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What are the implications of managing talent in the current economic downturn?

Meskin Consulting, Inc. recently asked 50+ HR executives this question. Some of the answers were predictable. We know the list all too well… the vocabulary is sadly familiar – scale back, cut, downsize…and the infamous "do more with less" refrain…

Several key findings and challenges:

  • The concept that boomers are retiring and going to create "massive skill shortages" may absolutely not happen – and the domino effect of blocking career progression for younger generations is real. Specific strategies to successfully educate, manage and energize a multi-generation workforce will be critical.
  • Turnover may not be a good measure in the current climate - Lower turnover will mask the real story: Will employees be physically present without minds and hearts going the extra mile? Taking the pulse in any climate – but especially now, will be important – Focus on finding out what constitutes meaning in the workplace.
  • Anticipate the cancellation of widespread development efforts and replace them with cost-effective, actionable initiatives.

Attract and Retain:

  • Zero loyalty will prevail – employees may feel it's risky to leave yet are always watching the door for a better deal. The greater pool of available and approachable talent will make it imperative for companies to articulate a crystal clear value proposition.
  • Differentiation is mandatory. Know who your best people are and demonstrate investment by empowering and developing them.

"Do More with Less" won't work…rather Do Different with Less:

  • Less Travel means further enhancing virtual work and virtual learning
  • Need for new skills and relevant benefits (i.e.increase financial and EAP counseling)
  • The manager's role has never been this important:
    • Promote open dialogue with employee participation in cost cutting decisions
    • Break through fear and closed doors – teach ambiguity & change management
    • Implement cost-effective solutions: the most powerful manager's tool is a conversation

So What are the implications of managing talent in the current economic downturn?

Sorry, no rocket science here. These findings essentially reflect people development basics, right? Correct. The economic situation does not change the fundamentals of what is needed to effectively manage talent…it simply multiplies the need for urgency and cost-effective actions.


What are the most effective methods to develop leaders?

If you've been in any organizational climate, you don't need the proliferation of books and related resources on leadership to know that the most impactful way to enhance the organization's drive and performance is a focus on effective leadership.

The Center for Creative Leadership learned in their extensive research that in addition to formal programs, the more impactful ways that leaders learn are from experience, and from other people - through challenges and hardships on the job, and through the relationships they cultivate, and how they are challenged and supported by positive role models and advisors.

What Matters Most for Development


Engagement is the big buzz word today - but what does it really mean?  Does it matter?

Employee engagement is a heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organization, manager, or co-workers that, in turn, influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work.

There is clear and mounting evidence that employee engagement correlates strongly to several desired business outcomes including recruiting, retention, turnover, individual productivity, customer service, customer loyalty, growth in operating margins, increased profit margins, and even revenue growth rates.

The Conference Board literature review, 2006        


What are typical levels of engagement in the workplace?  What type of real impact can be claimed?

While each company's levels of engagement vary, numerous studies are conducted on a regular basis. Across multiple research studies, high levels of engagement generally range from 18% to 30%, leaving the majority of the workforce either moderately inclined towards engagement, inclined towards disengagement, or totally disengaged. Here's the bottom line: specific percentages will vary, but clearly employers must campaign for the hearts and minds of their workforce.

Engagement Campaign

Corporate Leadership Council research quantifies the impact opportunity:

  • Increased engagement leads to 57% improvement in discretionary effort
  • Increased discretionary effort improves performance by 20% and reduces attrition by 87%
  • Highly engaged organizations grow profits 3X faster than their competitors.


The original War for Talent  research was conducted a decade ago - yet the issues remain acute today - do you know where you stand?

Recent McKinsey Quarterly global surveys reveal that nearly half the respondents expect intensifying competition for talent - and the increasingly global nature of that competition to have a major effect on their companies over the next 5 years. No other global trend was considered nearly as significant.

External factors get the lion's share of attention in today's world…and clearly, these are major. However, while these external factors such as demographic shifts, globalization and the rise of the knowledge worker are forcing organizations to take talent more seriously…there are internal factors as well.

Here's the take home message - employers themselves can choose to alter many factors that are in their control, internally.

McKinsey's recent analysis identified several obstacles to good talent management - the top 4:

  • Senior managers don't spend enough high-quality time on talent management
  • Organization is 'siloed' and does not encourage constructive collaboration, sharing of resources
  • Line managers are not sufficiently committed to development of people's capabilities and careers
  • Line managers are unwilling to differentiate their people as top, average, and underperformers
McKinsey Quarterly 2008, Making talent a strategic priority