Published: January 7, 2011
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
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Itís Time to S-t-r-e-t-c-h Your People

Square PegWe’re coming out of an era of fear, hoarding, and playing it very safe. Now that the job market is improving and optimism is on the rise, people are getting antsy for better opportunities, and leaders will have to work harder to keep them. At the same time, leaders tell me they need to lead the effort to get the right people into the right roles if they are going to meet their company’s strategic initiative goals.

This is both a risk and an opportunity. Luckily, the same action will help you to meet both goals.

The best way to address this is to shift your mindset away from playing it very, very safe. In fact, the safest approach now involves taking some risk in how you assign roles.

It’s time to stop looking for a perfectly-fitting square peg for that square hole. Instead, look for the 80% fit and move people into those roles with a development plan to grow into the additional 20%.

Though it seems counter-intuitive, if you are effectively moving people into different roles, you’re actually not going to get the perfect match right away, but it will create more stability in the long run.

I’ve just come across increasing evidence that my perception on the eagerness of employees to leave for a better opportunity is consistent with a larger trend. A recent Wall Street Journal study indicates that over a third of white-collar professionals are underemployed in the sense that they can do their jobs in their sleep even though the jobs are stressful.

With no interesting stretch or challenge for several years now, they report that when the job market improves (and it’s already improving for skilled, college-educated professionals), they’ll leave their current employers in a heartbeat.

Leaders have had a big tactical luxury for two years now in that they could keep nearly everyone doing the jobs they could already ace, producing -- tah dah! – instant optimal productivity.

However, with few people learning brand new skills or having new stretch assignments, leaders also didn’t have to deal with the inevitably inefficient process of learning, growing, and making mistakes.

Some leaders already understand this, and it shows in their plans for 2011. In a Mercer Management study comparing top talent retention strategies for 2011 vs. 2010, 35% of companies indicated that they’re going to invest in training and career development. This item didn’t even make the top three list for 2010. That represents a very, very big shift.

Are you in the 35%? If not, the tactical luxury of the past two years will eventually give way to a strategic nightmare. Get ahead of it now, while the year is still young.

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