Anne C. Ruddy, president of WorldatWork, an Arizona-based professional association of human resources practitioners, has extensive experience leading and managing large organizations at the highest level. A talent innovator, she uses her organization and its staff of 130 as a laboratory to test new practices and transfer new ideas to its membership regarding human capital. Here, Ruddy shares a few key strategies for managing talent in this economic recovery.
What kind of impact has the recession had on work forces around the nation?
In a word, negative. Employers are painfully aware that cost-cutting measures deployed to stay afloat during the recession adversely affected workers. One of our recent studies — “The Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey by WorldatWork and Towers Watson” — confirms just how gravely the cost-cutting measures taken during the financial crisis impacted employees’ workloads, their ability to manage work-related stress and overall employee engagement. As a result, companies can expect greater difficulty in motivating employees and retaining key talent during the economic recovery.
What can organizations do to ensure a smooth post-recession recovery?
The very first thing is to identify your top performers. Who are your high-value contributors? These include not only those who drive the most revenue, but also those who play crucial roles in areas such as product development and human resources, or those who help build the employer brand and reputation. Forget the rear view mirror — you’d be smart to base decisions on future business priorities, not just recent performance. Sales employees, for example, who have generated less income than usual during the economic crisis, will continue to be highly valued given the central role business development plays in most post-recession recovery plans.
So you inventory talent and now have a list of pivotal employees. What’s next?
Show pivotal employees they matter. A-players want to know they have a future place in the company. While promotions are one way to send this message, they’re not always possible in this economy. Special assignments, involvement in high-visibility projects, skill-building opportunities, and formal or informal recognition can be equally powerful engagement and retention tools. Also, keep top performers informed about evolving business strategies. Too often, top performers join competitors simply because inadequate communication has left them feeling unappreciated, uncertain about their roles or uninformed about changing business needs.
Many employers were forced to freeze or cut pay during the financial crisis. What should they do for the recovery?
Return to pre-recession pay practices as soon as possible, and differentiate based on performance. Failure to do so can result in high performers being demotivated, demoralized, or worse yet, cause them to look at other options for employment that seem to offer greater rewards for their efforts. Organizations need to make hard decisions, both in rating performance and allocating compensation dollars. If there isn’t enough cash to go around, don’t go spreading it like peanut butter!
Given current high unemployment rates, is the war for talent over?
Quite the opposite. Companies should prepare to compete for the best and the brightest. Don’t be lulled by a perceived surplus of post-recession talent. While it’s an employers’ market for some positions, demand remains high for critical skills. Impending baby-boomer retirements and projected shortages in critical technical disciplines will only intensify the competition. To get ahead, you need to measure the talent that exists in your organization today, in order to find the talent gaps you need to fill so that the organization can get where it needs to go.
What do successful companies know that others may not?
Progressive companies, what we often refer to as “employers of choice,” know that keeping those people who are critical to success is a lot easier than going out into the market and trying to find new people, train them, mother them, and get them ready to really be productive, which usually takes a year from their date of hire.
In good times and in bad, the best companies look beyond talent management to talent innovation. They are on a perpetual quest for the best and the brightest employees, who can truly elevate the organization as opposed to passively watching the organization grow.