talent gate:

...the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce. A decade of research proves that happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome: raising sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%, as well as a myriad of health and quality of life improvements. Yet even those companies that do take leadership training seriously still ignore the role that happiness plays in leadership effectiveness.

True, but happiness is an elusive property as it is an output of the way we live and the choices we make. Can leaders be expected to significantly impact the happiness of their teams? Isn't each of us responsible for finding and living our own happiness? The answer to both questions is yes. We are each accountable for our own happiness. However, just as a boss can make people profoundly unhappy and be the single biggest cause of employees leaving their jobs, a leader can be equally profound in creating the conditions in which employees can experience happiness at work.

Happiness does not mean convenience, comfort, entertainment or fun, and it is not a leader's responsibility to provide any of these feelings in his or her team. Happiness does mean that we feel we are doing what we were put here to do and are in the company of people we enjoy and admire, and it is the responsibility of a leader to make sure that people are doing what they are put here to do, and it is a leader's responsibility to be someone that the people in their teams admire. The reason these are a leader's responsibilities is not so that his employees are happy. Employee happiness is not the measure of leadership effectiveness. The measure of a leader's effectiveness is the degree to which employees are engaged in their work, and the quality and scale of the contribution they make to the purpose of the organization, to its strategic objectives and to serving its customers.

The more effectively a leader helps employees align their personal purposes with the work they do, the more engaged they will be, the more contributive...and the happier. This skill, to align personal purpose with a person's work, does not come in the standard management toolbox -- but then it is time to reinvent what Gary Hamel calls "the technology of human accomplishment," and Lead by Greatness is one of the tools for this reinvention. Aligning peoples' personal purposes with the work they do is not a functional skill, it requires character from a leader and true human greatness.

To align your employees' personal purpose's with their work it might be helpful if you sought out frequent moments, not necessarily in long sessions, to get to know what truly drives your employees. Here are five things you should know about them:

  1. What are their passions, what activities energize them and what drains them of energy?
  2. What is the story of their lives, for in their story you will find the experiences that have molded who they are and that have made them unique?
  3. What is their unique portfolio of capabilities that can set them apart as ideal to contribute to a particular task, project or facet of one?
  4. What are the beliefs that inform their choices and for which they would be willing to suffer discomfort or loss?
  5. What would they be doing if money was not an issue for them?

From the answers to these questions you can begin to get a sense of what makes a particular individual unique, and how to employ their uniqueness in the work they do in order for them to give of their best.

Can you answer these questions about your team right now? If the answer is yes, then start checking that they are using the best of who they are in the work they are doing; and if not, consider what modifications you might be able to make. If you do not know these answers, it is time to get to know your team...on a deeper level than you might have in the past. When you do, it is not only they who will benefit. Your connection with them will nourish you more, you will learn from them and respect them more, and your job of leading them will be even more personally enriching than it was before.

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