Is Talent Management Still Relevant?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about profound modifications to our lives, both at home and at work. While for some people the adjustment to staying at home has not been too remarkable, for most businesses the shift required during these past three months has been absolutely dramatic, especially in terms of changes they had to face. 

First, these changes affected the way organizations function – social distance and remote work have become the new normal. Second, companies face much more scrutiny from outside of their internal environment, as their industries are subjected to more government intervention in the form of, for example, mandatory health and safety regulations.  Third, businesses now have to deal with fresh and constantly developing market challenges, like rapidly changing consumer behaviors, newly appearing or disappearing market competition and broken supply chains, to name a few. Fourth, and probably the most significant change to the “old normal,” is the enormous drop in employment, with unemployment numbers reaching heights that haven’t been seen since the era of the Great Depression.

[To read more of Vlad Vaiman’s thought leadership click here]

Given all these facts, should organizations continue to care about talent management and spend their scarce resources on attracting, deploying, developing and retaining the best employees?  In other words, is talent management (TM) still relevant? I would argue that it is still relevant, and perhaps more than ever before. 

Health care, food and agriculture, public safety and other professions will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future. Others that we had long prioritized until March of this year such as information technology, machine-building, financial services and education will return to the forefront as soon as the economy stabilizes. Do not forget that the United States has experienced critical shortages in the IT industry for many years. Although unemployment is high, there still aren’t enough qualified IT specialists in the country to fill available jobs. The talent gap remains, so these shortages will persist. 

It is difficult to find a silver lining in high unemployment, but it could be an opportunity to address the talent shortage by teaching new skills to some jobless professionals and inviting them to join organizations that are experiencing acute labor shortages. Also, after organizations in high-demand industries, including those deemed essential, have filled as many positions as possible with American workers, they should be able to tap into the international labor force to try to bridge the remaining talent gap. All these newly filled jobs will inadvertently lead to an increase in consumer spending, which will help reignite the economy. Unfortunately, while countries like Canada and Australia make it relatively easy for organizations to hire needed specialists from abroad, U.S. immigration policies remain prohibitive, exacerbating the problem.  

During economic downturn, and even during the kind of deep recession that we are facing now, retention efforts become more essential. This is because smart organizations want to ensure that even after major layoffs they still have their best employees to carry them through the tough times and step up if and when the next crisis hits. 

Smart organizations understand that in these highly uncertain times, human capital is the most sustainable advantage they have.

Although multiple studies show us that the higher the unemployment rate is the lower the possibility that people will voluntarily leave their organization, even high unemployment rates have little influence on the intent of talented individuals with highly specialized knowledge, skills and ability to leave.

Recent employee satisfaction surveys show relatively high scores, but that does not mean that organizations are in the clear. Some people,  especially those in the most susceptible industries like hospitality and retail, are in survival mode. They are in a state of shock and disbelief about the pandemic and its economic  and human consequences. Employees simply do not want to complain about their job satisfaction because they feel lucky they still have a job and can  provide for their families. The longer the status quo continues, the more people – especially talented workers – will feel trapped in the same job, which will lead to quitting behaviors like absenteeism and emotional withdrawal which will ultimately lead to voluntary turnover.  

Some experts indicate that, sooner or later, the unemployment rates will return to their lowest levels, which will be followed by an increase in voluntary turnover rates when the recession is over. So, if your organization already employs top talent, you will be able to enjoy that coveted advantage over your competitors, who might still be scrambling to find highly talented individuals in a swiftly tightening labor market. Therefore, you simply cannot forget about serious retention efforts, even if you think that talent is easy to come by now.  Continuing to invest in your people, in their development and retention, sends a powerful message of stability and encouragement to your employees, which is especially important at this time.  

[For more on California Lutheran University’s approach to Talent Management click here]

Although it may seem kind of counterintuitive to talk about TM now when the economy is in recession and unemployment is so high, I predict that the incredible efforts to attract, deploy, develop and retain the best performers will continue for the foreseeable future. Smart organizations understand that in these highly uncertain times, human capital is the most sustainable advantage they have. Only by leveraging it in the right way, with the help of meaningful TM strategies,  can they survive and prosper now and in the future.  

There are at least three key forces that constantly stimulate the war for talent: skills deficiency on the part of the existing workforce, a strong tendency for talented people to ride the waves of their employability by switching from one company to another, and the rapidly aging population. These forces, along with the limited supply of young and talented performers, will ensure that TM will remain among the most relevant issues in contemporary business management for years to come.