The Best Weapons in the War for Talent
By Patrick Lencioni - July 2017
The war for talent is real. I hear about it all the time. In spite of underemployment in the economy, there is a shortage of people who have the skills and attitude that so many companies are looking for.
The issue is that there is a lack of people with the right skills and attitude to fill the jobs that great companies need to fill in order to grow. This has given employees a lot of leverage in the job market, and created a very competitive world for companies, hence the war for talent. The solution for those companies is to choose the right weapons for that war, and all too often they are using the wrong ones.
Of course, the most important tool of all in the talent war is organizational health. Healthy organizations will always beat unhealthy ones when it comes to competing for employees. That’s because the best way to retain really good people and attract new ones is to reduce politics and confusion within a company, and create an environment where they can thrive. In fact, without addressing the cultural issues that create organizational dysfunction, every other attempt to retain and attract people will be the equivalent of reshuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.
That said, let’s assume a level playing field between relatively healthy companies trying to retain good people and attract others like them in this competitive landscape. Conventional wisdom says that companies have to get more aggressive about salaries, bonuses, stock options and perks. No reasonable person, including me, will tell you that these variables aren’t a big part of the calculus that employees do when they choose to stay in a job or take a new one. But they aren’t the most important variables. Not even close.
There are three specific concepts that any organization must build into its management practices that address employees’ most fundamental needs. And in today’s war for talent, organizations (even good ones) that ignore these three factors will find themselves on the losing end.
The truth is, employees rarely leave jobs when they are known by their managers and other leaders. When managers take a genuine interest in an employee’s life, personally and professionally, employees develop a sense of loyalty, engagement, and satisfaction that no paycheck can equally inspire. Simply put, when employees feel anonymous, whether they’re a senior executive or a line employee, they are going to be unfulfilled and ultimately more prone to entertain other career opportunities.
Human beings have an inherent need to know that their work matters, that it impacts another person’s life in some meaningful way. Whether that person is a customer, a colleague, a manager or a vendor, employees want to know how their job makes someone else’s job, or life, better. One of a manager’s most important jobs – maybe the most important one – is to help employees understand their relevance, and then remind them again and again. And again.
All good employees want to know whether or not they are succeeding. They need to be able to assess their performance in some objective, observable way, and not merely rely on the subjectivity of their manager’s mood on a given day. A manager’s job is to help employees find the most effective and accurate way to gauge their own success so that they can motivate themselves and have a greater sense of accountability and accomplishment.
If a company were to build these three basic but powerful elements into its culture, and yes, provide fair compensation to its employees, it would drastically increase its ability to attract good people and keep the ones they already have. But if employees feel anonymous, irrelevant and are unable to assess their own success, they are eventually going to be looking for a new place to work no matter how much money they’re being paid.
Companies that focus on organizational health and instill these three principles into its management culture will find that the war for talent becomes almost irrelevant to them. They will retain and attract top talent with relative ease and leave their competitors fighting over everyone else, armed with weapons that are as expensive as they are ineffective.