Who will win the talent standoff?

Jun 06, 2021

Playing to win requires a real investment in organizational redesign, and the creation of both a vision and a culture that’s worth the work.

There is a standoff between younger talents’ needs and older talents’ interest and ability to engage and develop them. It’s the future versus a non-functional or sustainable status quo. To succeed, we need to reimagine work in the context of today’s actual constraints and the reality of a forever-changed world.

The problem. Organizationally, too many of us are in the functional shape of an hourglass.

We have little “middle,” and what we do have continues to be overloaded and piling up with pressure moving upward, and not downward in the organization where more capacity exists.

Our “middle” are our managers: 30- to 40-somethings in age with “10 to 15 years or more of experience.” Few exist. It’s just math as a result of the Great Recession – but we still haven’t adjusted. Without reimagining and redesigning the role of the manager, we need to be very careful that the few we have don’t just walk away.

This concern also extends to talent with 20 to 30 or more years of experience.

Managers and principals alike are more overloaded than ever with both work and rework. At the same time, most of their jobs have expanded to doer-seller, supervisor and coach/mentor, new business developer, and client-experience expert – all with little to no training or set of clear expectations.

Something has already “given.”

As a result, manager and principal talent is burning out and disengaging more – all the while junior talent is bored, starving for attention and opportunities, and frustrated they’re not coming.

There are many options to improve our work and our workflow – but just hoping for change or ignoring the need for a structural and functional redesign is a path to failure and missed opportunity.

A similar path can be avoided when we fundamentally realize and accept that all talent – especially younger talent – is not willing to unilaterally prioritize work over life and is not willing to put in more than 40 hours per week for an organization that’s not engaging, not designed for their success, and, in some cases, actually producing more harm than good.

The redesign. The knowledge is at the top, the need is at the bottom, and the middle is constrained.

In order to accelerate the growth and development of our younger talent (our future) while taking the pressure off and reengaging our overloaded senior talent (our present), we need to expand our middle! Specifically, we need to expand our management and our management support systems.

To do so, leadership teams must ask and answer some hard questions…

We are in an industry with record-high profits on the cusp of what could be another Roaring ‘20s: Do we need more work? Do we just need more of the right work? Will any additional work right now without the right internal investments begin to harm us and our external reputations?

Instead of just more work, forward thinking and growth-oriented firms are focusing more on increasing their internal capacity through organizational redesign and making big investments in learning and development, which can include:

  • Educating and incentivizing senior talent across the organization to teach more and “do” less.
  • Augmenting and separating key aspects of people and project management.
  • Ensuring that both essential technical and non-technical skills are understood and practiced.
  • Creating deeper and more strategic processes and systems that normalize how work is organized, shared, and communicated so more standards can be leveraged, and more time can be made available for actual work.
  • Capitalizing on individual and team strengths to improve innovation, collaboration, and design execution regardless of position and location.

Such creative design is even more essential now with blended and remote workforces here to stay.

The payoff. The payoff is our ability to better grow and sustain our success moving forward.

So, who will win the talent standoff? The answer can and should be all of us.

Please reach out to me if you’d like to discuss more about new era growth and success strategies that can work best for you and your organization.

My next article in this series will focus specifically on the vision and culture aspects needed to make this happen – and do so in ways that further attract, engage, and retain more great talent and ideal clients.

Peter C. Atherton, P.E. is an AEC industry insider having spent more than 24 years as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for high-achieving firms. Pete is now the president and founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and the creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process. Pete is also the host of The AEC Leadership Today Podcast and leads The AEC Leadership Mastermind. Pete works with AEC firms to grow and advance their success through modern and new era focused strategic planning, executive coaching, leadership and management development, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design. Connect with him at pete@actionsprove.com.

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