How Can Businesses Avoid the Dreaded Talent Cliff?

“When a business starts to take off, they start throwing all their resources into increasing their revenue, opening up new markets,” Jennifer explains. “But what they don’t say at the same time is: What do we need to do for our talent to ensure that they can keep up the pace with our growth?”

“Psychological safety allows people in the workplace to be honest, to be truthful, to fully embrace who they are without judgment, which creates productivity and innovation,” Jennifer says. “When you open up the conversation, people feel valued … They feel like it’s safe to bring ideas to you because you don’t just shut them down.”

0:00:09.2 S1: Welcome to The WorkTrends podcast from Talent Culture.

I’m your host, Meghan M. Biro. Every week, I interview interesting people who are re-imagining work, and be sure to check out our work trends Twitter chat events calendar located at on the podcast page. During today’s episode, we are going to be discussing the Workplace Talent Cliff.

0:00:37.4 S2: I bet you’ve never heard that term before. So be sure to stick around for this convo. I think you’re really gonna like it, and I’m gonna give you a smidge to peak your interest.

0:00:46.7 S1: The Talent cliff is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around for years and it raises its ugly head in times of trouble. Like in 2008 when the stock market crashed and businesses were faced with layoffs and other reductions in their workforce, and of course, we’re experiencing it now with the lingering effects of the pandemic. The Talent Cliff puts companies in a bad place with them attempting to continue business as is or when more is needed with the talent they need to run their businesses, bit it just isn’t there. Oh boy, what a predicament, right?

0:01:16.5 S2: So as I mentioned, you are definitely gonna wanna stick around for this conversation. But before we get into the Q and A, I wanna start telling you just a little bit more about my guest. Jennifer Thornton has 20 plus years as an HR professional. Her deep expertise and talent strategy and leadership development has led to the rapid growth of her consulting firm, 304 Coaching.

0:01:44.6 S1: Jennifer’s success is largely due to her unconventional approach to building innovative workforce development solutions for companies facing breakthrough growth and accelerated hiring patterns.

0:01:56.6 S2: Jennifer is a sought-after business strategist, specializing in startups and large value-based organizations, where she assists her clients with building talent strategies that complement their business goals to ensure their exponential growth.

So welcome, welcome. Jennifer. Thank you so much for joining me today on Work Trends. Thanks for having me, it’s gonna be a fun show. I have to tell you the topics of talent recruiting and workplace initiatives intertwined with hiring strategies and productivity and collaboration… Come on!

We’re doing it all to you here today, right? Absolutely.

0:02:30.5 S1: We’re gonna pack a bunch into a short time period. Well, and I have to say our audience here at Talent Culture loves this stuff. So I’m so glad you could join me today to discuss what you see in these areas and what kinds of tactics you’re using with clients to help them achieve their business goals.

0:02:46.4 S2: Let’s start with the big question. “Why is it important that a talent strategy complement a business strategy?”

0:02:52.5 S1: Oh.

0:02:52.7 S2: I love that you opened up with that question.

0:02:55.1 S1: It’s interesting. I will talk to business leaders all the time, and they tell me things like, “my team, they don’t make their own decisions, they’re always waiting for me to make the decision” my team this, my team that, they’re always talking about their team. And my first question to them always is, “what about your leadership created that reality for you?”

They don’t always love that question because again, they were trying to blame others, and I brought the blame or the question back to them. And the reason why this happens so often is that people create organizations because they have a service or product they wanna sell. They don’t create organizations because they want to hire a bunch of great people to do great things. They create these business strategies around their service or their product, and they forget that the only way any of that’s gonna happen is if they have a great team around them. That’s why I love to talk to people about their business strategies, because then we can really talk about how to make it happen through the talent in which they hire.

0:03:58.4 S2: What does it mean when organizations throw payroll at their problems? Why do you feel some feel the need to do this?

0:04:06.0 S1: I think it is the shorter or easy way out. Many leaders look at a team or teams come to them and they’re struggling, or they’re missing deadlines and they seem overwhelmed or overworked. And the leaders are asking “why is that happening? I guess you should just hire someone else” If I just throw one more person into that group, then they’ll be fine, they won’t be overworked, they won’t be working overtime, and so they just go and hire someone without asking all kinds of questions that they should ask before that. What they’re doing, instead of looking at the problem that they actually have, they’re making assumptions that is just hiring someone else. If they don’t ask the questions around what work needs to be done, are there things this team is doing that are process-related, and if we updated our processes, we’d actually be more efficient. Or, does this team need training, does this team need education, or is the person leading this team not giving them the great information that they need so then they’re struggling. What happens instead of really thinking about the strategy of the talent and how that matches up to the business strategy, they just go and hire someone else and they just start throwing payroll at all of these problems instead of managing the problem.

0:05:21.1 S1: And then what happens to that person that’s been loyal as an employee? Again, they’re left hanging, and that’s not okay.

0:05:29.0 S2: And it happens far too often.

0:05:31.0 S1: You’re absolutely right. It happens often, and so many times people are like, Well, they hired more people, and I don’t even know what that person’s gonna do because it doesn’t solve our problems, and many times when you go to hire someone new or you see a team struggling, if you just ask the people doing that work, what would need to change to make it more efficient, more productive? Have a greater impact. They usually know the answer, but often times they don’t tell the truth, they don’t tell the answer because we’ve been created an environment in which it’s okay to tell the truth about the business because they may be in fear of their supervisor getting mad at them, judging them, talking poorly about them, and so fear actually holds team back from being honest with how they could be more productive. That’s the unfortunate truth, as much as I like to in yourself, Jennifer and many others out there who are in the HR space, we’ve been professionals… Right. In our own right. We go out there and we start talking. But it always comes back to this, right?

0:06:32.8 S2: Why are we so scared to talk about this stuff, it’s just astounding to me after all these years that data is in it, we know. We know these figures. Why are we allowing this to happen? You know.

0:06:45.1 S1: I think we’re allowing this to happen because we don’t always wanna know the truth as a leader, and when we think we know what things should be done and someone tells us something different, you know it messes with us. Right, we’re like, But no, this is what I’ve always thought, and this is what I always wanted, and this is my way, this is my company, or this is my department, and we are so addicted to our own views that we teach people through our language and actions that is not okay to tell the truth because we get mad at them, or we tell them they’re not correct, or we tell them they’re wrong, and so we actually teach people not to be honest in the workplace. Well, speaking of, there’s something that you call a talent Cliff detail.

0:07:27.2 S2: The talent cliff had happened so often… Yes, said, I just imagine people hanging on to the edge of the cliff going now… So.

0:07:34.8 S1: What happens with organizations is when you start an organization, and I work with a lot of really fast-growing companies, and they really are the group that experienced the talent Cliff the most, and so when a company starts off, the people that are creating this service or the product, their skill set really is more elevated than their revenue, the work they’re actually doing or they would never open or get off the ground in the first place, and because they’re really good at it, the business starts to take off, and when the business starts to take off what they then do again, because they don’t probably have a talent strategy, they start chasing the business and… Do you need to do that? Absolutely, but they start throwing all their resources into increasing their revenue, opening up new markets, what’s the next customer or the next product, but what they don’t say at the same time is, what do we need to do for our people, for our talent to ensure that they can keep up the pace with our growth, and so the company, they throw all that energy into the business, the company continues to grow, but there is this moment in time where the business actually out-paces the work and the skills that people can do, and then that’s when you start to hit the talent cliff, because when you get to that place, the leaders usually get super directive, and so they’re telling people what to do and the good people don’t wanna work for someone highly directive, so they leave, then the people you’re left with are they, yes sir.

0:08:57.0 S1: Yes, ma’am kind of folks, and they’re not telling you the truth.

0:09:00.5 S2: And then all of a sudden, the productivity, it just goes straight down off the club is Talend, cliff, you’re talking about it. It’s killing me, but it does sound familiar, and if you’re out there in the audience listening in, tweet us work trends Community, we wanna hear from you too, who else is going through this and who else continues to feel like like myself, like We should have handled this five, 10 years ago now, to me it’s like, Why can’t we get on to the bigger stuff we’re so mired in as HR, the culture, and this is stopping us from innovating… That’s my issue with of us. Oh, that’s one of my favorite words.

0:09:37.5 S1: Innovation, yeah.

0:09:38.6 S2: And what’s interesting about innovation is its opposite is fear, and as long as we’re sitting in fear, we cannot innovate, and so we’ve gotta get super comfortable with failure, but we’re expected to be perfectionist every day at work, and so if we’re expected to always be perfect. How could we ever innovate because innovation is failure after failure, getting better over time, but you can’t do that if you are required to be a perfectionist, so let’s talk about addiction, how does the addiction of being right negatively influence relationships and results…

0:10:17.1 S1: Oh.

0:10:17.4 S2: So that’s such an interesting topic.

0:10:19.6 S1: I’ve been studying the neuroscience of the brain and how do the chemicals in the brain react in the workplace, and how does that impact our results… Something that’s super interesting, at least I find it interesting, is that you can actually become addicted to the dopamine hit of being… Right, so when you’re… Right, it feels good. We can all admit that how many people out there are feeling this and seeing this unfold, I’m like, Ding, ding, ding.

0:10:44.2 S2: That was my conversation.

0:10:45.4 S1: 20 hours ago with somebody…

0:10:47.1 S2: Yeah.

0:10:47.5 S1: And it’s funny when you see that addiction because someone’s gonna say, come into the room and I need everyone to do this, and everyone in the room’s gonna be like in their head and they’re all looking at each other that look, everyone gives like… That’s the worst idea, or that no one says a word about it and they go, Okay, you want us to do that? That is what we’ll do, and they will drive your business straight off that cliff because you are so addicted to your own opinion, if anyone in that room would have spoken up, they would have been ridiculed, judged and trouble… Any of those types of things. And why would they do that? Why would they put themselves in that position once a typical power play that keeps teams from realizing their business goals and how can they get on the same page to create a positive outcome? So often I see executives protecting themselves and their department over protecting the organization.

0:11:42.2 S2: That’s still out there. It’s fear. The sale goes back to fear, you’re absolutely right.

0:11:46.7 S1: It’s completely fear because if I’m part of a team and I’m protecting myself and my actual team and not the greater team, that when something goes wrong… Guess what? Not my fault, don’t look at me, but when executives come together and they protect over everything else, the objectives of the organization, what they have to do to actually protect the organization is to take blame for everything, and that is very hard to do, but if teams can do that and protect the company over individual… Ego and individual needs. It is incredible what can happen, but as long as they’re protecting themselves, the company will never realize its full potential, unfortunately, as a country, we’re dealing with a lot of violence and gun issues at the moment, so I think this is incredibly timely, why is psychological safety becoming an important part of company cultures, even in remote working situations, so psychological safety is of that new buzz word we’ve been hearing, we used to always hear about emotional intelligence or whatever the buzzword, and now everyone’s throwing around the phrase psychological safety and what psychological safety actually is it’s allowing people in the workplace to be honest, to be truthful, to fully embrace who they are without judgment, and it’s really the reduction of fear and to create an environment with their psychological safety, which actually creates productivity, creates innovation.

0:13:17.9 S1: All those things you want to do that as a leader, your number one priority has to be the reduction of fear, and that’s really hard as a leader.

0:13:26.6 S2: So how do you create trust in safety, especially now in the workplace, whether people are on site or remote, because as we know, people are starting to get back to going to offices and may not be in the numbers we used to have, but.

0:13:38.9 S1: There’s a lot of people who are not gonna get away from being in office. The first thing you have to do is change your language, and we can say the truth and we can give honest feedback, but how we do it determines the ability to remove fear, so for example, someone comes into your office and they have this great idea and you’re in your mind thinking, yeah, no, that’s not gonna work. As the leader, you could say, Hey, that’s not gonna work, go back and find another idea, or you could say something like, I don’t see it, but change my mind, and when you change your language to that where you open up that conversation, that person now feels value they feel like it’s safe to tell you how did they come to this idea, they feel like it’s safe to bring ideas to you ’cause you don’t just shut them down, you’re honest. And the interesting thing is, when you use that phrase, ’cause I use it all the time with my team, I am surprised how often they actually change my mind and I do something different I would have never have done because I open it up to conversation and I make it fearless to come and tell me the truth.

0:14:43.0 S1: Well, and you have to be fearless too… Yeah, and as a leader, you have to just really be open to the truth, and you have to decide what’s the most important, is your ego the most important, or is your business… There you go. Boom, and boom. So, you know, I can’t believe at time is flying. Here we are at crystal ball time here on the podcast. That’s when we talk about what’s next. So I wanna hear from you, what are your predictions for the future of work… Oh, you know, recently I’ve been saying If it wasn’t broken before 20-20, 2020 broken. And so I think what our future holds is environments where psychological safety is important, environment in which we understand how humans interact with each other and were open to leading in a way that there is a reduction of fear, were open and leading in a way where the truth matters more than ego, and I think that the organizations that start to think about that are the organizations that will survive or best practice leadership skills that we were given… Over the last 20, 30 years, we were told, This is how you’re supposed to be a leader.

0:15:50.3 S1: They were actually created during the Industrial Revolution and created before we knew anything about the brain, and so if we’re still using those outdated best practice leadership skills in today’s world, it’s not gonna work. And so what I would encourage your listeners to think about is how do you change your language, how do you think about opening up that conversation so there is psychological safety and so that the business can move forward with the truth.

0:16:16.9 S2: Jennifer Thornton, thanks so much for stopping by.

0:16:19.6 S1: This was awesome.

0:16:20.8 S2: It was a ton of fun. Thank you for having me.

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