How to Thrive in Today's Talent Economy

By Matt Davis September 13, 2017
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How to Thrive in Todays Talent Economy

In an economy in which talent is the most valuable resource, collaboration, speed and expertise reign supreme. And while the talent economy boasts extraordinary innovation, connectivity and disruption, it can also promote declining employee job satisfaction, turnover and profitability.

The need to engage younger generations of workers is at once urgent and elusive. As the skills gap continues to grow and traditional workforce practices are constantly challenged, how can HR leaders achieve employee engagement, growth and relevance?

In her new book Talent Generation: How Visionary Organizations Are Redefining Work and Achieving Greater Success (ASAE Association Management Press, 2017), Sarah L. Sladek draws from workforce and talent development research, as well as her own study of generational shifts, to offer a smart guide to energizing employees, engaging their knowledge and creativity, and realizing your organization's purpose.

The author recently answered questions from HR Magazine's Book Blog about Talent Generation and how to thrive in the talent economy.

Why is collaboration so difficult for organizations to sustain?

In a truly collaborative environment, everyone has a voice and contributes. When people understand how their contributions fit into the organization's strategy, it gives them purpose. With that purpose comes belief and trust in the organization, its leaders and co-workers. Purpose and belief translate into higher levels of employee engagement.

As many organizations can attest, however, collaboration is difficult to sustain. After all, collaboration hasn't been the norm in the workforce. Prior generations were raised to be self-sufficient, working in organizations dictated by hierarchies and silos, relying almost exclusively on individual contributions and knowledge. Therefore, it's proved quite challenging to switch to a hyperconnected, on-demand, work-anywhere-anytime workforce in which ideas—and therefore collaboration—become the competitive advantage.

Innovation is often produced over time with a lot of collective sweat equity from many people. This is likely why some organizations struggle to innovate, while others have become renowned for innovation. In the absence of collaboration, innovation is difficult—if not impossible—to achieve. And the longer hierarchies and silos stay in place, the more laggard organizations become. 

What's one thing organizations should do (or stop doing) to make a difference in employee engagement?

It's understanding what employee engagement is and who is ultimately responsible for it. While pingpong tables, snacks, beer and beanbag chairs are fun, great relationships aren't built on fun alone. Employee engagement is the result of a great relationship, and fun is only one part of a relationship. If you want to increase employee engagement, you have to actually engage one another. This means removing the silos that prohibit your organization from approaching talent development and relationship-building efforts as a team.

Companies that understand the importance of employee engagement go beyond the annual engagement survey or company picnic: They redesign jobs, change the work environment, add new benefits, continuously develop managers and invest in their people.

Employee engagement doesn't just happen. It isn't a one-and-done process. It isn't a program or initiative of the business; it is the business. Relationship building must begin on day one of an employee's job and be a continual effort.

Did your research dispel some common myths about Millennials?

Millennials have been typecast as the most difficult workforce in history, and they also happen to be the most studied generation in history. But rather than dismissing this generation as unmotivated, lazy, disloyal and entitled, it's crucial to look at the larger macro trends in play.

Millennials have little to no memory of Industrial Era or command-and-control methodologies and therefore no appreciation or understanding of those processes and of doing things "the way they've always been done." Millennials are the personification of change.

This is a generation that was born into, and has only known, a world powered by the hallmarks of a talent economy: innovation, interconnectedness, globalization and opportunity. Anything else will seem foreign and irrelevant to them. They will struggle to comprehend why the bylaws can't be changed, why decisions can't be made on the fly, why they can't have a seat at the decision-making table and why it's always been done "that way."

How can organizations truly put people first?

A people-first organization discusses employee turnover, engagement and culture as much as revenue, and there's an effort to incorporate younger talent into everything. And its bottom line relies on how well the enterprise invests in its human capital. To put people first, review everything about your organization and ask, "Where are people not the priority? Are we doing everything we can to create an engaging employee experience?" The fact is, disruption is now the norm. You may not be able to keep your employees for life, but they may come back as customers. You want to ensure that your organization makes people and relationships a priority in all you do.

Matt Davis is manager, book publishing, at SHRM.


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