The Battle For Top Talent: Will Your Workforce Policies Pass the Smell Test?

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“You mean to tell me that you tried to forbid someone to look for a job for two years until the program that they are in is completed? Are you guys nuts?”

That was my reaction to an article concerning Morgan Stanley’s ill-fated program to lock in junior level employees, at least until they had completed their two year analyst program. On top of that, this was a pledge that they had to sign.

I picked up the phone and called a friend who worked there and we both kind of shook our head. He felt the same way as I did. He said the company wanted to keep these folks under lock and key so they could watch their investment.

You’re hired — and you can’t look for a job

Sometimes I wonder just where my HR folks are when these type of things are crafted. You do not need a PHR or SPHR to realize that this was not the way to go. You do not need an HR certification to realize that this would not work.

The No. 1 problem is, how do you enforce this? Do you require everyone to turn their cell phones at the front gate?

What type of message do you send to your new hires that they will then tell their friends? Who gets deputized to corral all the miscreants who were smart enough to figure out a way to ignore it? What is the punishment for them, and how severe is it? I can go on and on, but I think you get the point.

“Telling employees that they can’t look for jobs while working for you is like telling them not to use the Internet,” says Wanda Cumberlander, assistant dean of applied management degrees at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies. “These things are unrealistic.”

On top of that, Morgan Stanley was the only one on the “Street” that had this hideous rule.

Old rules need not apply

There was a time (pre-social media) that you could have the most arcane and intrusive rules that you could think of — and you could get away with it.

Those days are long gone. Everyone that walks into your employ, for the most part, is a free agent. They are always available to the highest bidder, and that currency is not always what you think it is ($$$).

Unlike professional sports, where the shelf-life of a career is short, a person’s work career is a marathon. They start out at the ready, set to go but soon to find out that the destination will probably change. My wife majored in math and was destined to teach school until she got into that first job and found that detour was written all over her. She is now an executive with a major department store, and he job there has nothing to do with math.

Someone told me over dinner the other night that the majority of people at their company have worked there since college. Most of them, according to her, were in their mid-40s and up. While I applaud their loyalty, this kind of workplace demographic is a double edged sword (but that’s another blog post).

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The workforce today is adventurous and inquisitive. It is not the same workforce as when I first got into HR. You might as well become as transparent as possible because tough questions will always percolate to the top and you do not want to have that “deer in the headlights” look.

They are a lot smarter than you think

Your workforce is smart. They read, they network with friends constantly, and they compare job. So realize that you are not the only employer in this rodeo.

The days of people being thankful just because they work for you are over. They could just be counting down the time to escape. The very talented, and they can have a choice of roles within their industry.

These new workers operate differently and think differently. In the age of social media, everything that goes on inside can get outside in a hot minute. How many times over the past few years have you seen copies of confidential emails to a workforce become not-so-confidential and downright embarrassing when they come to light?

Can your policies pass the smell test?

We have a worker today that has grown up with so much media and technology around them that they have, at their finger tips, a treasure trove of any information that they desire.

Glassdoor has become the great equalizer and can give anyone an inside look into ANY company. This top of the mountain view can be had without setting foot in your door. So in actuality, the smart talented ones are interviewing you before you know it.

Always assume that whatever you do in regard to your workforce is going to get out. Let that lens be the filter of any initiative that you are crafting. If it can’t pass the smell test — and by that I mean if your organization were put in the spotlight, could you or PR craft a believable response? — then don’t do it!

Remember, sunlight and transparency are the best disinfectant ever!

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “The Battle For Top Talent: Will Your Workforce Policies Pass the Smell Test?

  1. i think a point of concern is also that we the focus was less on understanding the aspirations of the workforce and rather more on trying to discipline them using the stick and carrot method.

  2. Any time an organization asks applicants to sign a document agreeing that they will stay with them for “X” amount of time (especially as a contingency of employment) it sends off warning bells. I would research the reason behind such a practice. Is their turnover rate so high and out of control that they had to take drastic measures? If so, what is causing the attrition? Was this the best solution? It seems to me they’re treating the symptoms rather than the cause.

    I’m trying to imagine the meeting that took place between the leadership team on how to address turnover with this as the outcome. What insanity led their CHRO to sign off on this horribly misguided attempt at a retention strategy? Was there no one in the room familiar with organizational change concepts? Or in touch with reality? Was something in their water pitcher?

    I would be more understanding if this was a small company whose HR department consisted of an AR clerk and a 2-drawer filing cabinet, but when large organization makes a mistake of this magnitude all I can do is scratch my head and wonder: what were they thinking?

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