Wars are won on the home front.
“The home front is always underrated by generals in the field,” British Prime Minister Lloyd George once said, “And yet that is where the Great War was won and lost. The [...] home fronts fell to pieces before their armies collapsed.”
He was talking about the First World War, but the same is going to be true in the Talent War. It isn’t going to be won “over there”, by bringing new people through the door. It is going to be won by keeping the people you HAVE—by growing them and retaining them. They are the engine and logistical supply line of your business.
Let me repeat that: The Talent War is not about how many high-flying aces or star generals you add to your payroll. It is about the execution, morale and support you have on the home front.
My newsfeed is full of dire warnings lately about population shift and the clouds of war gathering over HR. There is lots of advice on how to beef up your war-chest when it comes to recruitment of what will soon be a dwindling pool of top talent. (Jon Stein’s piece in Fast Company last week is a good example of this.) This is all very valid, and I’m not suggesting you ignore recruitment by any means. Some attrition is inevitable and the talent pool must remain fresh.
But recruitment isn’t what matters most. Think about your turnover rates and costs. All the recruitment in the world isn’t going to help you if a chaotic corporate culture keeps the revolving door spinning. And top talent can also be very challenging to manage.
That’s why I was particularly interested in this recently released study by Greenwich University’s Colin Coulson-Thomas, who conducted an extensive five-year investigation of corporate practices and came to the conclusion that where we should be directing our efforts is not to jumping into the Talent War, but to adequately managing our existing talent resources.
Here are a few highlights from Professor Coulson-Thomas’ press release:
- Talent wars to attract ‘the best people’ can push up salary costs, be distracting and involve collateral damage.
- It may be cheaper to work with the people one has and put the right support environment in place to enable them to succeed.
- Large amounts are spent on expensive people who are not engaged, effectively used, or appropriately supported. Views of what represents ‘top talent’ can also quickly become outdated.
- We need more flexible ways of making it easier for affordable people to understand complex issues, and helping them to do important, difficult and stressful jobs.
So how do you keep those home fires burning and win the defensive War for Talent? Here are three suggestions from our own research:
1. Identify and keep your positive outliers – Before you jump into a feeding frenzy with the competition for new talent, make sure you look within your organization to identify the stars you already have and create plans to grow and capitalize on them.
2. Keep engagement high for everyone – Don’t make the mistake of concentrating only on your flying aces and ignoring the bulk of your team players. Cultivate, recognize and reward as many of your positive contributors as you can. Or as Derek Irvine once put it: “Recognize your plumbers as well as your poets.”
3. Keep your core values at the heart of talent management – Those old war propaganda posters had one thing right: A great culture is worth protecting. Employees will stay at a company with what Kevin Sheridan has called a “magnetic culture.” Cultivate a culture with well-communicated and actionable values.
So when the winds of war begin to blow… remember what I said. Concentrate on your home front, and you’ll have a company that employees will not only be reluctant to leave, but that they’ll happily recommend to other top-notch talent. Onward to victory!
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