Monday, April 13, 2009
What Becomes Of Talent In A Tough Economy?
By Kendall Allen When the marketplace is at full blush, our relationship to talent seems pretty clear. As companies build and grow, trends are positive, new business lands, teams assemble, juices flow -- there is a sense that we are constantly regenerating talent, inside our four walls, in the market and within our own careers. In such a creative space, things just feel organically right -- and we understand our give and take with talent.
But, when the world we inhabit battens down, and there is angst in the air, if not downright strife -- it's sometimes hard to know how to think about talent. Courting and hiring it; incubating and nurturing it; expanding our own and running with it. We don't really want our stance on talent to change; we advocate furthering it in every way. But we're often forced to operate differently. And, that can get uncomfortable -- squirrelly.
The way I think about the altered states of being as they relate to talent is: what is the thread to carry through all this to the other side? If you can stay true to talent, and develop different aspects while in this altered state, even as you limit your hiring, training or active pursuit -- you likely come out with a broadened perspective. Opportunity as it relates to talent is not always a specific job to fill or score -- nor progress made along a traditional path. This is what the consideration looks like right now for the people I know thinking about talent:
You Were Hiring Yesterday, Not Today. Maybe Tomorrow?
Regardless of your exact vantage point on recruiting, if you are charged with courting talent and supporting the building of an organization, a down market creates a new level of stark clarity. And this state doesn't just refer to talent executives but to business owners, hiring managers, and team leaders of all ilk up and down the org chart. You may have frozen your hiring budgets or had them frozen; you may only be able to staff to hire for anticipated new business; you may only seek one or two secret-weapon investment hires; you may be stuck with a troop of talent you never got quite to where you wanted to be, before things locked down.
Talking to people I know across the spectrum, the trick seems to be pairing an almost surgical approach to recruiting with an intensified focus on internal enrichment of your talent. That is, keeping people already in-house engaged, accountable, working well together and afforded interesting, rewarding challenges. Not as simple as it sounds -- tricks rarely are. It's key to not get torn between the internal and external focus and keep the external in check, as it painfully narrows.
The most positive thinkers in this area say you can turn the external focus back up when you need to, and your house will be in order and healthy. Herky-jerky hiring has its impact, which ideally can be minimized through having a plan. True, so many are going through the same pain -- but keeping it together through these patches bodes well for life on the other side of all this.
Home on the Ranch
Continuing on the above point -- if you are not hiring at all anytime soon, and perhaps have reduced or changed the shape of your organization radically, you have a wholly different imperative on keeping talent flush. The charge is getting the organization you have to collaborate in new and more productive ways -- to regenerate from within and situate you for future growth, while working through the potential malaise resulting from some mix of the doldrums, worry and outright change. The people I talk to insist that a few tenets help keep the faith through these patches: -Making sure that everyone knows, believes in and furthers the core business, especially if there has been a course shift. -Assuring that the path forward to expansion of that core and growth itself is clear, even if slow. -Trusting in the positive relationships and connections that exist internally within teams. -Committing to nurturing functional, thriving teams through focus on increased trust, shared attention to results, the ability to deal with conflict and other values of great teams.
If you've previously invested in talent , you'll want to keep the religion of situating for success. That is, getting this valued talent into the right situation for success now and in the future, instead of focusing merely on the immediate task at hand. Directive, compassionate leadership is especially important during periods of great strain.
Your Own Relationship With Talent
Career path takes on a whole new tenor in a down market. It's intense. The mention of it can sound aggressive, misplaced. At its best, though, career path really is about the livelihood of talent over time.
There's the always-on macro look at your career, and how you have developed and shared your talents and plan to do so into the future. But when times get tough, a few scenarios can trip you up: if you find yourself disengaged and shifting gears, looking for new work, considering a new beat, or trying to sell-in, adapt or further your talents potentially outside your comfort zone. There's also the interesting spot of preserving talent and navigating career path in a tense management environment within any given company. No matter how much you are contributing, it can be daunting to engage on issues of career and fulfillment when the air is thick as butter, conference doors are closed, and frowns abound. But, breathe deep.
We should take care of talent -- dialed up or dialed down, in ways big and small -- through any given patch. There really are no rules on how to put the blocks together. And talent well-tended even in the toughest of times always represents opportunity.
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Kendall Allen is headquartered in New York City. She consults for publishers and agencies on integrating digital -- most recently at MKTG, where she just completed a long-term assignment. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, an independent digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.
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