Snagging Talent…It’s Complicated

The Surprising Answer To What I Really Do and Why

Part of day-to-day life here at WOA involves us having the ear of top executives, and while you may think that their only focus surrounds numbers (number one in the marketplace, number of dollars at the close of fiscal year, number of corporate golf outings), the message our practice hears is actually becoming quite different. The focus is more and more on people.


It seems competitive leaders of today are honing in on the fact that the talent which shapes their firms is what provides the greatest opportunity for growth; and yes, the kind of legitimate growth that impacts the numbers we all know they so love to talk about. Executives are actively asking WOA, how can we change the way we approach our teams so that everyone can reap the benefits?


As the Project Manager/Brand Guardian/Knowledge Scout/Change Enthusiast at our firm, I set out to the American Society of Training & Development’s (ASTD) 2012 Conference for answers. ASTD’s annual conference was a think-tank of the brightest minds in transformational development, with a focus on accruing the newest practices for measurable results.

From left to right: Russell Evans, Managing Director of Primeast and co-facilitator of the ASTD 2012 Conference; Maurielle Balczon, Performance Manager of Wayne O’Neill & Associates; Clive Wilson, Deputy Chairman Chairman of Primeast and co-facilitator of the ASTD 2012 Conference

“The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system is controlled by management…so it is the leadership that much change behaviors and structure so their teams may perform beyond boundaries,” says Russell Evans, Managing Director of Primeast and co-facilitator of the ASTD 2012 Conference.  In order to have better business relationships and opportunities out in the market, teams must first look internally at their order, deliverables, and overall value. Releasing that value by igniting talent is one of the fastest ways to grow, and teams do that by leading transformation around the transcendent purpose of their brand and the individuals who culminate it.


So how exactly does one engage their teams by ‘igniting talent’? At first pass, that sounds like an opportunity for a lot of philosophizing without a lot of substance. But on the whole, it’s a concept that’s actually quite relevant.


Take ten minutes out of your average workday to watch the Daniel Pink video summary of his Incentives Experiment called “Drive” (you know you’re clicking around on Youtube anyways:, and you won’t be able to ignore the scientific research that points to the human capacity, and desire, to leveraged- not just hired.


“People want to perform at their best in the workplace to be a part of something truly compelling,” affirms Clive Wilson, Deputy Chairman of Primeast and co-facilitator of the ASTD 2012 Conference.


Conceptual, creative and sophisticated jobs, and the talent capable of executing them, are incentivized by things greater than just a paycheck- they are linked to personal identity. Money is a motivator, but past a certain point, money is no longer the true issue on the table. What’s really at stake is a claim to purpose. And how that purpose translates to a sense of vocation is what leadership teams must address today to grow their companies sustainably.  Lesson learned: Turn up the volume on who people really are, so you can leverage their talent strategically and feel the bang at the bottom line.


What is it then that drives people beyond the initial dollar sign and the immeasurable promise of being occupied for at least eight hours in the day? The research says Autonomy, Mastery, and Participation; if you have any doubts, then take a moment to account for it within yourself…see, we knew you’d concur. When leaders create organizations that allow people to be fairly self-directed, exposed to the newest market thoughts and learning opportunities, and collaborative with a multitude of other talented minds within the group, then people are free to innovate. Blurring the lines between well-defined job roles and hierarchy rankings seems counterintuitive (that’s the “p-c” word for “insane”) to traditional business minds to say the least, but out of this perceived chaos comes creativity at its best. What can- and has been proven- to result from such an approach? Ideas for new products, marketing pitches that emerge from off-the-cuff conversations, previously unknown personal networks that were hiding in plain sight this whole time, and most importantly market opportunities to not just make larger sales but make an impact too. The surprising motivator is that people actually want to do things that are interesting and contributive, so keen leadership needs to facilitate an environment for that to occur.


These practices are compelling in theory, but if the results of engagement are so obvious, then why isn’t everyone already doing it? It seems illogical for big business to ignore hard facts like product diversification and increased margins, so what’s amiss? Truth #1 is that for change to work, it must be managed. Truth #2 is that, quite frankly, change is hard.


“We all have robot brains; we are wired to survive, not thrive. So changing is tough,” acknowledges Angela Stauder, Vice President of Personalysis, “And we are equally as wired for cooperation as we are resistance.”

“We see the world as we think it is, through our own lens. We all have different lenses, so it isn’t possible to change someone else’s mind. Change, learning, commitment and engagement are personal and voluntary.”


While most people, or at least people who want to be taken seriously, are not going to transfer all this postulating into one big corporate FYI at next Monday’s meeting- “Attention to all: I’m changing!”-, there are powerful (and respectable) ways to begin transforming your team into a purpose-driven organization. As leaders, ask yourselves and ask team members to think in terms of personal commitment as a means to better company ROI. What am I uniquely offering to the market, how can my individual interests and experiences be better leveraged to shape a creative approach to problems and the customers we serve? What is my commitment to myself, and how does that translate to the way in which I want to better serve my organization? How do we, as a team, change the way we work to facilitate better results?


Traditional management methods promote compliance, but to be nimble in today’s environment requires engagement. Engagement boils down to a purpose-driven organization that is fueled by challenge, mastery, and the ability to make a contribution. So clearly, companies must link the profit motive to the purpose motive. “If we can get past the ideology of traditional business models, the ‘carrots and sticks’ approach to incentivizing teams, and actually follow the science, then we can build organizations that are profoundly more successful,” sums up author Daniel Pink in his video. And isn’t that the bottom line?


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