• Andrew Telburn

Attracting Talent in the Age of Flex



The list of things millennials want from their employers has become so familiar that many older executives could recite it in their sleep. Experiences over things. Work-life balance. Super-fast Wi-Fi. The fact that these edicts are so frequently repeated puts us at risk of discounting their importance.


It calls to mind the work of Herbert Krugman, a public opinion researcher who worked for General Electric in the 1970s. He suggested that people make up their minds after three exposures to a particular message. The fourth exposure and beyond were essentially white noise, at least where advertising was concerned.


Whether or not Krugman was right, the fact remains that business runs on talent; and no matter how many times we hear it, many of the most talented people working today have different outlooks and priorities than people of decades past. If we ignore this, or if we only pay lip service to it, we’re kidding ourselves.


In order to attract and maintain talent in the age of flex, we must dig down to the roots of corporate culture, and discover meaningful ways to align it with the talent pool itself. We may be selling a product or service to the market, but we’re selling a lifestyle – and a path to development – to current and future employees. Our ability to do the former is predicated on our ability to do the latter. We cannot thrive without a robust, contemporary strategy for talent management.


It’s not just about money


In the past, work existed on one side of the spectrum. Free time – and eventually, retirement – existed on the other. This attitude is fading away, and not just with millennials. More and more of the older executives we coach are eager to scale back their responsibilities (and if necessary, their compensation) in order to live a more balanced life.

Point being, a strong salary and good benefits are no longer enough to pull the best people in, much less get them to stay. We must remember that online resources and social media give professionals a panoramic view of their options, and that top talents are in it for more than a pay cheque. Flexibility, for example, has become a currency in its own right. Can your company facilitate a lifestyle that prioritises personal health and family life? If not, there are others who will.


It’s not just about tasks


Millennials lead the charge in wanting to be enfranchised at work – but once again, these values go beyond any particular generation. Talented people feel boxed in when they can’t see beyond the tasks they’re performing. As employers, the last thing we want to do is make people feel like cogs in a machine. We want to let them in on why we’re doing things a particular way. We want them to think freely and make their own discoveries. On a given day, for a given project, the ideas they bring to the table may or may not be the right ones. It doesn’t matter. Every time we empower a talented player, we strengthen our own culture and sow the seeds for innovation.


It isn’t just about degrees


There are a lot of stories involving scrappy students who fight their way into good universities, graduate at the top of the class, and thrive in the corporate world. There are just as many stories of people who graduate from prestigious institutions and, for whatever reason, turn in lukewarm career performances.


Attracting talent in the age of flex requires a flexible vision of the talent pool itself. There are people whose academic credentials are less impressive, but who might have more professional experience, and might have had to work harder to get where they are. It’s worth keeping this in mind when we consider who is really going to bring the biggest spark.

It’s not about doing it alone


Pain points that affect talent management can take many forms, and there are seasoned HR professionals who know how to root them out. This can include coaching for high-level executives, providing critical knowledge on HR systems, or facilitating professional development programs for junior team members. When it comes to courting talent in the age of flex, you may have heard it all. But here’s something business leaders don’t hear enough: There’s no reason to do it alone.


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