Businesses usually shed talent to reduce overhead during an economic slowdown. Despite the subsequent infusion of talent into the employment pool, many companies hunt for skilled workers at a frenzied rate and, surprisingly, cry that they can't find the talent they need.
One reason for this contradiction is that many employers have not groomed and trained their employees for larger roles. As a result, they've created a chasm between employees and management.
Another problem is losing valuable employees to advancement opportunities at other companies. Recession or not, employees are jumping ship for better opportunities.
Lack of advancement is one of the primary reasons for employee turnover--a fact exploited by headhunters looking to "poach" disenchanted employees stuck in dead-end jobs. When I ask employees and business leaders what they look for in a new opportunity, rarely is "money" given as the reason someone considers leaving their employer. The answer is almost always the lack of career advancement opportunities.
"I have left a job and have known many who have left their jobs because the hope for advancement was limited or nonexistent," says Pete Murray, formerly a technology service manager with Goodyear. "It just doesn't have to be that way!"
Small firms feel the pain, too, particularly when they begin to grow. For years, Brian Dixon, health IT manager, and his colleagues at Regenstrief Institute, an Indianapolis healthcare organization, explained the risk to top management, but only now are they starting to listen.
"We started with an employee survey of our programmers, analysts, software engineers, project managers, IT support and help desk folks," Dixon says. "We asked a lot of questions about staff satisfaction (job, morale, if one is listened to by others, compensation, if the organization is a good place to work); management (whether our management team has made decisions that positively affect the organization, responds to internal issues appropriately, provides leadership); training and skills (access to opportunities for improvement and the tools needed to do your job); equity (I am treated fairly); communications (too little, too much); and environment (harassment, diversity). For each area, we used a five-point Likert scale to measure responses."
This brought the issue to the surface very quickly. In response, Regenstrief had several meetings with managers to discuss the outcomes of the surveys, and established a committee to work on solutions. "We are now working to change annual reviews to include career paths," Dixon says, "and top management is listening to our ideas on how to foster an environment that allows employees to grow into new roles in order to stem the tide of unhappy campers."
If this is such a widespread, common issue, why do companies shed their training experts during tough times? The simple answer is that executives believe they must drive down costs; everything else is secondary, as far as they're concerned. Pressure from investors to see a return on their investment--no matter what the cost to the overall health of the organization--also drives executives to make these short-sighted decisions. Amazingly, 60 percent of all companies have no succession planning of any kind, according to the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.