20th November 2014

Grandpa, What did you do during the War for Talent?


Back at the turn of the century, when McKinsey declared the War for Talent was on, I was what you’d call a middle manager.  An ordinary middle manager.  I had bosses above me but I managed a pretty large unit of my own.  When war was declared, ordinary managers just like me were trying to figure out “would this war affect me?”  It wasn’t long though before us ordinary managers were feeling the heat – the landscape for recruiting and keeping people on our teams was tougher than we’d experienced in the decade before. While there were plenty of HR people back at HQ figuring out big strategies to win the war, ordinary managers on the front line still had to get it done.  For me, when I look back now, I can pinpoint four things I did to ensure my unit got through the war.

First I figured that we better have the best people and that meant getting good at attracting the right people.  We started with making sure there were no vacancies in the critical roles, or any significant capability gaps.  Then we made it everyone’s responsibility to bring great new people in and emphasising that we only brought in the best.  It turns out that great people expect movement up the ranks so, rather than wait for them to get disgruntled, I focused on sponsoring promotions of my team members to new and exciting roles. That way everyone knew if they performed well there would be opportunities for them.  To cap it off, I made sure everyone in my company with responsibility for people was good at developing their people.

Next I realised that while having good individuals was important, the team itself is the basic unit of work so I had to become a good leader of team performance. Every member of my team was set a clear purpose and deliverables or key outcomes and knew they were expected to deliver on them.  As a team, we took time to agree on standards for what acceptable performance looked like and I expected every manager of people who reported to me to model performance leadership.   Every member of the team was there for each other and fighting to win for the team, not personal glory.  People who didn’t want to work that way didn’t survive the war for talent.

Thirdly, we learned that while being a tightly aligned team felt great, it wasn’t enough.  Our team had to be aligned with all the other teams in the company.  Once we showed the way to the other teams – a shared goal of high team engagement in an environment where there was nothing left ‘unsaid’ when it comes to individual or team performance, we were well regarded for the way we worked with other teams and, over time we established clear operating protocols with them.

Last but not least I thought, “what happens if I’m not here to lead the team?”  I wanted my team to continue to grow, develop and perform so I made sure my team had a clear agenda for the years ahead.  I helped the team develop resilience and ways and means of dealing with ambiguity to be able to adapt to change and develop new ways of working as the environment changed.  And, I might be saying this last but, all along, I managed an ongoing dialogue with my superiors about an agreed succession plan for my role and the roles of my direct reports.

Other units did other things, and I know a lot of people left it to the HR people to take care of the people stuff but that was them.  Not me.

And that, my dear grandchild, is how my team survived the war for talent.

Justin Miles – Managing Director, Melbourne Office

Generator Talent Group

Categories: Uncategorised

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