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Explore Your Company’s Talent Options For Sustainable Long-Term Growth

Jerry Cahn, Ph.D., J.D., CEO & CLO at Age Brilliantly(.org). Helping proactive professionals create limitless leadership, lives & legacies.

In our prior Forbes article, we proposed reframing the “Great Resignation” as the “Great Exploration” for many of more than 48 million workers. One positive result of the lockdowns and working from home was a feeling that prior work choices really weren’t meeting their life values and lifestyle preferences. Therefore, employees needed to explore what they really want from their potential 100-year life span.

The immediate response by most companies is to replace the workers to make sure the work gets done and customers aren’t disappointed. Unfortunately, that’s expensive: Companies need to invest time and money recruiting new workers and onboarding them. Since most workers want a salary increase when they switch jobs, it’s likely that the new replacement’s salary will be higher. Finally, not all new recruits work out—especially if the person isn’t a culture fit—which drives the costs even higher.

Is there another option? The parallel to the employees’ Great Exploration should be a corporate Great Exploration: finding workers already working for you with the skills you really need for sustainable long-term growth. Present employees will have already demonstrated culture-fit, so you just have to enable them to develop the skills for a new job.

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In Outliers: The Story of Success (purchase required), Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000-Hour” rule as a key to finding peak performers. People like Tiger Woods are experts because they invest 10,000+ hours in deliberate practice. Most recruiters seek talent specialists: people with experiences at elite schools and companies who make such in-depth time investments. This creates the expensive talent war that we have today.

An alternative approach to finding peak performers was identified by David Epstein in Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (purchase required). Researching top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, he found that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists who juggle interests are more successful. They’re more creative, more agile and make connections that specializers miss. Examples include Roger Federer and Vincent Van Gogh.

In 2017, Google, which has a reputation for hiring and promoting based on technical expertise, conducted research demonstrating the value of range. In a study of their own practices to identify what factors got people promoted to leadership, they identified eight skills promoted managers possessed that others didn’t. Only three of those skills involved technical expertise (i.e., technical, strategic and tactical execution), and they were ranked #8, #7, #4. In contrast, “five (ranked #1, #2, #3, #5 and #6) are people-management and emotional intelligence (EQ)-type skills.”

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The implications are critical for companies’ long-term success. Rather than focus on restaffing experts from outside the company, widen your perspective of talent by exploring the range of skills and interests among workers in other departments using similar skill sets.

Here are three examples that demonstrate the value of exploring for range.

• Years ago, a company suddenly discovered that new employees were leaving within year one. The reason? Their bosses were not 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 within a year broadened the job to cover “Research and Evaluation.” Three years later, his boss, the Public Policy Director, planned to retire. The R&E director applied for the position and was rejected because he was a “statistics expert” with no policy experience. Yet the employee had been going to law school at night! As a result, when he graduated law school the following year, he left to work on Capitol Hill.

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• Recently, a senior analyst was asked to speak at a financial conference with 200 CEOs and senior-level speakers. He was given the last slot of the conference. After a blow-away presentation, the CEOs personally congratulated him—including his boss, who’d had no idea that he had this skill set.

In other words, take the time to learn about non-obvious skills and interests that employees may have. Since the world keeps changing, the most important talents are the hunger to learn and the desire to apply what is learned. Explore 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 find that the talent your company needs to achieve sustainable long-term growth is already present.

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