Learning how to engage talent for the long-term

12 Mar 2020

Learning how to engage talent for the long-term

Finding the right talent is hard enough, but keeping them engaged in a world where they are hugely in-demand is arguably an even more difficult task. What’s the secret?

Every leader knows that an engaged team member is much more productive than a disengaged one. Engaged people with tenure are priceless. And a fully-engaged team can do anything. This has always been the case.

Today, there is certainly a premium on engaged, agile people, since there are lots of external distractions for top talent as competitors vie for their attention.

So it’s not surprising that the HR Director of a global pharmaceutical company told us in a recent APAC survey of 70 senior leaders of MNCs that they don’t use the word ‘retention’ anymore. ‘Engagement’ is everything because it’s engagement that keeps people in the company.

Lack of confidence in leadership

But according to the Odgers Berndtson Leadership Confidence Index, one of the key areas where there is the least confidence in current leadership is in the ability to find and keep the right talent to cope with disruption.

In fact, it was on questions of talent that we saw the lowest overall confidence for all organisations.

To view our current, most recent 2022 edition of the Leadership Confidence Index, click here.

Meeting the talent challenges

In the APAC interviews, we heard how retaining good talent is a constant challenge.

A bank CEO told us that they have invested heavily in their people and this has turned out to be a double-edged sword. “We are struggling with people being poached because we are ahead of the game and have developed skills that others need. This has increased significantly over the last 12 months.”

A technology company, known for its excellent culture of engagement is also a target. “Retention is our biggest issue. We are very successful and people are happy to be here, so everyone wants our people.”

Every one of the 70 APAC leaders of MNCs we interviewed is concerned about this, and some explained what they are doing about it.

“Recruiting people who stay is now a hard KPI. We had to create new talent pools – these people wanted something different.”

Having done this though, she explained that, “If you don’t match the passion with the job, you have six months or you are out. You are defending a swarm that wants that person to leave. There is a fundamental shift in how committed people are to their job.”

Holding onto your star talent

Collaborative, engaged teams reject people who do not meet their standards and if leaders don’t support this, then there is a risk of losing the stars.

Other MNC leaders see that a high level of engagement has been easier to achieve in Asia than the rest of the world: “Our engagement score is a leading indicator of a successful business. In Asia, we have a higher engagement score than anywhere else in the world. The reason is that millennials are more engaged. Perhaps this is because there is a higher purpose in healthcare.”

Others are still thinking about where to start. “We need to work on monitoring how talent is progressing and experiencing the company.”

Supporting the professional growth of talented individuals is a major engagement factor. One benefit of the ‘pace of change disruption’, that is at the heart of this research, is that companies are talking a lot more about investing in their people.

What’s holding people back?

One leader explained that “The new demands from our clients are now such that our people are not geared up for this. The top trends in our sector are very different to a year ago. From a skills perspective, there are different needs. Add the generational changes in the workforce and it’s hard to keep up. It requires a different mindset.”

When pressed, he estimated that 50% of his management team was not right for the future direction of the company. This was not an isolated comment.

Several of the leaders we interviewed said the same. They said that the people they have, were right when they hired them, but the world has changed and they are not right for the new order.

The importance of mindset certainly chimes with the Odgers Berndtson Leadership Confidence Index. It revealed that whilst all organisations are challenged by legacy systems and operations, it is the leadership mindset, particularly their vision and preparedness for change, which separates the confident from the less so.

Developing talent versus recruiting talent

Historically, companies would replace redundant skills or attitudes. Today, that is not necessarily the answer.

“We have the money to buy talent, but we can’t find it, so we now invest in developing people. The skills we need don’t exist in our business, our partners, customers or competitors.”

The competition is struggling with the same issue, so re-skilling good people as opposed to replacing them is the answer. But not everyone wants to learn. “As we become more digital, we have to re-skill people. Some can do this and some cannot.”

Of course, there will always be a need to bring people in from outside and the above comment highlights why. Some people will always resist change, but leadership needs to get better at quickly identifying who can change, with help, and who will never change. The ‘never changers’ will kill progress.

“The skills we need are very new. We have work to do and really fast.”

“The team will not get us where we need to go by doing what they do today. It’s about learning agility. There are no better people out there – to succeed, we need to invest in our people.”

Diversity and its role

“Diversity is important. Talent comes to us in different forms. Diversity and collaboration fit well together.”

From what one hears in business circles, you would expect that just about every leader knows the confirmation bias trap. But from our research, it is still there for many, and they have a long way to go.

But, as one leader we interviewed puts it, “Diversity creates Diversity.” There is an unstoppable process underway, but for companies wanting to be smarter in the face of disruptive change, the process needs to speed up.


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