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Offer Top Talent Career Security

The War for Talent has now defined the recruiting field for a quarter century. While there has been much commentary about optimizing the candidate experience and building organizational cultures of excellence, the principal tactics in this war have been financial. We have paid top talent more to get them in the door and paid them even more to hang onto them. Both were shortsighted.

According to data from SHRM, employers apparently believe they can buy the commitment of high performers. It compiled two sets of data - one from 2004, well before the last recession, and the other from 2008, right in the middle of the downturn. Here's what the data show: before the recession, 61 percent of employers were paying hiring bonuses to lure top talent in the door. In 2008, in the heart of the deepest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, that figure had increased to 70 percent. Similarly, in 2004, 27 percent of employers were paying retention bonuses to hang onto their talent, and in 2008, that number had grown to 38 percent of employers.

We may talk about all of the other tactics we employ to recruit the best and brightest, but when push comes to shove, we fall back on money. Even in the most difficult economic environments, we pony up to pay more for those with hard-to-find skills and those who are superior performers.

What's wrong with that strategy? The debate goes on, of course, about whether top talent is, in fact, motivated by money. There are studies that demonstrate they are and studies which just as convincingly, show they aren't. For my part, I believe top talent uses money not as a goal, but as a gauge. It is the single best way for them to measure whether or not they are advancing in their careers and, and that growth is their ultimate objective.

But, here's the problem with making financial tactics a key element of your recruiting strategy: Two times out of three, it sets you up for failure. In other words, there are only three potential outcomes with a money strategy and two of them are harmful to your success:

  • You can't afford to pay top dollar to hire the talent you need so you are always outbid in the marketplace.

  • You can afford to pay top dollar, but there's always someone else who trumps your bid and lures the talent away.

  • You can afford to keep paying whatever it takes to hire and hang onto your talent.

The last outcome is, of course, a positive one, but it only exists if you've got unlimited cash or shareholders who don't care about your profit margins.

So, what's the alternative? Focus your value proposition on something other than money. What's that? Well, you can't promise job security, at least in these uncertain times, but you can offer something top talent will value as much and maybe more: career security - a way to achieve their ultimate objective.

Career Security: The Ability to Succeed Successively

Career security is the ability of a person always to be employed and always by an employer of their choice. It acknowledges two realities in today's workplace:

  • First, in an era of global competition, employer needs and circumstances change much more frequently and unpredictably than ever before.

  • And second, in an era of global talent, an individual's ability to contribute on-the-job also changes frequently, but with less unpredictability.

While no company can honestly guarantee a person job security, therefore, it can reinforce their career by helping them acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed successively.

How can an employer do that? By teaching each and every employee how to practice effective career self-management.

There are principles and practices for building up the strength, reach and endurance of a career, and sadly, they've been totally ignored by our high schools and colleges. In effect, those institutions have turned many in the workforce into career idiot savants. They've given their students an in-depth education in a specific field of study, but taught them nothing about how to make a career with that knowledge.

Faculties work in ivory towers that were erected long before the advent of global competition and talent. They simply don't realize that employers can no longer afford to provide career-long guidance and development for their employees. Those workers must now do it for themselves.

The tragedy, of course, is that almost none of them know how. Talented people are defined by their quest to excel - to be the best they can be in their profession, craft or trade - so they are acutely aware of this shortcoming. Indeed, they more than any others in the workforce recognize the importance of this knowledge. They want to know what they must do and how they must do it in order to build up the strength, reach and endurance of their career.

Any employer which fills that vacuum will send a powerful and differentiating message to top talent. They are saying: we care about you and want you to succeed, in our organization and successively wherever else you might be. Yes, of course, we want you to work for us, but we also want you to work where you can grow and excel. That may cause you to leave us at some point, but if you succeed successively, there's a good probability that you'll also come back.

Admittedly, it takes a brave organization to embark on such a strategy. Because it teaches employees to take care of their own careers, it is, in some respects, their emancipation proclamation. However, it is also a unique show of respect for the ultimate goal of those individuals. And for the best talent, there's simply no more powerful and compelling reason to hire on.

Thanks for reading,

Visit my blog at Weddles.com/WorkStrong.

September 2011
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