2012: HR’s Armageddon?

The National Post March 4th, 2010

View in Original Format 2012: HR’s Armageddon?

British mining engineers at Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi copper mine. As the Baby Boomers retire, younger professionals are less likely to accept remote relocations. – Michael Kohn


The “War for Talent” has been raging for more than 10 years, with a recent respite thanks to recession. Whatever your views on economic recovery, boards are again raising “talent risk” as an investor concern: wrong people in the wrong roles, no succession plan, an absence of velocity metrics, etc. Investors perceive talent management as an execution risk and market surveys now place it as a top five risk.

Analysts want to understand how succession and retention plans align with business strategy and what new talent pipelines are in place.

This is the tip of an iceberg that all employers face: Talent shortage + generational change + decreasing mobility + “Boomer” employment brand + social media = potentially disastrous strategic consequences.

As Boomers retire, supply is going to become a lot tighter. For every two employees retiring, less than one will be available to take their place. And those who are available will demand different things. When your key employee announces he or she requires a three-month break, take or leave it — we bet you’ll take it.

The concept of work has also changed. Many employees no longer require an office to do their jobs. We need to develop new skills and tools to manage engagement and careers from a distance. New employees will continue to want a career, with skills development and a new stretching assignment or project at least every three years.

Indeed, a career-planning system that provides a new assignment or project every two years or so (just before the search company does) will become one of a number of mandatory requirements in minimizing turnover.

For international organizations, there are more problems. Mobility is declining. Two-income households, greater need for family support systems and the continuing insistence of companies on transferring an employee plus trailing spouse, rather than transfer a team, are all eating away at the number of younger people willing to relocate. For the mining industry, this is particularly problematic, with new projects in more remote territories and so many of their “pioneering employees” about to retire.

The “one size fits all” HR policies that appealed to Boomers who expected tenure-based incentives, such as pension plans and long-service awards, will hold little interest to new cohorts.

Younger employees look for more portability. Loyalty to an employer exists only if needs are being met. Reward arrangements need different elements that appeal to younger workers and help retain older generations. Terms and conditions must remain aligned with an organization’s goals and culture, but should not involve financial penalties as a retention strategy.

Reinventing rewards and other terms and conditions is no simple task. Supporting strategic direction is fundamental to competing in the escalating talent wars. Companies no longer own their employment brand— the Web does. Get it wrong and you’ll pay for it, via social media.

Imperatives for future talent-management strategies include:

* Multi-faceted terms and conditions that align with or drive strategic plans that engage all employees.

* The ability to move high-potential people through the organization and measure velocity, i.e. the speed at which they progress.

* New international employee-mobility models.

* Ensuring that your organization lives its values by monitoring social media for confirmation.

A robust retention strategy will prove, in the long run, to be the most effective way to win the talent war.

Paul Pittman is managing director of The Human Well, a collaborative human-capital consulting group that assists companies in transition, with a special focus on the resource sector. www.thehumanwell.com

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