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  • Madeline Weiss, Director

Stay Out of the War for Talent

The highest priority research topic in the latest poll among Advanced Practices Council (APC) members was the war for talent. We will have a panel of expert recruiters help APC members win the war at our upcoming February 2022 meeting.

But as with most wars, the best strategy is often to avoid the war from happening. In this case, it would be by retaining your best talent. Numerous research studies over the years have concluded that money alone won’t keep your best people. We know from research and experience that talented IT staff certainly want to be compensated fairly, but that’s not enough to retain them – especially now that remote work is more possible than ever before and those Hawaiian beaches are calling.

Assuming that your compensation plans are comparable to those of other organizations, the questions below can suggest areas for actions that can enhance retention and thereby avoid getting into the war for talent.

How compelling is the purpose?

People want to be part of something larger than themselves, such as a more equitable world or a healthier planet. The larger purposes of some companies, such as APC member companies Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson during COVID, are evident. Other companies have to work a bit harder to connect a larger purpose to company products and services. Company charitable contributions towards a more equitable world or a healthier planet could be helpful.

Do your employees see their connection to that compelling purpose day-to-day? In addition to emphasizing the connection to the organization’s purpose, look for opportunities to help employees recognize the value of their specific roles, such as safeguarding the privacy of customer data, making customers’ lives easier and more secure, helping employees to be more successful at their jobs.

To what extent do employees have room to grow?

In today’s volatile work world, both having up-to-date skills and competencies and the opportunity to upgrade them are highly valued. I’ve observed that employees are more loyal to employers who provide such opportunities.

In The Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder discovered why project team members worked well beyond regular hours and remained loyal to Data General Corporation in order to develop a new computer before the competition. Kidder described the answer using the metaphor of pinball machines. If you win, you get to play another game. Keep top employees playing another game at your company.

Yet another retention-related aspect of growing involves decision making and autonomy. Although we have experienced the difficulty of letting go and trusting others, we know that doing so is healthy for us and those we reluctantly trust. Moreover, when employees make decisions, they own them and act like owners. And owners rarely walk away.

How well are you demonstrating to employees that you care about them?

When Ross Perot was president of EDS, he traveled to office Christmas parties and sent employees birthday gifts. The firm was small in those days (a few hundred people), but those visits and gifts made me feel that the president cared about me. Such actions may not be scalable in large organizations, but the intent can be. How often do you ask your employees how they are doing, how their families are doing, how close is their job to their dream job, and how you can help them succeed? Within the scope of company policies, can you award bonuses, stipends to furnish home offices, and subsidies for child and senior home care? Can you grant time off to compensate for extra hours spent?

The secret weapons to fight the talent war may be to not fight at all. Enlist your staff in a larger purpose, give them room to grow, and demonstrate that you care about them. These are secret retention – not war – weapons.


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