Competing for  Talent  in the  Covid  Economy

Competing for  Talent  in the  Covid  Economy

Lately, it’s been hard to remain positive. But as we prepared to celebrate the 4th of July, we learned that America added 4.5 million jobs to the economy in June. It looks like hiring is back in a very big way, which is much needed great news for everyone. Plus, according to Bloomberg, household confidence continued to rise after its steepest drop in over three decades. 

Yet organizations remain skeptical. Why shouldn’t they? We face a resurgence of coronavirus, high unemployment claims, and the Federal Reserve Chair told lawmakers just a few weeks ago that “significant uncertainty remains about the timing and strength of the recovery.” 

Leaders need help. High-talent employees are 400% more productive than the average. But most leaders are stuck on when. “When is the right time to invest in the team? If I act now, I might get top talent, but we’ll increase overhead and risk even more financial problems. It’s much safer to wait and see, but we risk losing out on a superstar employee.” 

To define the problem in terms of when is a mistake. For the best leaders, that question has been answered. And the answer is now. The question isn’t when, it’s who. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, renowned talent management guru and author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Whoexplains:

While most of us become short-sighted and irrational during crises, the best leaders and organizations stay calm and use them to their advantage, sprinting away from their competitors and never looking back. To use another analogy, they bring in architects to plan the new building even as the firefighters work to save the old one.” 

+ Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

We would never wish economic downturn on anyone. Since the outbreak, more than 40 million U.S. workers have filed for unemployment. As shocking as that is, it means there are a lot of really talented people out there. Johnny Taylor Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest HR professional society, explains that “[Hiring managers] know millions of Americans have been laid off or furloughed, many by no fault of their own.” That means the talent market is full to the brim. Today’s up-talent opportunity is unparalleled. 

Every organization will confront new kinds of challenges. Changes demand that talented employees rise and meet them with creativity, resilience and insight. Now more than ever, we must seize potential like never before. As we emerge from lockdowns and our organizations re-center, how will we decide who we want with us as we face tomorrow?  

Step 1. Unfreeze your hiring freeze

Not to minimize today’s uniquely challenging circumstances, but making decisions with imperfect information is what leadership is all about. Every hire is an investment and every investment comes with risk. In this respect, nothing has changed in the competition for talent. 

Recruit hard for key positions. As organizations dwell in the now, you’re focused on what lies beyond the downturns and shutdowns. Go and grab that superstar. Now is the time to build for the future. 

The winners of the Covid economy will not yield to a fear of failure, but instead embrace the potential for future success. 

Step 2. Hire for talent, not skills and experience 

Typical organizations overweigh skill and experience when placing candidates on their shortlists. Typical means most. Most means average. They sift through applicants to debate the importance of what they’ve done rather than their potential. 

HireRight found in 2017 that an overwhelming 85% of job candidates boldly lie on their resumes. The reason? Applicant tracking systems search for an “exact match” between resumes and job postings because most recruiters don’t have the background to effectively evaluate candidates’ skills or experience. This is especially true for highly technical positions or those in a “new” or emerging field. 

In the Covid economy, organizational effort will focus on the new. It has to. Resumes will become increasingly useless. They only indicate that a candidate has held jobs like the one for which you are hiring. Our work will be brand new, uncertain and constantly changing for some time.  

What a person did is far less important than what they can do. Winners will focus on potential. You need more talent – not less. 

Step 3. Invest in talent 

Skills are learned. Talent is not. Talented people learn the skills, techniques and tricks of the trade far faster than most. They “get up to speed” and apply their new knowledge more effectively than their colleagues. A person’s talent is their potential to achieve near-perfect performance.  

Leaders need to create an environment that enables growth and development. Engage your talent. A learning module on the intranet won’t cut it. Encourage the free exchange of ideas, open yourself to meaningful challenge, find a way to turn adversity into progress. 

This is the new normal. We need our most talented people to define strategies, learn the skills to deliver and lead us to post-pandemic success.  

Now is the time. Maybe it always has been. 

Dave Weisser
Senior Research Consultant
dweisser@talentplus.com