Talent shortage? How to win with what you've got

May 15 2007 by Vince Thompson Print This Article

With four out of 10 employers worldwide having difficulty filling positions due to a lack of suitable talent, you're far from alone if you're starting to feel the pinch of the so-called "talent shortage".

And things are only going to get worse. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the shortage of skilled workers will exceed 10 million in the U.S. alone by 2010. What's more, almost half of workers say they want to change jobs every three to five years.

In light of these facts, smart managers realize they need to retain people on staff in order to keep the company running. So while under better circumstances they might move along those "less spectacular" performers, they know that in a tight talent market, the key is to effectively work with what you have.

Fortunately, you can take steps to help the people on your team do better and perform to expectations. After all, hiring someone is costly (both in time and money), and any turnover has a potentially negative impact on the company. Following is a process that will help you work with your current staff and gain the competitive advantage in doing so.

Step One: Take a look at yourself

Look at how you're evaluating your team. Many managers who work under, or who have been influenced by, command and control hierarchies live with the belief that you should rank your employees and cut those at the bottom.

But although ranking may be valuable when people do identical jobs in an identical environment, such as in call centers or sales organizations with territories that have no uniqueness, the fact is that such environments count for only a minority of the workplace population.

Most people work in organizations where teams tackle diverse challenges with diverse solutions. Therefore, when managers rank people, their perception of each individual is often blurred by a lack of clear criteria or the potential to play favorites.

Getting great performance from your team is about working with individuals. Therefore, you need to look at each individual on staff and ask yourself, "Is this person doing what I expect of him or her?" Then clarify what your expectations are for someone.

If that person isn't meeting your expectations, how are you communicating your expectations? Often, managers communicate a lot with their best players, but when it comes to the marginal performers, they communicate less often and in a less meaningful way.

It's been said that we hire people for what they are and fire them for who they are. That is we hire someone because he is a Harvard graduate who worked at the top advertising agency in NYC, but we fire him because he was a dishonest jerk who didn't respect people.

Therefore, most of our dissatisfaction is not with what people are but with who they are. And when we deal with the "who" side of the equation, we often find that the dissatisfaction stems from a general lack of communication of expectations from the manager, not the employee.

In other words, we've set the job specs but we've failed to talk about how we expect our people to treat each other and our customers.

Step Two: Take a look at them

Are the people on your team committed or compliant? Here's the difference: You give Person A and Person B each a package to deliver to a key prospect. Person A takes the package to the prospect's office, leaves it with the receptionist, and then heads back to work. Person B takes the package to the prospect's office, waits in the lobby to meet the prospect personally, and spends time talking with the prospect to answer any additional questions.

Person A is compliant - she did what she was told (delivered the package to the prospect's office) and nothing more. Person B is committed - she did what she was told, and then went a step further to win big for the company.

So again, are the people on your team committed or compliant?

If someone on your team is committed and still not performing to your expectations, then you need to talk with the person and learn where his or her commitment is. Is it to the team? To you? To the company? To personal success? Maybe he's committed to the team but not to the company. If so, you need to show him how what he's doing impacts the team.

Understand what each employee is committed to and communicate your expectations in relation to that individual commitment.

If someone on your team is merely compliant, then you need to uncover why. Is the mindset temporary due to some challenges at home? Is it a lack of passion for the work? Are his or her motivations misaligned?

If you can't move someone toward commitment, then that's the first person you have to consider firing. Realize, though, that firing can be mutually beneficial - and needs to be in a tight talent market.

The fact is that it can take several months to find a replacement. Therefore, it's better to tell that person, "You're not enjoying your job, and it's obvious this isn't a good fit. So let's agree that we're on a path here for me to find someone to replace you and for you to find employment elsewhere. As long as you commit to doing your daily work during this time, I'm committed to figuring this out with you."

Managers who take this approach find that it works out well. The employee who isn't a fit appreciates the honesty and the time to find new work. The company appreciates having the coverage it needs to meet deadlines and goals. The key is being honest, communicating openly, and building trust to make it all work.

Step Three: Develop a new plan

Finally, for each employee, you need to create a plan that will help that person move forward to the level of performance desired. Your plan needs to include the following:

Communication: Communication is the pathway to trust. Therefore, you need to find ways to communicate more frequently so your team trusts you and wants to perform for you. To do so, hold regular mini-meetings that emphasize face-to-face interaction. So many workers don't personally interact with their boss anymore. They communicate solely by email, even though the boss is just down the hall.

Remember, as Zig Ziglar so profoundly said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Communication equals caring.

Expectations: What do you expect of your employees? Is it realistic? Does the team member have the time or skills to meet that expectation? What can you do to support the employee and prioritize the expectations?

Motivations: What's the reward to the employee for meeting the expectation? For some, the reward may be the satisfaction of a job well dome, while for others the reward may be something tangible, such as a bonus or time off with pay. In order to motivate people, help them see value in their work by explaining how the project impacts the company or the industry.


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Assistance: How can you help your staff? Maybe it means being a mentor or taking a piece of the workload. Maybe it's just guiding the group. If you have a low-performing employee, then you need to actively coach that person to be more successful.

Maximize the Talent You Have

Realize that this process isn't a one-time quick-fix. You'll need to invest the time in these steps on a regular basis in order to see results. When you do, not only will you gain a much deeper understanding of your team, but you will also find some surprises.

Some of your lost "causes" will take on new value, and for those who don't, you'll experience a lot less stress as you move them along, knowing that you gave it your all. In a market this tight you can be assured your competitors are facing the same issues; getting this right can give you a real competitive advantage.

About The Author

Vince Thompson
Vince Thompson

Vince Thompson, a former executive for AOL, is a principal at Middleshift, a consulting company focused on creating revenue for Internet businesses by empowering those in the middle and super-serving customers.