Organizations end up hunting and losing top talent almost simultaneously from each other with no net increment in human capital
Like student exchange programs in top universities, companies also can develop a talent exchange network
Talent is often described as the ‘Human Capital’ of an organization. As HR leaders, at the end of the day, we are constantly battling for one ultimate cause—to develop and keep the top talent in our tribe, which ought to be our most sustainable competitive advantage. With this intention, we strive to pay our High Potentials (HiPos) well, give them larger roles in our business with the sole mission of keeping our high-flying flock intact and safe. We hate to lose them, especially to competition. We even end up sounding harsh in our exit conversations—almost feeling ‘cheated’ when our well-invested HiPos suddenly announce a new working partner!
One of the biggest reasons cited by highly competitive talent nowadays to switch jobs has been ‘new experiences’.It may be a desire to work in a new sector, a different geography, a larger scope of influence—basically a new ground to play and master the same sport! However, as we know the ‘new’ ground in a few years becomes ‘old’, ‘limiting’, ‘not challenging’ and the new restless Gen Y HiPo player now wants to play against different players with a more unfamiliar challenge and a new terrain, which no one company seems to offer. However, corporate life cannot be a video game where you can be a new avatar every now and then, crack new challenges, play under snow, desert and deep forest in the same lifetime and grow on to be a better player!
But why not?
Looking from 10,000 feet above, I dare to see the entire talent landscape as one large community eager to make a mark for themselves and companies as different ‘playing zones’ who currently have closed borders. The ‘fidelity factor’ between talent and organization is non-negotiable. You literally have to break the marriage to go out for that monthly rejuvenating conversation with like-minded intellectual/adventurous friends – even if it can possibly add a new perspective or value to the marriage! I rather lose you to them than share our time. The consequence—the marriage is dumped for a thrilling but short-lived all-girls or all-boys vacation. Organizations end up hunting and losing top talent almost simultaneously from each other with no net increment in human capital. The employee, on the other hand, does not gain much as he/she moves from one closed box to another with a false reality of a new ‘challenging’ world. The result, as we know, is a sad waste or underutilization of human and organizational potential and momentum—a CV with three to four job changes in five to seven years and no real future leaders developed internally when compared with colossal training budgets, leadership workshops, assessment centers, coaching programs etc. You lose, game, set and match.
Hence, can there be a strong case to strategically redefine the ‘fidelity’ clause in the way we manage and view our top talent? In my opinion, it’s a game changer worth a strong consideration. Of course, there are tricky areas to manage.
Let me push this argument. Any business (big or small) has its geographical and cultural limitations and strengths defined by various factors like the territory it operates, the business it chooses to run or not run, the size and the profile of people it hires, the legacy and culture it represents etc. Let’s be real. There are only that many new jobs/projects/experiences a company a can create within the scope of all the factors mentioned above. However, Company A sees some complementary businesses, work scopes, geographies, inherent strengths through Company B, which can be a great grooming and assessment ground for Company A’s HiPo. What is in it for Company B to get an ‘Outsider HiPo’?
Well, it is top quality talent from a reputed organization for a limited time, virtually at no cost, bringing a fresh perspective and out of the box idea for Company B. Additionally, Company A can in return, offer a similar synergy role for a HiPo at Company B to make it a viable strategic talent exchange network. So, in short, both companies can strategically ‘lend’ out their talent under this HiPo exchange program for one to two quarters depending upon the cross functional project (eg-designing a market strategy in a rural market, designing an employee onboarding system, overseeing a M&A element for a function, be a part of an established player’s social media team, driving a diversity project etc).
This experience can be firmly linked back to a pressing business priority or a higher role, which the organization can expect the talent to deliver once he /she is back home. Given the amount of real life, relatable learnings and a ‘welcome break’ from the same cubicle, there are far more chances that the talent would actually come back more fresh and scalable than any standalone leadership/skill workshop/overseas seminar/company sponsored executive MBA. In addition, it certainly will reflect well as special career achievements in an individual profile as well.
If targeted and positioned well, such valuable short inter-organization strategic experiences can bring just the right mix of variety, challenge and development – the usual three suspects of any HiPo loss today. Interestingly, no eyebrows are raised when we speak of concepts like student exchange programs in top universities.
There, of course, can be a number of regulatory queries surrounding such HiPo exchange models—agreement on employee status, rights, policies applicable during the exchange period, poaching protection—which can certainly be worked out strategically if the two (or even more) organizations find the overall net value proposition enticing. These approaches can certainly be a genesis to a ‘one world or shared working’ concept a reality, where a talent may still have the opportunity to choose a specific experience without necessarily calling off the marriage! The organization taking the plunge can truly attract the best of talent with flexible environments for top talents to thrive, maximize ROI on development budgets and truly reap the benefits of an ‘evolved indigenous’ talent. As a talent economy, it can virtually set new dynamics and standards for companies to follow in order to attract and retain the best talent. It also can prove to be a solid hedge against losing top talent to short term poaching tactics like compensation or a fancy designation, which may lose a lot of its sheen against solid development and exposure opportunities.
The developmental needs and aspirations of Gen Y HiPos are aggressive, dynamic and they clearly are not loyalty obsessed at the cost of self- development. Such contrarian views to talent management can certainly be brave ones but as they say- “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got”! And what we have got in hands surely calls to try setting our top talents free… only to come back stronger!