Talent wins the war and leaders win the talent

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Power dynamics have shifted in the business world over the past 30 years. It was shifting slowly until 2020, and then the pandemic created a massive acceleration. As a result, attracting, landing and keeping talent is now the great challenge and fundamental game for any successful organization.

The beginnings of this shift were described in 2005 in Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World is Flat.” It had been creeping up on us through the addition of organizations that were using digital technology to bring new value to the world. As such, many talented young people no longer needed to pay their dues at the feet of older and wiser leaders. Many just went out and created value in the flat new world that was easier for them as they had more comfort understanding and leveraging digital technology, a native language for so many of them.

Then, in the pandemic, when so many of us were forced into learning how to effectively get work done offsite and discovered it can be a nice option to work from home, many decided to resign from traditional jobs. Now, through what has been called “The Great Resignation,” there doesn’t seem to be enough workers to go around.

Another reason for this shift in the United States is because we have a natural shortage of younger people due to fewer babies. The downsizing of families over the past 50 years means we have fewer people just starting in the workforce than those who are retiring. The amount of people retiring, starting their own thing, and deciding they’d rather not work is collectively much greater than those coming into the workforce.

And, of course, our government hasn’t had the will or wisdom needed to figure out how to leverage immigration in a productive way. We need new people to come to our country and, of course, we need a healthy and safe process for how that can happen. I’m still hoping our elected officials can come together on our behalf and, after dozens of years of talking about it, effectively solve this big issue.

This imbalance of supply and demand of talent has shifted the power in organizations, and in many ways this is a good and worthy change. In the old days, so many strong managers that were poor leaders could get away with treating people poorly because they had so much power, especially over younger workers. Now, for talented people to be attracted to an organization — and stay attracted — managers also need to lead well.

We define leading as being a person worth following; creating clarity around mission, vision and values; and building great teams. Years ago, you didn’t need to be a good leader to keep good people. But now talented people have the power to expect, and even demand, that their leaders actually lead, not just manage.

Because of all these dynamics, talented and committed workers in the marketplace today have much more opportunity than ever before. They are harder to attract and harder to keep. It’s not unlike the recruiting dynamics seen in the world of college athletics. Great collegiate programs have always had to work really hard to attract the best athletes and now, with the transfer portal and more options for turning pro, they have to work really hard just to keep them.

So, as a leader, you need to ask yourself, “Am I winning this talent war?” Maybe you think it will go away soon, but trust me, this big challenge is going to be around for a long time. So how will you do better than your competition in attracting and keeping great talent? The simple and sustainable answer is to lead better that your competition. To quote John Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This truth is more apparent in 2022 than ever before.

Talented people can choose many options for work these days and those who are willing to work for others are attracted to organizations that are clear about their purpose, organizations that treat their people like the incredible strategic advantage they can be, and organizations that find ways to help these talented people grow. Companies that lead better than others in these three areas will always have a sustainable advantage in the competitive marketplace.

I believe it has been these kinds of leaders that set West Michigan apart from other regions in the country, and now more than ever, we have the opportunity to make that difference even greater.

Let’s collectively embrace this challenge and become the hotbed of the best leaders in the country!

Rodger Price is the founder and managing partner of Leading by DESIGN, an executive development firm in Grand Rapids.

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