As leaders face the most volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous business conditions ever, one thing is clear: Talent is an organization’s most powerful and sustainable competitive advantage.
As a result of the Great Resignation, the talent pipeline in many organizations may be running a bit dry. But, addressing this with creative solutions for attracting, developing, and retaining the best possible employees is among a leader’s most fundamental priorities.
It’s an unfortunate reality, however, that the pipes we’re most familiar with—the plumbing that delivers water to our homes—operate differently than organizational talent pipelines. Whereas water begins flowing upon demand, great employees don’t rush into the building as soon as a key position becomes available.
This means that leaders must continuously have talent on their minds and in their day-to-day behaviors. Best-in-class organizations report that their leaders share four key mindsets that help to keep pipelines well-populated with top talent.
Mindset No. 1: I am in the best possible position to source new talent
Attracting top talent can no longer be an activity that’s delegated to HR. Local leaders are the ones closest to the needs. And often, closest to those who might be best suited to meet those needs. As a result, leaders at all levels must begin expanding their job descriptions to include being a talent scout.
Talents scouts are perpetually on the lookout for prospective new employees. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they look at things through the lens of “How can I make connections that will support our needs today and into the future?” Whether it’s at a conference, reading a business journal, or standing in line at the coffee shop, talent scouts recognize possibilities where others don’t. And they cultivate relationships, even if there’s not an immediate need to be filled.
These leaders are also creative in terms of where they seek out talent. Rather than mining the same tired sources as their competitors, they look in novel places and identify those who aren’t necessarily the “usual suspects.” And when they do that, they contribute powerfully to a rich and sustainable talent pipeline even in our current hiring market.
Mindset No. 2: My actions contribute directly to the employment brand we project in the marketplace
Today information is instantaneous and ubiquitous. Prospective candidates can learn a lot about an organization before ever agreeing to an interview. Increasingly, leaders are coming to appreciate that the company’s employment brand may be as important as the brand reflected to customers. And that brand is the cumulative effect of the culture, behaviors, and policies that affect employees.
Leaders who want to support a positive employment brand must ask themselves:
- How do prospective candidates and employees currently perceive the organization… and how well is this perception serving us?
- How do I contribute to the organization’s reputation?
- What does my social media footprint say about me and about the organization by extension?
- What steps am I taking to deliver on the promises we make to prospective and new employees so they’ll stick around, become optimally engaged, and be able to share their talents to the greatest extent possible?
Building an effective employment brand—one that will attract the best and the brightest—demands attention on the part of all leaders. It begins with cultivating the right impressions in the marketplace, and those impressions must also come to life and create a congruent experience for people who choose to join the organization.
Mindset No. 3: It’s my job to anticipate and understand talent needs and gaps—not just in my department or group but throughout the organization
Effective leaders are constantly scanning the environment to understand how changing business conditions will affect the work of their group. They look at economic, environmental, demographic, political, and other factors to plan for the future. Highly effective leaders also use this information to anticipate and begin taking early steps toward attracting the talent that will be needed for that new future. They recruit and hire today with tomorrow in mind. But taking care of one’s own part of the business is no longer enough.
In the past, talent was frequently treated as a local or departmental resource. Siloed organizations led to fiefdoms, territoriality, and, too often, the loss of key contributors to the competition. Given today’s highly interconnected organizations, geographically diverse, and competitive employment environment, talent must be recognized as an enterprise-wide resource.
Leaders who think more broadly and abundantly about talent understand that we’re all in this together. They see the value of building awareness of the talent needs, not just in their department or group but across the organization. What’s happening elsewhere may be an indicator of challenges to come. So they anticipate and monitor their own gaps and needs while also doing the same at an organizational level. In this way, they are better poised to learn, respond, and share insights and resources to benefit the organization as a whole.
Mindset No. 4: I have a responsibility to help continuously improve organizational processes to support the talent pipeline
It’s frequently said that it takes a village to educate a child. It also takes a village to ensure that an organization can attract and retain the talent it needs to thrive. While HR may own some of the processes, leaders can provide in-the-trenches perspectives. These perspectives can inform improvements to the organization’s competitive advantage. So, “if you see something, say something.”
- Are competitors offering new benefits that are luring candidates and employees away?
- Are your best candidates accepting other offers due to unnecessarily protracted verification processes at your organization?
- Are opportunities for advancement not sufficiently transparent to capture the imagination of prospective employees?
Your visibility to these sorts of things is the first step in addressing issues that may be compromising your organization’s ability to attract the talent it needs.
Regardless of the nature of your business, people are the key to driving results. And leaders must play a central role in attracting, recruiting, and ultimately hiring the people required to ensure a free-flowing talent pipeline.
Updated July 2022