I recall an experience I had when working in sales (very successfully), having been mentored and developed by one manager and then was working for another. At a social occasion with a group of us, the manager was pontificating about talent in the team – at which point he turned to me and said – ‘you realise you are not a high flyer’ (HiPo in today’s language) – but he is, pointing to a fairly new sales person. He will go far. He proceeded to put the new salesman on the high potential programme and the guy stalled. Whereas I continued for another successful year in sales, became a manager (my initial aim), left the organization and after two years became a director of a company. Not bad for someone who wasn’t a ‘high-flyer’ at 34.
What therefore do managers need to look for when looking for talent? It’s not just about being successful in the role. How many people do you know have been promoted to manager and failed? Their talent is building relationships with customers, understanding what the needs are and delivering against those needs. Often it’s the excitement of the sale. What it may not be is the day-to-day work of supervising others, managing internal business needs and managing and developing others. That was something I wanted to do and selling was not my passion.
People often come into careers/jobs for reasons that are beyond what they personally want. Peer pressure, family pressure, university or simply to get a job, are often the reasons. They can then get caught up in other people’s view of what is successful and what is not.
Finding and retaining talent is not just looking at someone’s skill or experience, it’s also about trying to understand what motivates them beyond money or sheer ambition. Yes, they need skills and skills, along with experience, can be acquired.
The new paradigm is ‘engagement’.
The definition of ‘to engage’ is to “Establish a meaningful contact or connection”. If we wish to have engaged employees (that have a meaningful connection to the business) then as leaders we need to engage with them meaningfully.
The definition of “talent” is ‘someone with natural aptitude or skill’. What if we assumed that everyone has a natural aptitude or skill?
It’s a matter, sometimes, of both the leader and the person identifying it. By having authentic and meaningful dialogues with people and using a more Socratic or coach-like style of questioning we can not only engage to keep people in the business for as long as is relevant, we can support the employee to find what they truly enjoy.
Had the manager back when I was in sales asked me what I wanted, I might have said I wanted to use the skills I had acquired as a sales person coupled with (what I now know) my aptitude for building good relationships, to manage technical people to bring the best out of them. He didn’t ask and it took me a while to find my passion – and it’s the work I do now. I did manage technical people for a while and realized that wasn’t my passion either.
If we engage we will find out who people really are and what their interests, passions and skills are. If we engage with people, they will engage back and stay longer. When they do leave, they will leave well and knowing they both gave and got value from that organisation.
How do we keep talent in the workplace? Well, paradoxically in this day and age, I believe we can no longer ‘keep’ people forever. However, we can help them stay for longer if we engage fully with them. The young workforce of today – known as the Millennials – look for experience and on-going learning. Don’t assume you know what they want – engage and you will learn.