The War for Talent – and the option for pacifists!

The War For Talent

Another copy of People Management drops onto the doormat and once again I am reminded about the potential for Human Resource Management to help negotiate the credit crunch.  My favourite piece of advice –  ‘Look for ways of saving money without laying people off’! – Just wrong in so many ways.  How do ‘membership magazines’ get away with such dross?

And then there are the usual mantras about talent management, talent recruitment and talent retention.  There is even a glossy supplement on Recruitment Marketing that shows just what lengths some organisations go to in order to recruit the best.  Pictures of gyms, yoga classes and the Bourneville Sports Ground all provided to help retract and retain talent.  Articles headlined ‘The Talent Crunch’ – and then over 30 pages of very expensively crafted and placed adverts many of them from organisations that consistently under-invest time and money in people development.  (They obviously take the CIPD advice seriously and see training as a place where you can ‘save money with having to lay people off‘.  Indeed it even saves you the expense of redundancy as you can watch your talented people walk out the door on their own volition!  Double bubble!  Indeed many of the recruitment ads are from the NHS where the recent Healthcare Commission report showed that the chances of you getting even an annual appraisal that you feel is helpful are less than 1 in 4!

Most wars are stupidly expensive and damaging – and the war for talent is no different.

This is because people have an innate and practically limitless potential to learn and develop.  Some people have switched on to this potential and been developing it successfully for a while (this is what we mean by talented).  Others have not yet learned to believe in and develop their potential.

So if you really want to develop a great team of talented people don’t join the talent recruitment wars.  Instead fight for more engagement with people, more feedback, more coaching and more work based opportunities for development.  Fight for the right of every person to be supported effectively, frequently and professionally to develop their own potential.  Practice the rhetoric of investing in people instead of flying the flag for it.

Don’t head hunt other peoples talent.


Not only will you find remarkable talents in some quite unexpected places – but you will also get a reputation as a place where talent can flourish, people can express themselves and explore and develop their potential – and that is more appealing to talented people than the sexiest job advert or well appointed gym.

How Not to Inspire a Green Revolution – or anything else

I awoke this morning to hear the following rallying(?) cry on the Today Programme:

‘We need nothing short of a green revolution…if we are to hit European targets on climate change’.

I didn’t catch the speakers name – but the last reason that we need a green revolution is to hit European targets. In fact I can’t think of a worse reason for a revolution.

Yet many managers use this kind of pathetic rhetoric on an almost daily basis.

‘We need to improve training and development as part of our pursuit of third star’.

‘We need to improve boys literacy at Key Stage 2 if we are to get a good inspection’.

‘We need to increase sales if we are to hit our targets’.

Most people do not care about targets or inspections.

They do care about doing a great job, doing the best that they are capable of and making a secure living. So we should be saying:

‘We need to improve training and development so that we can deliver the very best public services that we can’.

‘We need to improve boys literacy at Key Stage 2 if we are to be a great school’.

‘We need to increase sales if we are to increase our profitability and grow the company’.

Perhaps the most inspirational speech ever is Martin Luther Kings ‘I have a dream speech’. Here is an excerpt:

‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.’

In the hands of the unknown revolutionary on the Today Programme this might have become:

“I have a plan that one day we could pass some really good equal opportunities legislation and pursue some really ambitious diversity targets.”

Management is a Team Sport

I get to work with a lot of businesses.  Some of them are successful.  Very successful.

And all of the successful businesses have one thing in common – a successful management team with diverse talents.  Between them they are able to produce a great product or service, market and sell it brilliantly and have in place first class financial management, planning, forecasting and controls.

If good management teamwork is a pre-requisite for a successful organisation then why are so many management development programmes designed to work with individuals and to promote the cult of individualism rather than good management teamwork?

Making Progress in a Mature Team

I came across a particular challenge recently working with a public sector manager who led a pretty high performing team. The team which is pretty mature and stable were acknowledged to be doing a good job – but the manager was finding it hard to find ways to further improve performance.

One of the challenges that has to be confronted here is complacency. The belief that it is enough to keep doing what we have always done. This carries with it two risks that I can see. Firstly, other teams will continue to improve and suddenly what used to look like good performance becomes mediocre as others reach higher standards.

Secondly performance might tail off in real terms as the job becomes less challenging and team members start to ‘sleepwalk’ their way through the work.

Urgency is not an issue for people who have been asked all their lives to maintain the current system like a softly humming Swiss watch. This is a recipe for good – but not great performance.

So what to do?

You need to ensure a sense of urgency and importance around continual improvement. Always looking for ways to get more done, more effectively at lower cost. Never believing that good is good enough. Always pushing at the boundaries of excellence.

For managers who value getting things done the ‘right’ way this desire to continually push for innovation and change can feel uncomfortable. They sometimes value consistency over excellence. Similarly managers who value strong relationships can feel very uncomfortable asking already solid performers to produce more.

You should also recognise that for an already high performing team the challenge it to move closer to the leading (bleeding?) edge of performance. Our performance is good – but is it really the best? What behaviours and skills could help to taken our work to an even greater level? Care should be taken here in working out what this ‘next level’ looks like. Sometimes it might be about more efficient practice (costs down). Sometimes more effective practice (value up). Sometimes a combination of both. But we have to be able to answer the question ‘In which direction does progress lie?’. This can take time and energy and is not likely to happen in change resistant teams and cultures. It will also require some tolerance of risk and failure in pursuit of excellence which can be difficult in risk averse cultures.

Whack a Mole Management

If you have been to one of my training sessions there is fair chance that you have heard me rant about whack a mole management. Whack-a-mole is an arcade game in which you try to hit ‘moles’ that pop up randomly on a board using a rubber mallet. Every time you hit a mole, you get a point.

It’s fun and people experience a ‘high’ as pent-up energy is released by whacking the moles. The challenge of not knowing where the next mole is coming from adds to the excitement.

Whack-a-mole management is based on the same principles.

The challenges are the ‘moles’. As each challenge presents itself to managers, they hit it hard and fast with the hammer of position and conventional wisdom. Slam! They get one. Slam! They get another one.

It requires quick decision making in a fast moving game. It’s exhausting, but fun. Each night the players go home, knowing their job is safe because they have successfully ‘whacked’ enough organizational problems to stay for another day.

Problem One: Whack-a-mole lures people in because it works in the short term
Problem Two: Whack-a-mole management is more concerned with looking good than with being good.
Problem Three: Whack-a-mole management always ends by making things worse

Want to learn more? Try this blog post over at Slow Leadership

Why Managers Fail

This is the title of an interesting blog post by Lisa Haneberg – author of High Impact Middle Management – which has much to recommend it.

She offers a top 5 list of reasons why managers lose their jobs:

  1. Fail to build positive and trusting relationships.
  2. People don’t like working for him or her (micromanagement the #1 complaint).
  3. He or she does not get things – the right things – done.
  4. Is uncoachable. They don’t take help.
  5. Is full of bull – does not have the courage to be honest about what was going well and where things were not going well.

So if we invert this list would we have a compelling recipe for management success?

  1. Succeeds in building positive and trusting relationships
  2. People like working for him or her
  3. He or she regularly gets the right things done
  4. He or she is very coachable.  Always open  to learning.
  5. Has the courage to be honest about what is going well and what is not going so well.

121s, Covey, and Priority Management

Time and Priority Management Quadrants - Covey

Another reason why 121s are so powerful dawned on me this morning.  And it relates to the Stephen Covey Priority and Time Management Quadrants shown above.

121s almost compel you to focus on quadrant 2 type activities.

Quadrant 1 stuff has to be done almost immediately- it can’t wait for a 121.  And who is going to continually bring quadrant 3 and 4 items into play with their manager?

So the existence of 121s more or less forces attention onto the important but not urgent quadrant which is the one where the greatest value tends to be created.

So pay attention to the content of your 121s and see what you can do to bring the focus onto quadrant 2.

Affirming Feedback and Praise

I meet a lot of managers who confuse praise with affirming feedback.

Affirming feedback is a tool used to:

  • make someone aware of a specific behaviour or action that they have taken,
  • understand specifically the positive nature of the impacts of that behaviour or action,
  • increase the chances of further examples of that behaviour or action in the future.

Affirming feedback is a powerful tool primarily for influencing future behaviour.

Praise on the other hand is about the past.  It is about ensuring that someone feels recognised and valued for something that they have done.  It is usually MUCH less specific than feedback and sometimes given with much less clear intent.  It is just as powerful as affirming feedback and effective praise should be encouraged.

However, praise is not without its risks.  If praise is:

  • ill timed
  • embarrassing
  • diluted or over-inflated
  • undeserved

It can certainly do more harm than good.  For more on the problems of praise read this post.

10 Ways to Make Your Employees Love You

This is the title of a great blog post written by Alison Green.   Now I am not sure that we necessarily need all employees to love us but I bet that her list (which I have paraphrased below) contains some insights and clues into how most of us could become MUCH better managers.

  1. Don’t shout, disparage or attack people – nor employees, not customers, not bosses.
  2. Be reasonable. Hold people to high standards, but that don’t demand the impossible.
  3. Keep your word.
  4. Make your team feel respected and valued: Act in ways that show you care about their quality of life. And don’t underestimate the impact of regularly making sure great employees know you think they’re great.
  5. Solicit feedback. Ask for input on everything from how the employee thinks last week’s event went to what you could be doing to make her job easier.
  6. Stay focused on results. Don’t have rules and policies for their own sake; make sure each is connected to an actual business need, and be willing to bend the rules if it makes sense overall.
  7. Workout what people need to do their job better, and help them get it.
  8. Recognise and take the difficult decisions as well as the easy ones
  9. Be honest about performance problems.
  10. Don’t assume you know what’s going on.

Top Quote

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders.

Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Antoine de St. Exupery

  • What are you teaching your team? Really?