If the ‘Best-Fit’ people are part of your team, then magic is just round the corner!
It was a mild chilly Delhi afternoon and I was seated alongside the MD and CEO of a reasonably large sized Design and Manufacturing company focused on Chemical Industry plants. A family owned business, now being run by the third generation with a mandate to ‘professionalize’ the firm, I had been consulting them for a while and most of the key staff knew me well. They had a niche in the market place with limited competition and their key was in the design skills of making very efficient tailor-made equipment for this sector. In some ways, the knowledge and experience resided in the “heads of their engineers”.
We had just started sipping some warm tea when PK – the General Manager of Engineering – walked in with some fret and nervousness written on his forehead! I tried to calm him down, ordered for some tea and encouraged him to share his anxieties. He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and passed it on to his CEO – “This is the 5th resignation in as many months! I just can’t understand what is happening?” Some nudging revealed that those who had left were from different cadres and backgrounds and not all reporting into the same line manager (just to make sure the popular adage that “people leave their managers and not their company” – had not kicked in this case-as yet!).
When you don’t see a common pattern in the people churn, it is very difficult to separate the signal from the noise! Managers often get mislead by common hearsay or/and perception– we are not up to the mark in salaries, managers are insensitive to workers’ needs, top management is invisible, work is not interesting…and so on. However, while addressing this problem one needs to peal the onion layer by layer. No one solution can fix all problems in one go. One has to prioritize – implying that who are the ones that the company needs to desperately retain (and indeed they are deserving in their own right) and who are the ones, one can afford not to regret too much if they were to be let gone.
Finding and retaining top talent has always been a challenge ever since industrialization came into being. It is only that the nature was different then – there (particularly in manufacturing) was union activism, salaries mattered, and overall wellbeing of workers in factories (like health and safety as well as social security like Provident Fund and ESIC) was a determining factor. I am a product of that era – where many new entrants would ask the potential employer if they had a PF contribution available as part of salary ‘package’.
Cut to a few decades later (post liberalization) when new age tech and knowledge driven ventures came into being – these included IT, Pharma and Biotech, Management Consulting, Banking and Financial services, Retail and the likes – where the talent acquisition revolved around attracting the best from top engineering and B Schools. The demands from these aspirants were different – salary asks were (and are increasingly) almost incomparable with other traditional industries, ‘perks’ and stock options matter, designations and job titles seem to make or break societal perceptions (especially if you are a potential groom or bride!). PF and ESIC do not matter as significantly (“who will trust the government with your money until you turn 58 years?!” – a common response of a new employee).
Today’s generational priorities are different – ‘settle’ down quickly – get a good car, buy a house with 20 years EMI, get married to a partner of choice (and willing to share household chores with career), build capital and cash at neck breaking speed so that one can afford to retire quickly and plan long vacations when one is fit and able to enjoy and pursue what they like to do instead of being forced to do! All legitimate asks from their perspective – surely, having seen their parents and grandparents struggle to earn, save and in many cases, forced to have a second career or an extended work life beyond retirement, they don’t want to see themselves repeating the same (mistakes??!!). By the way, when I mention of generation gaps, earlier 25 years was a generation gap. Now, one engineering batch is a generation gap! The incoming batches’ aspirations are different than the ones’ of the outgoing batch!
As aspirations in the potential talent market changes, so do the challenges of the hiring firms and their leadership and HR. In recent years, this has come to haunt a number of ‘Tech Startups’ – where one may be able to attract some select bright individuals initially based on the ‘kick’ they get out of being associated with a technologically challenging product – but very soon the romance crashes! For a number of reasons – too many tech challenges to overcome, product roll-out delay, go- to -market strategy not in place/delayed, funding challenges, boot-strapped money running out, founder team differences, blurry vision….and the list can be unending!
But in general, some very oft revealed reasons include:
From my experience of Management Consulting and Mentorship to senior professional managers/leaders and startup founders, I have tried to put together a list of things that organizations can attempt (especially the young ones which are in the process of setting up/scaling) with the hope that they will attempt to implement some of these and discover what needs to be tweaked for their specific needs.
At trying times – like now – when there may be a wild hunt for talent and challenge to retain the existing ones, top leadership, team leads and HR in sectors like IT and related technology space are bound to face immense heat and stress. Important not to panic and take careful decisions; especially those which are difficult to retract and leave a precedence trail. It may also be a good time for companies to weed out the ordinary or below average performers from the star ones and look for more ‘best fit’ replacements. A season of talent churn may seem to be all noise and it is the smart leaders who will be put to test – while separating the signals from the noise!
Founding Team Member and Mentopreneur & Visiting Faculty, iCreate