The Next Talent Frontier: Stop Managing Performance, Start Investing in Strengths
BY Lauren Black and Kim Huggins
August 11, 2021
August 11, 2021

We’ll just get right to it—you may lose (or have already lost) a third of your workforce this year. Call it a revival, a reawakening, a renaissance—whatever the source of movement may be, a Microsoft survey revealed that 40% of people are planning a post-pandemic walkabout to find their true professional calling. 

Today’s employee isn’t timidly talking through the usual laundry list of acumen and accomplishments they can bring to the table; they’re confidently asking employers, “what can you offer me that others in your space can’t?” Hint: If you’re answering this question with “a hybrid schedule,” you’re doing it wrong. 

Already we’ve seen the narrative shift around remote work; where work-from-home culture was once a testament to human resilience, it’s now a “perk” organizations are wearing like a badge of honor. Here’s the thing: The modern professional is smarter and savvier than ever before and status quo benefits aren’t going to cut it. They’re looking for more than a paycheck; they’re looking for a partnership that gives them the space they need to grow, to live the lives they want to lead, and to exercise their core values.

The next talent frontier? Performance development. Here we’ll talk through the who (who’s fueling the impetus for professional growth opportunities), the what (what changes must be made), and the why (why these changes will make or break your talent acquisition strategy). Let’s jump in. 

The Who: Millennials Storm the Castle  

A few months back we surveyed CHROs on the return to the office and the post-pandemic workplace. What we found was a disconnect between what executives think their employees need versus what their employees actually want; leaders estimated 57% of their workforce would be interested in coming back into the office, while only 37% of employees stated they’d be willing to commute every day. 

The difference in perspective doesn’t—or shouldn’t—come as a surprise; while we were all disinfecting our door knobs, the generational pendulum swung. Now making up over 35% of the total labor force, millennials have stepped up to take their place as rightful heir to the Corporate America throne, overtaking Gen X who represents 33% of the workforce. 

At the same time, a Wall Street Journal analysis of S&P 500 companies found that only 6% of CEOs are under the age of 50. If age is one of the lenses through which we look at the world, it’s safe to say that leadership and the individual contributors under their command are looking through different lenses. While baby boomers hold the highest positions, millennials hold the majority, and what is it they say about the majority? It wins. 

Their first decree as the new workforce majority? For employers to provide employees with opportunities and stepping stones to better themselves in and out of the workplace. They’re seeking globalism, humanism and a giant leap in a new direction. 

The What: Introducing Performance Development 

Historically, performance management has been cut and dried with no gray area—an artifact of the industrial period where jobs were primarily tactical with clearly defined job parameters. Back then, people came to work, clocked in, did a good job and went home; no more, no less. 

While the framework for measuring performance has remained relatively consistent, the working world around us has become increasingly complex, leading to a workforce more adept in critical thinking, problem solving, and remaining agile to a revolving door of responsibility. Employees now wear many different hats, all unique to who they are as people—making it impossible to retrofit them to the boxes the American labor force once so nicely fit into. 

As people have realized they’re taking on more responsibility and more risk (one of the many quarantine epiphanies), they’re asking employers to meet them halfway and rethink how they approach performance. Rather than viewing performance as something to be maintained, the millennial motion for personal betterment is challenging corporate leaders to see performance as something to be continually developed across the talent lifecycle. 

Embracing the shift from performance management to performance development starts with identifying natural strengths. At the end of the day, employees want to feel like they’re doing a good job and employers want to feel like they’re moving the needle on high-value items like revenue, culture, and growth. Gone are the days of filing people away in a “developmental assignment” that’s designed to make them jump head-first into a position that pulls on their weaknesses. Instead of going wider, let’s help our team dive deeper—placing them with growth assignments that empower them to do more of what they love. This is a win for employers, who feel the business reward of a high-impact employee, and a win for employees, who have the opportunity to bring their full self to work everyday. 

Exercising innate abilities is the best way to go with the grain and serve both sides of the coin. For employers this means spending some time wrapping your head around how each individual on your team sees the work, analyzing how they process information, and committing to the idea that you’re all better together. Development isn’t about forcing them to do something unnatural, but instead, identifying and flexing their strengths in places where those strengths align with business needs.  

The Why: Say “Business Agility” Three Times Fast 

At Navigate, our values aren’t just a culture box we checked off and forgot about; they’re ingrained in the way we hire, the way we communicate, and the way we show up every day for the people around us. They’re a reflection of our combined smarts and every new process we implement is a manifestation of them in some way. 

We also use them to evaluate old processes—some make it, some are thrown out for something better. When we decided to do a side-by-side comparison between what we believed in and how we managed talent, it wasn’t a perfect match so we went back to the drawing board. We knew we needed to accelerate business agility with good talent, while also giving good talent a place they’d want to call home—somewhere they felt fulfilled and celebrated. 

Our solution: Establishing a talent management program that celebrates strengths and assigning each employee a performance coach to serve as their shepherd. Here are some commandments we put into place to help keep us focused.

Establishing expectations

First, we zero in on each employee’s top five strengths and develop a criteria for success around a set of co-developed, meaningful goals. We agree together, as mentor and mentee, what outstanding performance does and doesn’t look like. 

Continually coaching 

We then establish a regular cadence of giving and receiving feedback, keeping things focused and future-oriented. This should be an ongoing process and be equal parts recognition, constructive feedback and encouragement. 

Creating accountability

Tough conversations must be had. The reality is, it’s much better for everyone if managers take the “no surprises” approach. We keep things transparent, candid and developmental.

Rather than measuring how well someone is matching up to the predefined standards, we acknowledge that everyone should be given a flexible criteria for success because everyone is different—and that’s okay. We’ve adopted this approach for two reasons: 1) Because it’s what’s best for our team and if we’re not doing right by our team, what are we doing? 2) Because we can’t afford not to.

It’s safe to say that today’s talent marketplace is a jungle that corporate leaders must tame while also solidifying their return-to-office plans and answering critical operating model questions about how work will get done moving forward. And while identifying and removing any snags in your newly minted hybrid work model may be top priority now, this too shall pass. We should be looking up around the bend to prepare for what comes next. 

And trust us when we say it: When the dust settles, your current and future employees will come knocking for better professional development opportunities. Start thinking about what opportunities you can give them to build their strengths instead of making them feel like they need to sit in a box more effectively, so that when they come knocking, you open the door with a roadmap for a journey they’ll want to stick around for.