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Look Outside Your Comfort Zone to Expand the Talent Supply

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Contributed by Liz Huldin, Former Member, Allegis Partners Advisory Group and EVP, People and Organizational Capability, The Heritage Group

Many companies have grown accustomed to hiring people in the ways they’ve always done in the past. They may hire from the same sources, look for the same sets of skills or industry experience, and work with the same networks of professional acquaintances. Today, however, growth depends on new ideas and fresh thinking, and that often requires an organization to hire talent from outside its comfort zone.

But what does it take for an organization in a traditional field to break the mold and reach for talent where it had not gone before? The answer is to transform critical processes to open up new avenues of access to new sources of talent. Transformation means changing how operating companies within an enterprise work together, changing where talent acquisition looks for workers and skills, and changing how a company enables career mobility for its employees.

The Heritage Group is a great example of what it takes to achieve such a transformation. We are a private, decentralized organization, founded in 1930 with a portfolio of 30 companies and more than 7,000 employees across four industries — specialty chemicals, environmental services, construction and materials, and energy and refining. When I joined the company in 2016, a new female president (fourth generation) had come in who was focused on ensuring continued growth. Talent is a big part of the equation, and our leaders collectively affirmed their commitment to transforming their approach to talent management.

Since then, we have embraced a strategy that is fundamentally changing our talent capability. Today, we can hire people whom we never considered before. Our companies are positioned to recruit for talent outside their respective industries. They have opened paths to share talent between our companies, and, in the process, we are giving employees more opportunities than ever for career advancement within the enterprise. The key to our success is a major commitment to building trust among all stakeholders.

Building Trust

At some point in nearly any change initiative, people will have to do something different than they’ve done before. They may not fully understand the reasons behind that change at first, and they may resist. To build the initial level of trust to support our vision, we spent a significant amount of time meeting and interacting with past and long-standing business members, as well as new people. We carefully studied our organizations and conducted interviews to better understand why our employees work here and what attributes are most important to them. We also conducted an all-employee survey across all 30 businesses. Using a cloud-based tool to interface with disparate systems, IT was not going to be a barrier. We found a way to build upon a strong foundation of independence to promote change and growth.

One would think this activity would slow down our transformation, as it involves a commitment of time, observation, and travel. The result, however, is a culture that moves quickly to embrace new changes, whether using a new technology or implementing a program across multiple operating companies. We call it a “go slow to go fast” approach. The slow process of building trust upfront leads to speed and agility in the execution of the strategy.

Hiring for Resiliency

In gaining stakeholder support, we needed to be clear about what kind of talent we are seeking to help us grow. Skills and experience are important, but resilience is the quality that determines how companies succeed in the future. We will always need resilient workers — not just people who have great skills but also people who are continuously capable of learning, adapting, and overcoming challenges.

To focus on the resilient hire, we identified critical positions and skills that we must invest in for the future. We also created development opportunities that our people simply didn’t have in the past. For example, we implemented a leadership exploration and development program for mid-level managers. We also launched a program to accelerate connections between senior leadership and colleagues across our business units with the creative problem-solving capabilities of our early career, promising talent. Most importantly, we opened up paths of connection and career advancement across our companies. We have to give employees a way to grow and advance on their own terms.

In seeking external talent, we are refining our needs. It is important to recognize that the resilient worker of the future may not be confined by industry, experience, or hard skills. Today, we actively look for talent outside our industries because the people we find within a vertical don’t always have the skill set to adapt to something different. We want people from other places and other industries who are familiar with entrepreneurial start-ups. These people have the mindset and ability to balance risk, develop others, and scale the business.

Every Organization is an Innovator

To compete for talent in the future, every company needs to commit to change and innovation. That means we have to compete for talent that may also be courted by the Googles and Amazons of the world. We don’t have to be flashy to win great talent. Instead, we have to empower our talent to grow and develop, and we have to bring our story to the market, so more people know about the opportunity we provide.

Each of our companies offers a powerful career option for great workers, but together, the value proposition by our collective organization is exponentially greater. That maximum value proposition and value to the worker is what we strive to offer, and with the right strategy, we’re starting to see our efforts at transformation lead to new sources of quality talent. Our experience reflects lessons that apply to any company striving to grow in a time of innovation and changing markets: question what works and commit to improvement every day.

(Editor’s Note: This article is extracted from “The New Meaning of Talent: Adapting to the Work and the Workforce of Tomorrow,” an Allegis Group research report providing insight on the issues facing employers today through the perspective of 1,000 HR leaders. Download your copy today.)

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