04th February 2022

A Re-think on the Great Resignation

In November 2021 in the US, something like 4.5 million employees resigned from their jobs. Another headline for a phenomenon being called ‘The Great Resignation’. There’s been plenty written about employees wanting to find greater happiness and work-life balance, new levels of flexibility, more pay, perks, and better treatment (that last one being code for ‘I want a better manager’).

One driver of the uptick in resignations that hasn’t rated much of a mention is lack of attention to the core talent processes of organisations. When you think about it, the underlying problem of the Great Resignation is not so much the vacancies it creates, it’s the fact that organisations don’t have people ‘ready now’ to replace those that leave. And increasing perks, flexibility or even pay won’t fix that.

Some of the indicators that an organisation’s talent management capability needs a refresh are things like:

  • Recruiting only occurs when someone resigns, and/or
  • Critical roles and key talent are not singled out for focussed attention, and/or
  • ‘Learning and Development’ are interchangeable constructs, and/or
  • The only assessment of talent is via a wishy-washy, annual performance appraisal, and/or
  • The succession plan doesn’t facilitate direct appointments to open roles, and/or
  • More money is spent on recruiting people than developing people, and/or
  • Managers are not held to account for the development of ‘their’ people

Now, some employee turnover is inevitable, and some turnover happens for reasons which are out of the organisation’s control. However, if any of the above indicators are present in your organisation, then you can hardly complain about an increase in resignations, because these factors are all within the organisation’s control.

The solution.

It has always been the case that any resignation or job vacancy is an opportunity to look to your own people first. Therefore, in response to The Great Resignation, we suggest organisations invert the problem and reposition it as The Great Development Opportunity.

In other words, there’s never been a better time to get behind the talent you already have. Not with a mindset of filling gaps, but with a mission to identify the people for who this role would be a Great Development Opportunity.

Some organisations already have a head start in creating the Great Development Opportunity. These organisations practise Integrated Succession Management.

In other words, they have:

  • Robust processes in place to assess performance continually and objectively, and
  • Development initiatives for talent that emphasise on the job experience, and
  • A pipeline of key talent ready to put into critical roles as soon they become available, and
  • An eye on the market for talent for the roles that will create value in the future

The good news is all of these practices are simple and can be implemented quickly (though as we always say, simple ain’t easy), but, let’s focus here on one thing. GREAT DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES.

So, what is a great development opportunity?

Muscle growth is a good analogy. After you work out, your body responds to damaged muscle fibres by forming new muscle protein strands, increasing muscle growth. Capability development is much the same. Taking on, or being pushed to take on, something new, different and or uncomfortable, stretches and strengthens your breadth and depth of experience and results in an increase in capability.

The paradox is that many people balk at great development opportunities. The experience will be uncomfortable, and of course there is a potential for failure. But it’s the stress of the development experience that most people don’t like that actually makes the difference. And it’s the reason why most people with ten years’ experience really only have one years’ experience, repeated nine times.

To get momentum organisations need sustained effort in proactively encouraging the acceptance of real, on-the-job development opportunities among their motivated employees. An exercise made all the more difficult because a great development opportunity that is right for one person may not be right for another.

What do great development opportunities look like?

On-the-job development opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, and the list is a long as you are creative.

To get you started here are some experiences that are well proven to develop people:

  • Managing a turnaround situation
  • Creating new standards or ways of working
  • Working in a new country
  • A big shift in the amount of responsibility
  • Starting a new line of business for the organisation
  • Managing a big group of people
  • Leading a high-profile project
  • Having responsibility to deliver on something with no direct authority
  • Switching between corporate and business unit responsibility
  • A complex people management challenge
  • Creating or adapting to a completely different organisational culture

Not everyone needs to collect every development experience on the list. But you won’t find many successful executives who haven’t got a few of these on their resume.

In Summary

Never waste a crisis the experts say. The Great Development Opportunity presents a unique chance to review and rebuild Integrated Succession Management practices and to leverage experiences that grow people. Being the organisation known for development by backing its own people for roles when they come available can only enhance your employment brand.

Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Manager Partner, Melbourne at Generator Talent
Justin is the Managing Partner of our Melbourne office, an outcome focused leader with a track record of driving business performance through proven talent and organisation development practices. Justin’s methods and skills have been shaped by working with performance oriented leaders in great companies including PepsiCo, The Campbell Soup Company, Diageo, Rip Curl, Fonterra and Wesfarmers, in Australia, the USA and Latin America.
Justin Miles

Categories: Developing Leaders

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