top of page
  • Alejandro Buriel

Lessons from an Economic Crisis. Talent Exodus. My precious!

Looking back to the first half of the year 2014, I found important lessons from the hard economic crisis that was hitting global economy since 2008 and the new shades of crisis present in the market now.

In tough economic times like those, retention becomes less of a priority for many companies as they focus on more-immediate business concerns. This factor creates a paradoxical effect that sums up in a significant increase in the number of executives leaving their companies as market conditions improve and more job opportunities open up.

The first surprising fact is that a company who wants to really retain the existing talent, has to do it by preparing them to leave. And that means giving executives opportunities to take on greater responsibility, broaden their skills and cultivate a network of relationships with their peers. These are the things that executives surveyed by Wall Street Journal, consistently say they want most from their jobs.

In fact the companies that lead their respective sectors, count in their lines with this kind of professionals, in continuous learning process, striving for excellence and well connected to the global market by their networking with peers.

Of course, executives want these opportunities largely because the skills, experience and relationships they acquire make them more valuable on the job market. So there is always the risk that a company may invest in building its executives' talents only to see some of them take those talents elsewhere.

Paradoxically again, the research shows that executives intend to stay longest with those companies that offer the greatest opportunities to enhance their employability. On balance, a company will keep more talent by helping its executives grow than it would by denying them these opportunities. And as a bonus, its executives will be more valuable to the company itself.

But this is not the reigning reality in the companies kingdom today. Let us take a look at how companies can address that gap by providing the three types of opportunities executives want most.

New Responsibilities

The executives surveyed ranked opportunities to work on challenging tasks and to take on more responsibility higher than any other factor in career satisfaction. Providing these opportunities not only helps a company retain executives, but also helps the company identify and cultivate its next generation of leaders. That is especially true in times of adversity, like an economic downturn or a business turnaround, when executives have more opportunity to make their mark than they would when the business is thriving.

UPS holds formal reviews with employees to discuss training opportunities, special assignments to work on solving particular problems, and other growth options. They discuss "things like what kind of assignments they need to round them out in preparation for the next promotion," says Peggy Gardner, director of customer communications. "We talk about their skills, their career objectives and what they want to do next," she says. "We figure out what we can do to help them achieve their goals."

Broader Skills

In addition to developing their leadership talents, executives want to increase their value by acquiring knowledge of operations outside their areas of expertise, and by polishing general business skills.

To polish these business skills one of the most useful bur still underutilized tools is Executive Coaching.

The survey also reveals that nearly two-thirds of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants. What’s behind that?

There is still some residual stigma that coaching is somehow “remedial,” as opposed to something that enhances high performance, similar to how an elite athlete uses a coach. But there really is not a single top athlete who does not have a coach. CEOs should not be insecure about this issue, and instead see coaching as a tool for improving their already high performance.

Part of this stigma comes from board members themselves, many of whom grew up in an era when coaching was truly remedial and not something in which a CEO would ever voluntarily engage. So even CEOs who believe in coaching and want to engage have to ensure that they bring these board members in particular along with them on the journey.

See more about coaching here.

On the job training programs hand by hand with mentoring:

Consider the example of hotel giant Marriott International Inc. In an industry notorious for its high turnover rate, Marriott is exceptionally skilled at retaining managerial talent. One reason is a program that exposes talented managers to business issues and situations that prepare them to pursue promotions to general management roles.

For example, a marketing executive with little experience in hotel operations completed a training assignment in the operations division. To help her get up to speed quickly, she was assigned both senior and peer mentors. Moreover, she wasn't the only one who benefited from the experience. During her assignment, she shared some of her marketing knowledge with her colleagues in operations, by suggesting ways to attract more customers, for example.

Companies can also profit from offering their executives training in broad business skills like working well with others, understanding and upholding ethical standards and communicating effectively.

Cultivating Relationships

Networking is important to executives for several reasons. It establishes connections that might be helpful down the road in finding a new position, increases their visibility and lets them learn from their peers.

Networking can also help a company, not just by improving retention but also by increasing understanding and collaboration among various business units.

Consider the investment bank profiled in the book "Driving Results Through Social Networks," written by Rob Cross and Robert J. Thomas and published this year. The authors found that the social networks of the bank's senior vice presidents were different from those of its junior vice presidents. The senior vice presidents had more-diverse connections—to people "in different business units, with different areas of expertise, and in different tenure groupings." The junior vice presidents aspired to create this type of network, and it was in the bank's best interest to help them.

The bank identified its high performers and held several events throughout the year so that these individuals could connect and forge more-productive personal networks. After a year, the retention rate of this group was much higher than that for the investment bank as a whole.

Companies that apply these lessons will be in a better position not only to retain their most prized executives but also to attract new talent as the economy recovers.


34 views0 comments
bottom of page