It’s always fascinating to conduct our annual proprietary research to identify the career trends that will have an impact on the market for senior talent.
A topline finding from the 6th Annual Executive Survey is just how competitive the market for senior talent truly is. For firms looking to grow, they’ll need to be prepared to make very attractive offers or they’ll wind up as also-rans.
While 82% of respondents in our survey said their firms would be expanding this year, only 18% of executives actually switched jobs last year. The gap between demand for talent and the willingness of executives to move will likely create a lot of disappointment if firms aren’t playing for keeps. We’re clearly in a sellers’ market for talent.
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They Want It All
So how do you succeed when talent is playing hard to get? You first need to understand market expectations, which may be higher than they have ever been.
Executives in 2015 want it all – more responsibility, career growth, a synergistic cultural fit and a highly competitive compensation package.
One of the intriguing findings from this year’s report is the importance of a firm’s culture. Culture, as it turns out, is a key differentiator in a crowded market. Leadership is a main component of culture, but the research uncovered a surprising level of dissatisfaction with leadership. Numerous respondents emphasized that leadership was a key factor in their decision to stay at their firm or look elsewhere.
These blunt comments about leadership reminded me of a Forbes story I read in December by Rich Karlgaard. “Do Jerks Always Win?” analyzed if there is a correlation between the success of firms whose CEOs are clearly jerks and those who are not. Here’s the punch line: “Lousy companies, however, don’t know what they are. They say one thing and do another. They blow around like the wind, destroying the authenticity and trust of their employees. It comes down to leadership. Confused leaders can muddy up their culture and wreck things in a hurry. But good leaders can fix a confused culture quickly.”
As one survey respondent noted, “Leadership drives culture and culture attracts talent.” In a highly competitive market for talent, it is incumbent on a firm to take the time to “know thyself.” Ambiguity in leadership simply won’t work.
That point was driven home recently after I heard about a firm whose leadership has been labeled as disingenuous. Executives talked at length about organic growth and developing internal talent. Instead, over the past 18 months, a series of executive level positions went to people outside the firm. Employees can’t miss this obvious message. They will quietly leave if there aren’t opportunities to grow, and slowly but surely, this organization will lose its talented contributors.
In another story, one CEO so singularly focused on maximizing growth has become an inconsistent leader. Instead of creating a focused path, he has changed the sales organization’s priorities monthly around products, targeted audiences and even how his people are compensated. Remember Karlgaard? “They blow around like the wind, destroying the authenticity and trust of their employees.”
Walk the Talk
These CEOs aren’t intentionally misleading their firms, but as Forbes noted, they are “confused leaders.” He couldn’t have been more correct. In the tight market for great people, there are going to be winning firms and losing firms. The winning firms won’t simply have great products. They’ll also have a consistent message to their employees about what they stand for and where they are heading, and their message will demonstrate a consistency of purpose.
In the absence of strong leadership and clarity, there is a strong likelihood that talented employees will be recruited away one by one.