Real Leaders

Feeling the Great Resignation Strain? Here’s the Secret to Closing the Talent Gap

In just a matter of months, an existentially fueled, record-breaking surge in quitting has turned the U.S. job market on its head, resulting in talent shortages, positions remaining open for weeks and months, and job applicants and new hires ghosting employers.

It’s an alarming trend for business leaders, many of whom have been left reeling as more and more employees drop like flies, with no skilled workers available to take their place. As a result, processes break down, things fall through the cracks, and without enough qualified staff, some businesses may even come to a complete standstill.

But with the Great Resignation showing no signs of slowing down, the time for exasperation and hand wringing is over. Instead, for those at the helm of organizations strained to the breaking point, it’s time to proactively address the situation with a new approach to staffing needs. 

Solving Talent Shortages With Radical Growth

For most business leaders, there is little to no effort put into investing in the growth of lower-skilled workers. Many look externally to fill critical positions instead of promoting internally or promote people based on how well they can handle a job without any training versus how fast they can learn and grow—both of which mean your talent options are even slimmer, not wider.

However, when faced with a significant shortage of options and critical roles to fill, there are essentially two real choices: internally promoting less qualified employees or filling these spots with lower-skilled external applicants. Leaders who successfully overcome the current talent shortage will shift their focus from desperately seeking qualified candidates to teaching their remaining and new employees the exact skills and behaviors of a high performer, leaving them with far more options and a much broader pool of recruits.

Odds are, this suggestion leaves you cold—where would you even start? So how do you know what skills and habits will get your lower-performing employees and new hires up to speed and fast? Here are four tactics for defining exactly what it takes to achieve high performance in your organization to position the workforce you have for success.

Tactic #1: Examine the differences between your top performers and other employees

When you think about your top performers being replaced by lower-skilled workers in your organization, what are the visible differences in behaviors and skillsets you notice between them? 

1. First, look ahead six months and imagine you’re losing your four best employees. 

2. Then list the specific behaviors and skillsets you value most from these team members you’re losing (e.g., they find solutions instead of complaining, they go above and beyond their job descriptions).

3. Finally, think of employees left behind in your organization who may need to be unnaturally promoted and list all the reasons they’re not ready for the job. (e.g., they lack detail-orientation, they never ask for help when they need it).

What continually comes up? This will give you a list of technical skill sets and dispositions, and habits to train for.

Tactic #2: Draw from your own leadership skill sets and behaviors

Think of what makes you most effective as a leader and how these behaviors or skills could translate to your team. Here’s a brief exercise to help you think it through:

1. Imagine you’re taking a leave of absence for a few months. 

2. Upon your return, things in your organization were not only maintained but dramatically improved. In this scenario, what actions—of yours and others on your team—must have occurred to make this a reality?

3. Or, if things completely fell apart in your absence, what aspects of your leadership were sorely missing that contributed to this? 

You don’t have to look much further than yourself and the top performers in your organization to determine what makes people great in these roles. 

Tactic #3: Mine your organization’s performance evaluations for patterns

Review your most recent performance evaluations and make a list of all the areas where people needed improvement, such as better collaboration, communication, organization, or even promptness.

1. Look for the top five overall patterns across these areas.

2. Next, think of individuals in your organization who are the very best at each of these skills or behaviors. Who on your team has never once received these as a corrective action on their performance evaluations?

3. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with each person and ask them to speak for three minutes about their strengths while you record them. Prompt them to begin with the sentence, “The reason/The way I do this so well is…” and let them explain it to you in their own words.

Before three minutes is up, you will have a list of two to five steps that anyone can follow to learn the skills and behaviors of your top performers. These will become the lessons you use in training.

The bottom line is, if we regard what we do as distinct and high quality, we are by definition saying it’s worth teaching and worth learning how to do it well. The most successful leaders will respond to this moment by encouraging radical growth in lower-skilled employees to help solve talent shortages and make a permanent impact on organizational performance.

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