Monday, January 06, 2014

Talent Magnets

Seasons’ Greetings and a Happy New Year 2014 !
Last week I met with two old friends who I had not met for a long time; one for more than a decade, the other a little less than that. The first was a successful technology entrepreneur; the second had made a successful global sales career. After the nostalgia was behind us, the dinner conversations ended up exchanging notes on attracting and retaining good talent. Across different geographies and specialties, both berated the fact that finding good people had become even more difficult with passing years.

We agreed that the situation had deteriorated with increased competition and changing aspirations of the newer generation. Not too many were thinking of long-term careers, most worked like mercenaries willing to change allegiance for an additional few pieces of silver amongst other things. The new talent pool does not want to wait for grass to turn green; they look at the other side and whenever the grass appears greener, with no thought except of them, off they go gallivanting leaving their companies in a lurch.

Ruminating over these thoughts it also occurred to me that there are a few individuals in the industry who are never short of talent and are able to retain their teams with ease. They took on existing teams changed a few ingredients, added some fresh blood and within no time had a great team working like Swiss clockwork and delivering to promise. Whenever they needed resources, skills or expertise, magically they found the right people. In almost all cases, attrition within their direct reports was tending to zero.

What makes these individuals better leaders equipped with an ability to create success oftener ? Why are people willing to join their teams leaving behind whatever shade of green their grass was ? How do they keep their teams motivated as to not look for alternatives ? Their teams consistently deliver and are seen as a cohesive unit which knows where they are going. Do they do things differently that the team is always charged and willing to stretch ? What is it that makes them talent magnets ?

Talking to many such motivated team members over the years I found the big difference was the aura of credibility these leaders had carefully developed around themselves. They were themselves highly motivated, principle-centred and self-driven. Across companies they were able to engage CXOs in meaningful discussions around outcomes and then disseminate the messages within their teams. The resultant momentum between their peers and teams rarely found budget challenges or reluctant users.

The team members were coached and mentored by the leaders with continuous feedback and feed forward connecting them to the vision, the goal and the tasks. With freedom to take risks and fail, the teams found themselves pushing their performance with rigor that they did not know they possessed. Thus they found success more often with lesser bottlenecks because they knew that their leader would always stand alongside. They respected their leader’s ability to help them find answers when they needed.

Their ability to sell a vision and the direction they were taking the company and the function was unparalleled; they created excitement with their stories; industry case studies validated the fact that these were not fiction. The message that I got consistently was that they were passionate about what they did and the passion was infectious. I was surprised by the commitment levels and connect with what the team members were doing and the fact that without exception they looked up to their leaders as role models.

Can this be emulated ? I believe so as many such team members have risen to become leaders in their own right and practice the same principles that they were subjected to. The multiplier effect is not yet high; the roots are taking shape and they are themselves becoming talent magnets. Picking some of these learning I have been fortunate to find hidden reserves within teams and attract talent from outside over the years. I hope that the force of attraction and cohesion is stronger than another force applied by someone else.


  1. Geet Lulla9:17 AM

    Good observations, Arun. The challenges of attracting, enabling and retaining good talent has increased dramatically in the past 8-10 years. Having said that, you are right, there certain traits that define good (great?) leaders. A couple of the often missing leadership traits are "consistency" and "delegation" - for example, for team members, it is important to develop a confidence in the reaction pattern of the leader, especially one who delegates responsibility (and authority). If a team member is constantly trying to guess how the leader will react to a decision taken by him (the team member), then the decision will either get delayed (or not taken at all), or be sub-optimal. Passion and credibility can attract talent, but retention of talent requires additional traits - hence magnets! Your thoughts?

    1. Geet,

      On target; retention requires consistent behavior and effort with open and transparent communication. The respect of the team cannot be sustained by fear inculcation, it requires walking the talk which everyone can see and be worthy of emulation.

      Over 3 decades of being led and managing/leading a team, the learning has been that it takes a lot of time and effort to build sustainable relationships; people can see through your facade very quickly.