4 Takeaways on Attracting, Developing, and Retaining Talent

Kevin Frick and Erin Nash
Kevin Frick and Erin Nash

Kevin D. Frick, PhD, is a health economist. He is a Professor and the Vice Dean for Education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Dr. Frick received his PhD in Economics and Health Services Organization and Policy from the University of Michigan in 1996. He currently holds a joint appointment at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Health Policy and Management. While at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Frick taught and conducted cost-effectiveness analysis. He has more than 150 total peer-reviewed publications and has published over 40 articles, reviews, and editorials that put to use the latest techniques in conducting cost-effectiveness and outcomes research in vulnerable populations. Erin is an Assistant Director of Employer Relations in the Career Development Office at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. In this role, she is responsible for building partnerships with employers in the consulting industry. Erin also coaches business school students on their job search strategies in the consulting sector. Prior to joining Carey Business School, Erin worked in HR for 5 years at AXA. Following this position, Erin assumed a Project Manager role in Talent Management. In addition to her work, Erin is actively involved with women’s professional development organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Colgate University, with a major in Psychology, and is a Certified MBA Career Coach with the Academies.

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Recently, the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School welcomed Dominic Barton, Global Managing Partner of McKinsey, for a discussion with Dean Ferrari. In addition to his role with McKinsey, Dominic recently co-authored the book Talent Wins; thus, not surprisingly, much of his discussion related to attracting, developing, and retaining the right talent.

We put our heads together to summarize, and comment on, four critical points made by Dominic during the engaging event, all of which apply to anyone, in any role, in any industry.

  • Your clients and your people – serving the most important assets.

Kevin: People are needed for production and consumption—leadership and staff within the organization and clients outside the organization. No matter what information systems or other technology or natural resources an organization controls, people are needed to make things happen. The people in the organization need to be moved to execute against goals. People who are not engaged with and valued won’t execute. Additionally, whatever is being produced must serve the needs of the clients or customers to succeed in the market.

Erin: During this program, Dominic touched on McKinsey’s mission, which is “to help [its] clients make distinctive, lasting, and substantial improvements in their performance and to build a great firm that attracts, develops, excites, and retains exceptional people.” I was struck by how simple, yet grandiose, this mission is: 1) help the client to be successful and 2) find and keep the right talent. At first thought, I presumed these two ideas to be separate and apart. Research suggests otherwise. When people have the right skills, knowledge, and resources to do their jobs, they are more engaged and productive. And when people are more engaged and productive, companies are more successful.

  • Communicate your vision to the target group you are trying to develop.

Kevin: I may want to help a specific group of employees in my organization and that can occur in a number of ways. Focusing on subgroups can be important for increasing diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Talking about targeting without action is unlikely to help employees feel valued. A key question: will actions without explanation of a vision make employees feel valued? I am most likely to achieve the goal of employees feeling valued if I communicate a clear plan to the target population and the rest of the workforce to make everyone feel the effort is relevant to them and the organization.

Erin: Communication is key! A 2009 study demonstrates that companies that communicate effectively have a 47% higher return to shareholders over a five-year period. But what makes this communication effective? Carey Business School’s brand is “business with humanity in mind,” and the idea certainly applies to how a leader communicates with his or her people. When sharing information with people, it is important to be honest, upfront, and transparent with information. Thus, communicating vision with honesty and integrity is key when messaging target groups.

  • For talent development in general, hire for characters as much as for what one knows.

Erin: Research certainly suggests that intangibles, such as adaptability, resilience, collaboration, and courage, are the keys to strong leadership in today’s workplace. The 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report notes that risk-taking has become one of the most important drivers of a high-performing leadership culture. Through change, risk, and ambiguity, one can argue that a person’s character – over their skill – will determine how successful they are at navigating these muddy waters.

Kevin: Of course, talent is important. If a person truly does not have the capacity to build or develop a skill, then that person may not be the right one for a position. However, if I believe a person has either the skill or the capacity to develop the skill, then I should look for character. If the person has grit, is adaptable, and has at least the minimum skill level necessary (or capacity to develop the skill), then I might hire that person over a person who is “objectively” smarter. Grit and adaptability are necessary for success in almost any situation and will make a person better able to get many things done than a “smarter” person.

  • In order to unearth the best talent, you might need to employ unconventional methods.

Erin: Many companies today have turned to innovative techniques to find the right talent. For example, organizations like AXA have turned to gamification to predict a user’s job performance, using machine learning and big data analytics. How a person plays a game – the decisions they make and the actions they take – can shed light on their strengths and competencies, which directly translate to role profiles. The rise of AI and automation have also forced business leaders to consider how they will re-skill, or “upskill,” their workforces in order to meet talent demands of the future. At a recent World Economic Forum meeting, several large, global companies committed to looking strategically at this challenge and devising solutions to address it. McKinsey is fully embracing unconventional talent attraction methods: Dominic shared that, in the near future, McKinsey will look to hire a few talented individuals who do not have a college degree.

Kevin: When hiring, we typically send out an announcement to job boards and other outlets that are likely to attract individuals who have the necessary background and experience. However, if we go back to the same sources repeatedly, we should expect one thing: similar results. Why not look at employees in a different industry with similar skills? Or look to develop a skill rather than only looking at people who have it already? Or, could the skill have been learned through life rather than formal education? Bringing in people with more diverse backgrounds (varying industry or education) who are hungry to learn and are adaptable and have grit could help the organization by adding diversity to the workforce, leading to a new and greater exchange of ideas.

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