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Talent Shortage? How to Win with What You've Got

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If you're not finding the talent you need in this super-competitive market, Vince Thompson suggests you look in another direction: toward the staff you already have. With a bit of effort, you may be able to turn your "losers" into "winners."
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  • Worldwide, 40% of employers are having difficulty filling positions due to the lack of suitable talent available in their markets.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the shortage of skilled workers will exceed 10 million by 2010.
  • Forty-five percent of workers say they want to change jobs every three to five years.

In light of these facts, smart managers realize that they need to retain people on staff in order to keep the company running. So while under better circumstances they might move along those "less spectacular" performers, they know that in a tight talent market, the key is to work effectively with what you have.

Fortunately, you can take steps to help the people on your team perform better and meet expectations. After all, hiring someone is costly (both in time and money), and any turnover has a potentially negative impact on the company. Following is a process that will help you work with your current staff and gain the competitive advantage in doing so.

Step 1: Take a Look at Yourself

Look at how you’re evaluating your team. Many managers who work under—or have been influenced by—command and control hierarchies live with the belief that you should rank your employees and cut those at the bottom. Ranking may be valuable when people perform identical jobs in an identical environment, such as in call centers or sales organizations with territories that have no uniqueness, but the fact is that such environments count for a minority of the workplace population. Most people work in organizations where teams tackle diverse challenges with diverse solutions. Therefore, when managers rank people, their perception of each individual is often blurred by a lack of clear criteria, or the potential to play favorites.

Getting great performance from your team is about working with individuals. Therefore, you need to look at each individual on staff and ask yourself, "Is this person doing what I expect of him or her?" Then clarify what your expectations are for that person. If he or she isn’t meeting your expectations, how are you communicating those expectations? Often, managers communicate a lot with their best players, but communicate less often and in a less meaningful way with marginal performers.

It has been said that we hire people for what they are and fire them for who they are. That is, we hire someone because he’s a Harvard graduate who worked at the top advertising agency in NYC, but we fire him because he was a dishonest jerk who didn’t respect people. Therefore, most of our dissatisfaction is not with what people are, but with who they are. And when we deal with the "who" side of the equation, we often find that the dissatisfaction stems from a general lack of communication of expectations from the manager, not lack of performance from the employee. In other words, we’ve set the job specs, but we’ve failed to talk about how we expect our people to treat each other and our customers.

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