READ the September 2021 issue of our magazine: The Great War For Talent
Nell Derick Debevoise is a thought partner to purpose-driven leaders, as well as a speaker, author, and entrepreneur. Debevoise's guidance helps CEOs and CHROs expand their impact, grow their businesses, and build powerful legacies. She has lived and worked on 4 continents, and collaborated across sectors with Japanese executives, Palestinian community leaders, French high school students, and Mozambique education ministry officials among others.
Debevoise also studied leadership, innovation, and intercultural dialog at Harvard, Cambridge, Universita di Roma, and Columbia and London Business Schools. In 2011, she moved to New York and founded Inspiring Capital, a certified B Corp that designs and delivers purposeful leadership development to accelerate the movement of business as a force for good. She is the President of the Purposeful Growth Institute, a not-for-profit with the mission to align professionals' skills with the needs of their communities. Debevoise's first book, Going First: Find the Courage to Lead Purposefully and Inspire Action is an International Best Seller.
Is the 'Great Resignation' thing real with employees leaving and switching jobs in droves? How do you see the larger talent movement scenario and how is it going to unfold in the coming days?
The Great Resignation is real, but it’s a mistake to look at it as a moment. This is a movement, emerging from two underlying themes.
First, people’s relationship to their work has changed. We are no longer willing to subsume everything – family, hobbies, well-being, sleep – to our employers’ demands. This shift was underway in the 2010s, with the rise of contract work and portfolio careers, employees’ demands for flexible workplaces and times, and understanding of the importance of well-being. Then the shift was accelerated by the crises of 2020. With a global pandemic, health couldn’t be our first concern. The murder of George Floyd and subsequent awakening to the extent of race-based injustice and violence forced the issue of employers being aligned – or not – to people’s sense of humanity. And adequate government unemployment benefits allowed people to cover basic needs without doing work that compromised their physical or mental health.
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Second, the power dynamic has shifted from employers to employees. Technology leads to transparency and levels the playing field for communication. Employees know more about what their companies are doing and how they do it and can comment publicly on it. We have seen several examples of employees dictating company strategy, for example demanding the cancelation of contracts with the military or immigration authorities.
Particularly as unemployment falls to structural levels, and freelance options become more and more feasible and widespread, the power balance will continue to shift toward individuals. Employees have their choice of employer, and employers must qualify to earn their time and effort, not the other way around.
This movement will continue throughout this decade into a new era of work, in which talent leads. Companies must Care to Do Better, as Accenture put it in an insightful report about the elements of successful employers in this new age. The mandate for leaders is to show people why working for you matters to them, in terms of the financial, intellectual, social, and emotional rewards of the work.
What can business leaders do to ensure that their recruiting processes and overall strategies are truly maximizing their organisation’s ability to attract and retain the best possible talent amid this crisis?
We recommend integrating an approach of Purposeful Leadership throughout your talent strategies, beginning with recruiting. This means considering the impact of your behavior, choices, and processes in the Me, We, and World dimensions. From the job description, you must speak to the impact that a given role will have on the candidate as an individual and the other individuals they interact with (Me); on the team and the broader business (We); and on the extended stakeholders - the people and planet beyond the company’s direct engagement (World). By connecting these dots, and helping the employee to understand how their work matters in these three dimensions, you will get the most aligned, engaged, innovative, and collaborative people to fill each seat in your company.
Given the pace of mass exodus, do you think CEOs and top leaders should change their mindset to realign their vision around talent management?
Absolutely – the CEOs who are performing best in this moment, in the wake of the many crises we’re living are clear that they are operating from a people-first perspective. They partner closely with their CHRO to ensure their people are taken care of, physically, financially, socially, and emotionally, first and foremost. So that those people can do their jobs, and take care of the business. This must be a decisive and immediate switch, not a five-year change management plan.
What should be strategies to elevate employee value proposition to mirror what employees seek in the changing work environment?
The employee value proposition must be human, mass-customizable, and purpose-driven. It’s not about bonuses or game rooms. People are looking to their employers to play a role in all of their human needs, including financial well-being but extending far beyond that to include social, intellectual, emotional growth, and their sense of impact and legacy. Humans share these needs, but our individual approaches to each are different, and so the solutions cannot be one-size-fits-all, they must offer the chance to pick and choose or shift benefits between different categories. Finally, all elements of the value proposition must be linked to purpose: some cause larger than the financial gain of the company or employee. Without this coherence, no amount of benefits will entice employees to stay.
How can employers grab this opportunity to plan for the long term? Is HR ready to handle war for talent given that they have now additional responsibilities?
Becoming authentically people-first and purpose-driven is absolutely a long-term strategy for this era of work. And so beginning immediately in this moment of crisis will become a competitive advantage. More is being asked of HR teams than ever before, which requires expanded capacity. This capacity will come from two sources. First, direct investment. HR teams need to be expanded, getting more talent in terms of bandwidth, technology tools, outsourced solutions and support, and senior hires, to effectively deliver on their new mandate. Second, the people management element of HR cannot be siloed in the HR function. That is the role of every single employee, whether they have direct reports or not. And so ALL employees’ leadership capacities need to be developed so that they have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to contribute to the critical goal of attracting, engaging, and developing the best teammates.
Given the pace of mass exodus, how can CEOs and top leaders change their mindset to realign their vision to talent management?
While this work is not easy, it is often quite simple. The Golden Rule, or as I like to call it, the Grandmother Rule is useful to keep close at hand. In other words: would you be proud to tell your grandmother the choice you made today? Another lens is asking yourself how you would like to be treated if you were the employee. All of this work requires the ongoing work of self-awareness by leaders. We all have past experiences, beliefs, biases, and preferences that influence our perspective and behavior, for better and worse. If we are not deeply in touch with that unique lens we carry, it’s impossible to be an effective steward of a healthy and fair work environment.