Retaining Manifest Talent

Retaining top talent is becoming the key-challenge for companies which depend on knowledge-workers and intellectual capital as the main resource. This article examines the main factors which can help companies in retaining their talented people.

Profile of Talent:

The first step in this task is to have a general profile of top talent in the corporate world.

When we examine some of the latest research, studies and trends in the corporate landscape, we come across two categories or types of talent. The first one is the creative thinker or knowledge-worker with a well developed thinking or pragmatic mind, with the ability to generate new ideas and apply them for problem-solving, improvement or innovation. The scientist, engineer, technocrat or finance pro are some examples of this category. The second one is the dynamic executive and the generalist or functional manager with a well developed faculty for action, with an ability to organise, execute and implement ideas in a most efficient, productive and cost-effective manner. These talented individuals are in general young, career-minded and ambitious, seeking for professional development, fast-track career-growth and quick money. They don’t have much loyalty to their organisation. They are part of the “Me” generation whose loyalty is only to their own ambitions. They are ready to hop and jump jobs and organizations any number of times if it can fulfill their ambitions.

However, there is perhaps at present a growing number of talented corporate workers who have some moral aspiration to make some meaningful contribution to the society. Some of them may have a spiritual, aesthetic or mental aspiration or interests like for example in music, yoga, meditation or reading. They are not workaholics and do not consider work-life as very important. They would like to spend more time in what they like to do or enjoy doing or if they are married, with their families. So, work-life balance is more important for them than work by itself. And finally, an increasing number of this corporate talent pool is women.

These are some of the common traits of the talented worker in the contemporary corporate world. A company or management which wants to retain talent must give careful consideration to this talent-profile and try to create a corporate environment which matches this profile. Based on this profile we can identify six factors which are crucial for creating an environment which attracts, retains and fosters talent.

First is to provide sufficient opportunity for professional and personal development. The young talent seeks for growth, personal and professional. The effective and prescient leader who values talent is well aware of this important factor and gives the highest priority to provide the right growth opportunities to the talented employees under her charge. Russell Eisenstat and his team of management scholars have made extensive research on what they call as “high-performance and high-commitment” leaders who are able to successfully resolve the tension between the need for performance and commitment to people. All these highly successful and effective leaders gave the highest priority to provide the right growth opportunities to their talented executives. As Eisenstat and his co-authors write in Harvard Business Review:

“At the heart of the high-commitment high-performance value proposition is the opportunity for employees to realize their personal and professional potential. Most of the leaders we interviewed regarded the creation of opportunities for their people as one of their most important jobs. In many cases, these CEOs directly taught and mentored the next generation of leaders in development programmes that they had personally designed. They also spent days in personnel review meetings so that they knew where the talent was hidden at all levels of the organization. They were willing to cut through the hierarchy to use high-potential employees as a resource to drive change and lead growth initiatives.” (1)

The second factor is the moral dimension or a higher purpose. As we have indicated earlier, a growing number of corporate workers are seeking for some form of moral satisfaction in work. So adding a moral or social content to work or the organizational mission could be of great help in attracting and retaining talent. As the well-known British management Guru, Charles Hardy explains: “If you want to retain talent you’ve got to create a cause. Otherwise you get a purely instrumental relationship in which I’m earning money or because its teaching some skills which I will go somewhere else and use it. Then you get very short-term thinking, very selfish thinking.” And Hardy states further, “The great and satisfying things in life, I think, is a sense of purpose beyond oneself… it is the organisation’s responsibility to provide such a purpose if they want to retain good people.” (2) There is a growing recognition of the importance of this moral factor in retaining talent. Here is an illustrative example given by Eisenstat and his co-authors:

“At Herman Miller, Brian Walker, (CEO of the company) discovered that the stories employees told about their work in the community – such as 20 colleagues building a school in India with vacation time that had been donated by others, or a joint effort with a creative partner to build a textile that could gather and store solar power for use in the developing world – both energized current employees and served as a powerful recruiting beacon for talented professionals for a larger sense of purpose and contribution in their work.” (3)

The third factor is work-life balance. For the new generation of corporate professionals, their family life or their extra-professional interests are atleast as important as or even more important than their work-life. So, a company which wants to retain talent must create an environment that provides every possible help for its employees to arrive at this balance. As Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi said in one of her interviews, the ideal of work-life balance is to make the employee feel her work-life as an extension of her family life.

In this task, the unique needs of the talented woman-employee like for example maternity or caring for elders have to be given special consideration by the management. Many high-potential and talented woman executives leave their jobs when they find that they cannot do justice to their maternal and other family responsibilities if they continue in their jobs. The corporate world has to find a creative solution to this problem if it wants to harness fully the potentialities of its talented woman-force.

This brings us to the fourth factor, women-friendly work-place. A major and irreversible trend in the work-place is the mounting invasion of woman in every level and domain of the corporate life, which means, as we have mentioned earlier, a growing number of the talent pool are or will be women. It is now recognised by many corporate leaders that talented women are a source of competitive advantage because they can bring competencies and viewpoints which are different from that of men. As Rajeev Dubey, Member of the Group Management Board, Mahindra and Mahindra, points out, “We believe it is an advantage to have woman. We have observed innovation is better. Often women bring with them points of view not expressed by men.”(4) But to harness fully the potential of woman-power in the work-place the companies have to create a women friendly work-place, which means, it must have the following factors built into it:

1. Free from sexual harassment and discrimination against women.

2. Helps woman to arrive at the highest possible work-life balance, showing special consideration to her material and other unique needs and responsibilities.

3. Where woman can express freely her unique nature, competencies and perspectives, which are accepted, respected and incorporated into the company’s strategies, policies or actions.

The fifth factor is individual uniqueness. Ultimately, the key-factor in retaining talent lies in understanding the unique motivational needs of the individual and match them with a reward system which is precisely tailored to these needs. The manager in charge of a talent pool must make a conscious effort to understand the nature, temperament, capabilities, attitudes, values and the motivational or other needs – monetary, emotional, mental, moral and spiritual; of each individual member of the talent squad under her and try to provide the right activity, motivational input or reward system which match the unique individuality of each member. The main thrust of the motivational strategy must be to discover the activity-reward cluster which evokes a deep joy and fulfillment in the individual and as a result lasting commitment to her work. This requires intuition, empathy, dialogue, patient listening and building an intimate personal relationship with a certain amount of detachment and objectivity in judgement.

There are two important facts which we have to keep in mind to arrive at this understanding. First, our human organism is a changing and evolving being. So most of the psychological factors like needs, motives or attitudes change as the individual progresses in her evolutionary leader. Second, behind the changing surface nature of the individual formed around his physical being, there is a deeper and more enduring psycho-spiritual nature with a more stable uniqueness of character. An activity which is in harmony with this deeper nature of the individual can create a lasting commitment to her work. This deeper nature is called in Indian thought as Swabhava. Harvard psychologists Timothy Butler and James Waldrop have a similar concept which they call as “life-interest.” As Butler and Waldrop explain the concept:

“These interests are not hobbies, nor are the topical enthusiasms such as Chinese history. Instead, deeply embedded life-interests are long-held, emotionally driven passions intricately entwined with personality and thus born of an indeterminate mix of nature and nurture.

Deeply embedded life-interests do not determine what people are good at – they drive what kind of activities make them happy. At work, that happiness often translates into commitment. It keeps people engaged, and it keeps them from quitting.”(5)

The key to effective talent-management is to discover this deeper nature of the individual and its natural inclinations, Swabhava or life-interest, and to create a matching activity or reward cluster which is in sync with it. Butler and Waldrop call this task as “Job Sculpting,” which means “the art of matching people to jobs that will allow their deeply embedded life-interest to be expressed.” (6)

The sixth factor is compensation. Those who live in the upper plateaus of their thinking or dynamic faculties of action may not be motivated entirely by money. They love more the intellectual or vital challenge, achievement or joy of self-expression. But this does not mean money is unimportant to them. If they are young they may want to enjoy life to the full with all the comforts provided by technology and at the same time save money for building a secure economic future. For example, Aravind Eye Hospital, (AEH) provides a noble purpose and good opportunities for personal as well as professional development for its doctors and paramedical staff. But still, R.D. Tulasiraj, Executive Director of AEH states, “Retaining doctors is a constant struggle” because, as Dr. G. Venkataswamy, founder of AEH, points out, “Once they get experience and make a reputation, a lot of doctors move to places where they get better money.” The management of AEH is making a conscious effort to improve the situation by giving more monetary incentives and paying market-rates to its doctors.(7)

So, adequate compensation which matches or exceeds industry standards is important for retaining talent. An organization which pays poor salaries to its talented people cannot hope to retain them. There may be a few exceptions to this rule with some unique and overriding cultural or moral factors life for example strong cultural values and nationalism of Japanese work-force or when the individual perceives a promising future possibility in a start-up. But in general good compensation is a vital factor for retaining talent.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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