CEO Coaching: Attracting and Retaining Talent in Bewildering Times

I’ve observed a major shift in conversations I have with CEOs. We went from “how to survive the pandemic” in 2020 to “designing the hybrid workspace” (or not, depending on perspective) in early 2021 to “attracting and retaining talent” (at all levels!), which is becoming the biggest challenge for many.

There’s no fine line between employers and employees. Is the VP of Something or Other an employee (yes, she gets a paycheck and doesn’t own the company), or is she an employer (yes, she hires and manages direct reports)? However, most anyone who gets compensation from a company has leverage with their employer. Companies are struggling to hire at all levels. Will this change? Sure, as supply and demand tend to move toward parity over time, but that might take some time.

If you’re an employer or manager, you’re challenged because your employees are on edge. They have choices; wages are rising; they’ve just experienced ample autonomy and control over when and how they work; and they still want to feel good about their work environment, which has been decimated. Wow! 

However, companies with a strong, positive culture pre-pandemic are more successful with recruitment and retention. They were more concerned about their people’s well-being before it was necessary (e.g., before they were forced to think about competing for talent).

Gift exchange theory says people will work harder if you pay them more money “randomly” (i.e., not when you hire them and not when they demand it). Exceeding “market clearing” wages can generate a positive return. But I’m sure you don’t have unlimited funds to get in a wage war. My experience as an executive and an advisor to leadership is that a positive culture generates more commitment and loyalty in your team than high wages. There are specific attributes to designing work and culture that will pay you a return. Fun, autonomy, recognition, and a compelling purpose are some of them.

If you’ve been living under a rock and treating your people like rented mules, you’re about to hit a wall. You’re screwed (and you should be). 

For those who are more enlightened, pull hard on those levers that improve your culture and foster commitment. Don’t think of this as lipstick on a pig; I’m talking about real, positive things that will make people happy to work with you on your journey! It’s not only the right thing to do, but it may also keep your talented people around during this disruptive period. And perhaps you’ll steal some talent from the guy who’s been living under a rock!

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