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This Week in Leadership
5 Ways to Avoid Job-Search Exhaustion
Sure, the job market has picked up, but all searches are time-consuming. Experts weigh in on how not to run out of steam.
When it comes to top talent in the resources sector in British Columbia, both CEOs and chief human resources officers (CHROs) find themselves confronting the same challenge: They are keenly interested in learning about successful and workable best practices to attract, develop, and retain professional and executive talent, which has a profound positive or negative organizational effect on organizations. Korn Ferry interviewed 20 CEOs, CHROs, and other sector leaders and experts. Combining the results with its existing search, placement, and talent development expertise, Korn Ferry sought to identify key gaps and concepts that need to be considered for BC organizations to recruit, retain, and develop executive and management talent. Based on our research, we highlight four macro talent considerations affecting the BC resources sector:
With these larger issues as context, Korn Ferry found that the challenges inherent in attracting, nurturing, and retaining talent within resource-based businesses differ materially in degree from challenges in other sectors but are commonly felt by all within the sector. To address the challenges, it is important to consider the full talent life cycle—recruitment, development, and retention—as well as to recognize the unique hurdles that organizations in the natural resources sector must overcome to deal with top talent in a province as remote and diverse as BC.
Natural resource employers share similarities in attracting, developing, and retaining unique talent. To start with, they must grapple with the cyclical nature of the mining, energy, agriculture, and forest products industries and their related service providers. This challenge is further complicated by the reality that top talent often must work in small, remote, under-resourced, and logistically isolated communities. Geography can be a decisive factor for talent and organizations, and they must distinguish the issues they face in identifying, qualifying, and attracting elites to the Lower Mainland, versus to their operations in smaller communities across the province. Neither recruitment is easy, and at the heart of each must be an implicit recognition that traditional passive approaches like job postings are woefully inadequate to sustain an effective long-term talent management strategy.
Instead, companies may wish to consider stepping up their management of talent, end to end, with well thought out, formal frameworks. The Korn Ferry Institute recently analyzed more than 2.5 million assessments of professionals and top executives. This research has determined that human performance in the workplace is governed by four factors or dimensions: competencies, experiences, traits, and drivers. Research shows these four areas to be highly predictive of performance differences and to be correlated with all key talent variables, including engagement, retention, productivity, leadership effectiveness, and leadership potential. When hiring top talent, these dimensions provide practical guidance on how
to evaluate the critical fit between an organizational culture and a leadership candidate. That fit, as BC leaders emphasized in interviews, plays a critical role in finding people who best benefit from development, who then grow and become more engaged with companies, and who stay and potentially move up in organizations in the province.
Korn Ferry Institute’s four-dimensional framework can help hiring teams clarify their understanding of how well a candidate fits with their organization (Crandell, Hazucha, and Orr 2014). The purpose of this research-driven framework is to foster practical conversations about candidates’ fit through an easily shared language that makes leadership selection and talent management effective and sustainable. The four dimensions:
As Korn Ferry’s research in BC makes clear, companies know that the province places unique demands on top talent and that families and organizations could benefit from assessing potential leaders as early as possible for such characteristics as courage, resourcefulness, personality, social consciousness and deep internal values, motivations, and aspirations. Such information not only can help determine eventual fit but also can assist organizations as they deal with perceptions—and misperceptions—about opportunities in BC.
With the arguable exception of expatriate employees (whose living costs while on assignment in BC are met by their employers), material obstacles exist to attracting and retaining top executives in the Lower Mainland. Organizations must deal with resource executives’ perceptions, of the area’s high cost of living, particularly for real estate. Vancouver also may be viewed as anti-industry, lacking entrepreneurship, and as a difficult spot in which to do business. Oil and gas executives, most from outside BC, sometimes see Vancouver as a backwater in the resources sector, with few corporate headquarters, fewer competing employment opportunities, and elevated general and administrative costs. Further, the province has a reputation among some in this field for misplaced NIMBY-ism. Although British Columbians’ deep concern for the environment is seen as positive, general ignorance about responsible, sustainable resource development is sometimes seen as negative.
Globally based professionals on occasion cite a “provincial” mindset and the lack of a competitive world view. They must deal with concerns about employment, residence, and tax liability. Local employers perceive a protectionist labor code, low productivity, and high absenteeism, while multinational executives struggle with the challenges of dealing with a provincial government they see as under-resourced and challenged in understanding, enabling, or supporting the resources sector more effectively. Further, qualified foreign talent and prospective local employers have been frustrated by uncertainty caused by recent changes to the Express Entry Immigration Program and the BC Provincial Nomination Program (PNP).
Remote communities bring additional challenges that disrupt continuity and longevity in talent management. Employers play a large role in the social and civic fabric of such smaller communities as Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, Fort Nelson, and Williams Lake. Town populations ebb and flow markedly in the up-and down cycles of the resource-based economy and in seasonal infrastructure project work and exploration. The challenges can be substantial for organizations seeking to manage top talent in these locations, and the most common include trailing spouses and children, lack of world-class international schools, and a dearth of advanced sports facilities and opportunities for high-level athletic competition nearby. The erosion over time of longstanding professional communities and informal networks among leaders in mining, forestry, and oil has only increased prospective employees’ concerns about the possible infrastructure challenges in remote communities.
Korn Ferry in its research found no single silver bullet or portfolio of practices that would quickly solve BC employers’ top talent challenges.
But organizations in BC are making headway on their talent issues, those interviewed said, by taking steps like these, many of which show more success when undertaken early on in the process:
Without exception, leaders in the resource sector underscored the importance of managing top employees throughout their careers. It is critical, those interviewed said, not just to recruit top talent but also to develop and retain those employees (and existing staff) to sustain organizations’ needs as they grow. Every organization has its own initiatives to develop talent from within, but the leaders interviewed said their companies need to stay laser-focused on this concern. That’s because of the limited talent pool within BC at senior levels and the difficulties of recruiting more. External pressures, they said, also have heightened the need to deal with staff development. Should the LNG industry take off, for example, affected companies will need to recruit outside BC for talent and, although this approach may work as projects launch, it will be unsustainable and undesirable to maintain expatriate executives over the extended lives of these operations. Companies are planning how they can mentor local executives to take over leadership of these operations as quickly as is appropriate.
Many organizations in the BC resource sector also recognize their need to compete and to expand globally. For example, the mining sector is already widely dispersed worldwide and the forest products sector is increasingly North American if not global in scope. They may need to plan strategically to improve customer proximity, mitigate geopolitical risk and lower cost structures. These big plans are heavily dependent, however, on organizations finding or developing leaders with the competencies needed to operate effectively on the global stage.
Many resource sector companies, the interviewed leaders said, are focusing on developing their workforces to deal with real gaps in executive talent in their industries, shortfalls that can be traced to history and tradition. Students pursue studies in resource-based programs in a way that matches the boom-and-bust nature of commodities markets; when a recession hits specific commodities (such as base metals or forest products), universities and colleges produce fewer graduates knowledgeable in these areas. But fast-forward 20 years to a time when these novices have gained the experience and are expected to lead companies and organizations then find the talent pool noticeably thin. The wave of baby boom retirements threatens to deplete the talent pool further, especially at senior levels.
As discussed earlier, resource sector companies are showing signs of talent retrenchments, with layoffs affecting staff members early in their careers and reductions in hiring of post-secondary educated students. These could well be contributors to a future cycle of major talent challenges that could be avoided.
The development initiatives vary by company, with some leading organizations creating integrated strategies and taking comprehensive approaches, placing development centrally as a critical component to achieving business success. In these companies, leaders constantly learn and grow in their roles. They are assisted with focused individual and group development plans that are part of programs that also can include job rotations, stretch assignments, and coaching on personal practices. Here, development is seen to be part of the job and continues over a career. Many other organizations, in recognition of sometimes acute talent gaps, focus their development efforts on immediate needs or specific groups, including high potentials, executives needing development and recent graduates. Company programs vary in their emphasis, but development efforts often target self-development, leading others and teams, and leading the business. Those interviewed noted a rise in development programs emphasizing leading at scale and increasing one’s global perspective. Companies with more advanced development initiatives have integrated expatriate assignments and cross-cultural task forces to elevate their current and emerging leaders’ global perspectives. A few organizations have sent some promising executives elsewhere to lead units with significantly larger scale to gain experiences they could not get in BC.
Business leaders also are collaborating to develop talent in the BC resource sector, a practice fostered by industry and government partnerships. The programs for technical development have helped to target and develop individuals. Associations like MiHR, ITA, and others have helped to create technical development programs targeting specific groups. This collaboration, however, does not extend in a meaningful way to executive development. Businesses are simply sharing best practices on mid- to senior-level executive development.
A critical issue in the development of BC resources hinges on the First Nations’ relationships with industry and government. Companies long have realized that a key way to strengthen this relationship is to ensure that they have significant native representation in the workforce and not just on the front line; a number of organizations are seeking to engage better with the First Nations by developing native leaders in their workforces. This will require a longer term commitment, as there is now only a small pool of indigenous employees with the industry experience required to be senior leaders. The First Nations, government, educational institutions, and industry will need to continue to work together closely to develop an appropriately credentialed talent pool so that, as one interviewed leader noted, there is a “substantive number” of native people “with MBAs, PEngs, PGeos et cetera,” a process this expert sees taking a decade or more. Many respondents echoed this view and noted the importance of broad efforts to strengthen trust with the First Nations and to build critical social infrastructure, including facilities to improve health, education, and more. Companies said they are committed to developing available, viable, and interested native talent earlier in their lives to increase the talent pool. These initiatives, though long term, are critical to the development of First Nations’ executives in the resource industry.
Besides creating a robust internal pool of leaders, strong development programs help companies attract and retain top talent, those interviewed said. Organizations increasingly recognize that top talents, particularly at earlier career stages, want to work for companies that help them grow and develop, and organizations with formal development programs move to the top of their lists of preferred employers. Strong development initiatives can provide the growth and challenge to both engage and keep talent. These successful development initiatives not only boost organizations’ executive talent pools, they also expand them by attracting and retaining talent.
Respondents from companies with the most advanced initiatives emphasized the importance of development as a way to activate business strategy. Development isn’t something separate or in addition to leaders’ work, nor is it a perk just for top performers, they said. Development is an integral, sustained, and cohesive part of the planning and execution of strategy. These observations align with Korn Ferry research on talent development and strategy activation, including planning to support these key elements, the need for leaders to learn in place, for them to get a grip on their own strengths and weaknesses, and for them to discover how a greater good can be a powerful motivator (Hill et al. 2015). One organization that is planning a multibillion-dollar investment in BC may be providing an exemplar for integrating development to activate strategy: Its executives have identified how they will attract, develop, and retain top- level leadership throughout the process. Their plans—embraced by current leadership as a critical strategy component—detail how the organization will develop leaders throughout, with programs that include mentoring, job rotations, and temporary assignments.
The topic of retention dominated the interviews with BC resources companies. Although clients in forestry, paper and packaging, and some other areas have been most directly affected up to now, executives across the resources sector expressed concern with their aging professional workforce, attrition, and loss of key technical talent to competing industries, jurisdictions, and careers.
The cyclical nature of most resources industries exacerbates the issue, and the current downturn in the oil sands—viewed by most respondents as the primary challenger for scarce executive and technical talent nationally—increases the need, leaders said, for the industry to develop robust retention strategies to safeguard the tenure of professionals when energy markets inevitably rebound.
Two key considerations surfaced in the Korn Ferry interviews:
BC leaders also offered other notable insights in the Korn Ferry interviews, including:
As this list and the Korn Ferry research indicates, CEOs, CHROs, and other resource sector leaders in BC are thinking deeply and broadly about talent management. They are meeting their unique and significant challenges head-on. That can-do spirit and approach long have been hallmarks, of course, of those who readily describe their good fortune to live, work, and prosper in a demanding business in a splendid land. Sharing best practices, applying expertise like Korn Ferry’s, and putting innovative practices in place can only advance the aspiration that so many described in interviews—to find, hire, develop, and retain top talent, global and local, in a comprehensive way to ensure organizations in the province can grow and prosper.