Need a supply of talent? If it’s time to hire, it’s already too late.
The movie Glengarry, Glen Ross famously features a scene where Alec Baldwin lectures a room of salesmen on how to convince prospective investors to buy the real estate they’re pushing. “A-B-C!” he screams at them. “Always be closing!” His point, of course, is that you should see every contact as an opportunity to make a sale. While that’s an aggressive tactic pushed by a ruthless boss, there’s a (much) softer point to consider when it comes to networking, especially in order to keep a supply of talent. In that case, think of A-B-C as “always be connecting.” Not in the heartless, transactional way that Alec Baldwin’s character pitches it, obviously. But you do need to constantly be aware of potential leads for talent, as you might for sales. Importantly, don’t compartmentalise the people you know. Whether they’re a former colleague, a current customer, or a potential competitor, everyone should be assessed as part of your supply of talent. And I’ve noticed over the years, that the best leaders do this naturally. They are always connecting to people, staying in touch, and building new relationships, with people who have potential.
How to keep a supply of talent at your fingertips.
Remember that past is prologue, so often. This adage applies equally to people you’ve worked with in the past – they might well reappear in the future. The person who impressed you in a prior job might very well be a strong performer elsewhere. When you leave an employer, you should be diligent in staying connected to those who you enjoyed working with. These days it’s so easy to stay in touch via social media. Saying hello on Facebook, following them on LinkedIn, or watching their Twitter feed makes it easy to remain updated on where they are and what they’re doing. You don’t even have to speak to them directly – you can retweet them, like an article they post, or endorse their specific skills on LinkedIn.
If it’s difficult to stay connected, that could be a red flag. If people seem reluctant to stay in touch, you should ask yourself why. I’ve found those who are true leaders don’t have a problem finding followers, even if some of those followers never reported to them on an org chart. It shouldn’t be surprising that people who inspire, encourage, mentor or otherwise help others professionally don’t struggle to find a supply of talent. People either explicitly follow great leaders to a new organisation, or stay in close contact in case an opportunity to work together arises later.
The relationship has to stay open-handed. Great leaders are as unworried about losing talent as they are about finding it. For Millennials in particular, an employment relationship is a moment in time, not an ironclad commitment. Leaders who are confident don’t take it personally when they lose team members to competitors or customers. You can’t teach any one person everything they need to grow professionally. It’s as important to encourage people to keep developing in other environments. For some organisations, retaining talent can mean finding new opportunities within the company, whether via formal rotations through departments, or just the organic promotion of individuals to help retain them. But either way, for individual leaders, that means letting go of talent in a positive way.
Building a supply of talent isn’t that difficult.
These days, you don’t have to flip through a Rolodex and wonder if the phone number is still good. A quick search of social media makes it easy to reconnect. If you can’t find someone you lost touch with, ask one of your current connections. For all the negative associations of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, there are real efficiencies in being able to reach out to someone regardless of time zone or geography. A quick phone call once every year or two can be enough to keep some connections fresh. For others, you might try to reach out a little more frequently. But the soft, nonverbal touches available through social media means that in minutes a day you can always be connecting.
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.