Jerry Cahn, Ph.D., JD, CEO & CLO at Age Brilliant (.org). Helping proactive professionals create limitless leadership, lives and legacies.
In our previous https://cafe-madrid.com/ article, we suggested reformulating the “Great Layoff” as the “Great Exploration” for many of the more than 48 million employees. A positive outcome of the lockdowns and working from home was the feeling that previous work choices really fell short of their life values and lifestyle preferences. Therefore, employees had to research what they really want from their potential 100-year lifespan.
The immediate response of most companies is to replace the workers to make sure the job gets done and customers are not disappointed. Unfortunately, that’s expensive: companies have to invest time and money in recruiting and hiring new employees. Since most employees want a raise when they change jobs, it’s likely that the new replacement’s salary will be higher. Finally, not all new recruits work—especially if the person doesn’t fit the culture—which drives costs even higher.
Is there another option? The parallel with the Great Exploration of the employees should be a Great Exploration of the company: finding employees who already work for you with the skills you really need for long-term sustainable growth. Current employees have already shown that they fit the culture, so you just need to empower them to develop the skills for a new job.
In Outliers: the story of success (purchase required), Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000-hour” rule as a key to finding top performers. People like Tiger Woods are experts because they invest over 10,000 hours in deliberate practice. Most recruiters look for talent specialists: people with experience in elite schools and companies who make such in-depth time investments. This creates the expensive talent war we have today.
An alternative approach to finding top performers was identified by David Epstein in Reach: why generalists triumph in a specialized world (purchase required). When he researched top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, he found that in most areas — especially those that are complex and unpredictable — generalists who juggle interests are more successful. They are more creative, more agile and make connections that specialists lack. Examples are Roger Federer and Vincent van Gogh.
In 2017, Google, which has a reputation for recruiting and promoting based on technical expertise, conducted Research demonstrating the value of the range. In a survey of their own practices to determine the factors that led people to be promoted to leadership, they identified eight skills that managers promoted that others did not possess. Only three of those skills related to technical expertise (i.e. technical, strategic and tactical execution), and they were ranked #8, #7, #4. By contrast, “five (ranked #1, #2, #3, #5, and #6) are people-management and emotional intelligence (EQ) skills.”
The implications are critical to the long-term success of businesses. Rather than focusing on redeploying experts from outside the company, broaden your perspective on talent by exploring the range of skills and interests of employees in other departments who use similar skills.
Here are three examples that demonstrate the value of scope exploration.
• Years ago, a company suddenly discovered that new employees were leaving within the first year. The reason? Their bosses weren’t much older than them, so the employees realized there was no career path for them. The solution: Middle managers from other departments mentored employees and shared indirect career opportunities. As employees learned to pursue multiple career paths, retention increased.
• Another company hired a statistics director who expanded the position to ‘Research and Evaluation’ within a year. Three years later, his boss, the director of government policy, planned to retire. The R&E director applied for the position and was rejected because he was a “statistics expert” with no policy experience. Still, the employee went to law school in the evening! As a result, when he graduated from law school the following year, he left to work on Capitol Hill.
• Recently, a senior analyst was asked to speak at a financial conference with 200 CEOs and senior speakers. He got the last lock of the conference. After an overwhelming presentation, the CEOs personally congratulated him, including his boss, who had no idea he had these skills.
In other words, take the time to learn about non-obvious skills and interests that employees may have. As the world is ever changing, the main talents are the hunger to learn and the desire to apply what has been learned. Research and identify “rising stars” who want to learn technical, social and leadership skills, and apply them to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Use learning development to develop their skills and interests. You may already have the talent your company needs to achieve long-term sustainable growth.