Talent Management in Times of Change | CSQ

The only constant in this ever-changing business environment is change. Organizations usually plan for changes well in advance, but sometimes changes are driven by unpredictable and rare external events, shocks or crises. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of such an external shock that has prompted many organizations to implement rapid and sweeping changes in the way they do business. However, some organizations make serious mistakes by initiating the transformation process by changing organizational structures and policies without paying much attention to organizational culture, which is essential for effective talent management.

The importance of talent management in times of crisis and change is hard to overstate. Talented employees are always in demand – in a good economy they are your most valuable assets, delivering extraordinary value, while in bad economic conditions they are the ones who can keep your business afloat and the competition at bay. In times of change, talent is the only real strength that organizations can count on.

Lately, talent management issues have emerged with even more intensity. Everyone knows the ‘big quit’, the ‘big shake-up’ or the ‘big retirement’ – all of these describe one thing: when talented people leave their organization in large numbers, without looking back. People have different motivations for leaving, but almost all of them can be summed up in one important reason: their company is not (or may no longer be) a human-centric organization.

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According to 2022 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends, the human-centered organizational culture has recurring characteristics: flexibility, asynchrony, trust, belonging and a holistic approach to well-being. To initiate organizational change, senior managers must first address the existing culture, and to do so, they must listen to their employees. Employees’ opinions, perceptions and buy-in will determine success in the changes ahead.

Here’s what employees say when asked what their top priorities are in a changing company culture, in order of importance:

  1. Professional development opportunities
  2. Flexible work support
  3. Mental health and well-being
  4. Train managers to lead remote and hybrid teams
  5. Diversity and Inclusion

It is essential to note that some organizations, trying to follow popular trends, fail to take into account what employees really want, leading to negative consequences and abandonment behaviors. While the last two wishes (training managers to lead remote and hybrid teams, and diversity and inclusion) are a bit self-explanatory, let’s look at the first three wishes that employees ask for by name.

1. Professional development opportunities

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When considering providing employees with professional development opportunities, it is important to emphasize the following strategies:

  • Establish clear career paths: In smart organizations, all employees are given a clear career roadmap, so they know what to expect and what to work on.
  • Promote continuous learning: The most successful strategy for many organizations involves the creation of internal learning centers, where companies develop the managerial and leadership skills of their employees and provide training for key job skills.
  • Regularly review professional achievements: In order to provide opportunities for career growth, some successful organizations regularly review personal accomplishments, measure them against predetermined goals, and set new goals based on both personal performance and business goals.

At the same time, companies need to communicate that they value their top talent, as these highly productive employees may consider leaving if they feel their work efforts are undervalued. More importantly, however, is do not create false hopes. Inconsistent expectations often cause employees to leave and, alternatively, well-managed expectations are a powerful retention tool. Setting expectations explicitly, fostering an environment of mutual trust, and recognizing that individual expectations change over time are some of the most successful techniques used in this area.

2. Flexible work support

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Flexible working arrangements have become a key value proposition for employers as employees want flexibility in where, when and how they work. Although many employers are now preparing to welcome their employees in person again, most understand that there is no return to “business as usual” and that the “new normal” will be hybrid. The question for organizations is how to manage and thrive from these developments. To provide flexible work support, managers need to establish mutual trust. Other strategies include establishing clear guidelines around working remotely, creating a level playing field for all employees, focusing on results not hours, and helping employees to establish boundaries between their work and their private life (for example, by letting them switch off from time to time).

3. Mental health and well-being

When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, it’s critical that employers give employees more buffer time between tasks and meetings to allow them to refocus and recharge. Train managers to be empathetic leaders by encouraging (and rewarding!) them to offer emotional support to their employees and to look for signs of emotional distress and burnout; making mental health services easily accessible; and use people analytics to identify issues. The last point is particularly noteworthy, as various applications currently available in the market can offer organizations a better understanding of employee behaviors, especially when it comes to various work patterns, such as after-hours work. overloaded assignments and late meetings, which can contribute to stress and fatigue. By identifying these issues, managers can take appropriate action to mitigate their negative consequences and support employee well-being in general, and mental health in particular.

Appreciation and respect

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To the five priorities most often listed by employees, I will add a sixth: professional appreciation and respect. To ensure that employees, and especially top talent, are valued and respected, effective communication is key to avoiding rumors, anxiety, and unexpected shocks. Employees report that during the pandemic, the lack of transparency and communication has led to high levels of anxiety and abandonment behaviors. Develop career opportunities for top talent and promote an environment of mutual trust and respect. Some high-level employees complain that respect is granted more from outside the organization than from within it, so organizations need to ensure that appropriate and meaningful recognition is given when ‘it is due.

I hope these strategies will help your organization effectively increase its culture by making it more people-centric and talent-driven, which will definitely help retain top talent in the business and, in turn, make it easier to successful implementation of significant organizational change.

Vlad Vaiman is a professor and associate dean at the School of Management of California Lutheran University.

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