At the moment, one of the pains in the Human Capital side of business is the ‘War for Talent’. With the global village increasing the mobility of our top employees, and the increasing skills shortage in certain key areas Organisational Talent is a commodity as valuable and desirable as gold. However, the more Baby Boomers try to do the things that made them loyal to the company the more their young talent seem to bolt out of the door.
Today’s young talent are seen as arrogant ‘snots’ who refuse to earn their keep and patiently work their way up the corporate ladder. It is nothing like the ‘good old days’ when talent understood that they were being groomed for greatness, and they just needed to wait their turn. On top of all of this the market is competing so aggressively for these individuals that it would be unrealistic to expect them not to move for the types of salaries and opportunities they are being promised. There must be another way to get what we need out of these stars.

In order to find an alternative way to benefit from this group it is helpful to reframe the perceived problem. At the moment organisations are fighting to keep their Bright Young Things [BYT’s] from walking out of the door. If however, we reframe the exit process to acknowledge that we may loose their presence but not necessarily their soul or passion we are in a position to develop a new value proposition for talent. This new proposition will require a fundamental change to the way we deal with those talented members of our business who chose to enjoy a period of employment in another company.
The position that savvy leaders must increasingly take is that it is okay to loose these individuals for a season, but our company must never loose their heart. In a sense they should spend the rest of their career feeling like an alumnist of our organisation. They must speak about and promote our organisation with as much passion and fervour as they do their academic alma mater. In short, retention strategies need to shift from a ‘bums in seats’ mentality to a corporate alumnist strategy.
Many companies already have alumni type programmes in place. Unfortunately the vast majority are strategically useless. They are often done as an HR project consisting of a quarterly newsletter. Sadly the content of the newsletters generally remind the alumnists why they left, rather than fosteingr a sense of belonging.
In a field like engineering this loss of talent and the subsequent relationship mismanagement is endemic. The profession is about numbers, data, and qualifications. The softer HR and people sides of the business are generally tolerated as a necessary evil rather than a strategic asset. In the current industry the proverbial roosters are now coming home to roost as most companies have no idea, let alone a realistic strategy, on what to do.
An effective, talent focussed, alumni programme will reflect the following principles.

  1. It will be a strategic priority. The days of dropping HR in at the end of a board or exco meeting and giving it the crumbs off the table are over. An effective alumni strategy will not only have the sponsorship and support of the HR manager but will have been the subject of intense discussion and planning at the most senior levels of the company.
  2. It will have a well crafted exit interview process. The exit process will not just be a ‘tick box’ activity but will be key in discovering why the talented person is leaving. At the same time the exit process will serve as a marketing exercise so that the person is aware of what they are leaving behind and what will be waiting for them should they return in the future. Finally the exit process will indicate interest in their future, letting them know that their career and professional development will be tracked with interest.
  3. The exit interview process will have identified certain key individuals whose future should be tracked because they have the potential to be a future CEO or senior executive. There will then be processes to facilitate this tracking. The process will report back at three levels; to the HR director, to the Board, and to the person themselves [it will serve to reinforce that they are important and highly regarded].
  4. It will become the cornerstone of future executive recruitment. The alumni programme will create a pool of talent who not only know the culture of the business, but they have also been kept updated on the organisation’s development. They will consequently be in a position to make a significantly more efficient re-integration into the business than a stranger. This also adds weight to the exit process experience.

As these talented individuals return to your company they bring back the investment and development they have enjoyed at your competitors. This allows the business to harvest skills and abilities that you didn’t necessarily sow. The benefits to your business begin the day you decide to strategically let you talent walk out of the door. The advice: “If you love someone…set them free� has never had more relevance in the corporate world than in today’s talent wars.

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