A few weeks ago, I was in California visiting members and clients. Outside of the traffic, it is easy to see why Northern Midwesterners like myself would find the California culture and weather appealing. The energy of constant movement is contagious, business deals are brokered over the sushi bar, and opportunities are won and lost at the shake of a hand. The other noticeable difference is the idea of Talent. On the west coast, I would go so far as to say that Talent is less theoretical and more concrete than anywhere else in America. You either have talent or you don’t.

Across the board, members in California were talking about talent retention – in all shapes and forms. Talent retention and Talent acquisition go hand in hand –  As one company is losing talent, someone else is acquiring that talent.

In certain parts of California, if you are a good HTML-5 Programmer, Social Media Marketing Manager, or Interactive Game Designer – you could find yourself being dazzled with job offers that not only include good money; but daily lunch runs, spa treatments, collaboration jams, and a plethora of odd job perks that make my Midwestern roots turn a little green with envy.

I give these details to give some context to one of the most interesting conversations that I had with one senior HR leader during my visit. This leader shared with me that talent retention conversations were changing, and in a way that his organization was unprepared to handle.

A different type of talent conversation:

Top talent, asks for a quick half hour meeting with their business leader. Here is how the unusual conversation goes:

“Look, I like you – and your company, so I’m going to tell you that in six months I’m leaving, and I’m going to take these five people with me when I go. This is an opportunity for me to grow and I realize you’ve treated me well, but my mind is made up. I wanted you to know this so you can begin to prepare and make the appropriate business adjustments. It is important to me that we keep a good relationship, and you’ve treated me well, so I want to be fair with you”.

This HR leader works for an organization with a great reputation, good people practices and high levels of employee engagement. Retention is always an issue in competitive markets, but these type of large group retention issues along with open conversations about leaving on the employee’s terms are new and unprecedented.

His thoughts were that he will need to build into his workforce plans the expectation that some people will simply leave – no matter how good they are at talent acquisition and retention. For some people, the simple fact is that it just makes better sense to leave an organization after a period of time, and instead of pretending this shift isn’t happening companies need to acknowledge the fact that it will happen, and build in a level of risk assessment and maybe redundancy that assumes some level of this in all critical areas.

This is probably a wise path to take, but I thought there was an opportunity to turn what seems like a negative factor into something that may actually be positive and good. Instead of looking at these type of exits as unavoidable risks, like you would with plant outages or a broken part, what if you actually had such a good relationship with your employees that you could help them plan their career even outside of your organization? What if you connected employees to strategic partnerships that provided them experience and opportunities you couldn’t afford, but didn’t put your company secrets in the hands of the competition? What if you built talent pools of people that cycled in and out of your organization based on their personal needs? This may sound far-fetched but companies are already doing this and often don’t even realize it.

  • Does your organization have a corporate alumni program that encourages long term engagement with past employees?
  • Have you analyzed data on where employees go when they leave your organization? Is there a strategic partnership that could be created to alleviate large groups of people leaving to work with competitors?
  • Are you likely to hire previous employees back into your organization with increased salary and opportunities, once they’ve gained critical skills?

Back in Ohio, thinking back on my client visits and conversations, I can’t help but think of a phrase we often use “making lemonaide out of lemons.” Talent Management My Way, sounds like a bad fast-food commercial, but it could be a positive approach for everyone – if organizations look at the trends and patterns both in retention as well as exiting employees, they could find career management opportunities they never even knew existed for their employees.

These type of Talent Management issues may seem very “west and east coast”, but if you analyzed your exit data, it is very likely that you would find some interesting facts. Your employees probably decided to leave your organization more than a year before they found a new opportunity. When good employees leave, how long does it take for peers and employees who worked with them to leave the organization as well?

Most HR professionals know exactly where and why many of their employees are leaving – down the road for more money, more respect, or more options. Would an open discussion with employees, providing Talent Management on their terms help? Maybe – Maybe not, but it seems like a better option than simply accepting the risks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Stacey Harris

Brandon Hall Research Group

Stacey Harris

Vice President, Research and Advisory Services
Stacey Harris

Stacey Harris oversees Brandon Hall Group’s research strategy and agenda, solution provider relations, and advisory services. Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Harris was with Bersin & Associates. In her most recent role as director of HR and talent management research, she launched the company’s HR practice and led key research initiatives in strategic HR, talent strategy, organization and governance, measurement, and total rewards. Harris also served as director of strategic services for three years and worked with companies such as McDonald’s, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, and Pfizer on a variety of mission-critical talent initiatives.Harris has also held leadership roles at Jo-Ann Stores, MRI International, and Keybank.Harris's background includes experience leading enterprise-wide change management initiatives and technology implementations, business process alignments, and the design and implementation of integrated organizational effectiveness solutions including measurement strategies.

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