Ilana Meskin
Productivity through People

Employers Beware: The War for Talent is Back

When I left my corporate high tech HR role a decade ago, and opened up my own consulting practice, employers showed little interest in improving strategies to manage their people,  designed to attract and motivate talent. The reason was simple. With unemployment high, heavy layoffs and job scarcity, the economic downturn gave employers all the power. If an employee was not working out, there were numerous equally qualified replacements. For employees, if you were not fully engaged or satisfied, it was okay – you were paying the bills, you could not take chances. In such an economy you just stayed put, and were grateful to have a regular paycheck. You had little power and few choices.Wow, what a difference a decade makes. In today’s thriving economy, there is a shortage of skills and experience, not a shortage of jobs. The rate of unemployment is at an all time low, and the rate of voluntary resignations is climbing.  Demand outstrips supply, so employers can no longer call all the shots. Leverage has shifted to employees and candidates.

The war for talent is back.

It is time for employers to pay greater attention to what they need to do to compete in attracting and developing talent. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ever changing, rapidly evolving, global Israeli economy.  According to the Israel Innovation Authority Human Capital Survey of 2018, “Companies seem hesitant to dismiss employees, while the latter are more inclined to change jobs. The period is characterized by a higher rate of voluntary resignations, together with a notable decrease in dismissal rates, both demonstrating the shift in power from employers to employees.”

I grew up in high tech for over two decades, but have spent the last several years focused on applying people strategies to other sectors, primarily education and non-profit. Although some customization and tailoring to a specific organizational culture is absolutely necessary – people strategy is people strategy.

The techniques and strategies used to attract, motivate and engage productive employees have not substantially transformed over time. Twenty years ago, the buzz words were about embracing a talent mindset, building an EVP (employee value proposition), robust succession planning and differentiated development (some have more talent than others). I would credit today’s terms as more nuanced to incorporate the psychology of motivation: engagement initiatives, employment branding, employer of choice, and the latest one hitting my inbox is creating “the employee experience”. The terms have changed but the critical essence of focusing on motivating people has not. This is the timeless wisdom for leaders. It is time to place people on the front burner.

I have always been passionate about helping people sort through what is going on in their professional lives. Throughout my more than 30 year career, I have followed the research, utilized multiple evaluation tools and surveys, and had countless conversations with employees. In my experience, those conversations have taught me the most about what employees are desperately seeking.  Sadly, a solid amount of my career conversation data can be summarized with some version of “my boss … a jerk”.

There are many global survey databases on engagement of employees.  No matter which one I quote, (the most well known global one is by Gallup) they all back up my career conversation insights. So, a few front burner thoughts for you:

  • There is simply no replacement for a good manager. Your managers are your employment brand.
  • Good managers are not typically born that way.
  • You can’t just say “don’t be a jerk”… There are very clear, teachable skills and effective behaviors – it’s not rocket science.
  • Employees don’t need you to motivate them, they do that for themselves.
  • Managers however, can create the conditions and control the day-to-day environment where employees can thrive and become motivated.
  • Managers have far more leverage and influence than they realize.
  • Far too many management teams find out about the front burner the hard way;  they lose a valued employee when it is too late.

These ideas have been around for a long time, but they are still highly relevant, and not taken seriously enough.  I have never met a manager who did not want to be a better one. Invest in your managers and you will position your organization to distinguish itself in today’s increasingly competitive landscape.

About the Author
Ilana Meskin has over 30 years of experience helping organizations become more effective through people management practices. She “grew up” in two Fortune 500 companies, with deep and diverse experience in Human Resources and Organizational Development. She left corporate life a decade ago when her daughter made aliyah, and founded her consulting practice. She shuttles between Los Angeles and Jerusalem to work and play - with her grandchildren!
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