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On March 23 2000, Saba and Fast Company sponsored the first in a series of three forums focused on learning. The inaugural event, Talent and Learning, produced some fresh opinions and perspectives. Most of the conversations focused on getting, retaining, or returning talent. LiNE Zine thought you’d enjoy hearing a little of what was said.

Learning New Strategies in the Talent War

 “The war for talent is over. The talent won. Get over it,” declares John Sullivan.

Sullivan, Chief Talent Officer at Agilent Technologies, says it’s no wonder companies are losing. Most completely miss a critical set of information—what really motivates and drives top talent. What do people want in a job? Why do they stay in a job? What does development really mean to them?

How can companies learn about talent? Simple—they should be doing continual and extensive market research, internally and externally—“to the point that it’s painful,” says Sullivan. They have to talk, and listen, to people inside the company, outside the company, on college campuses, on the street. To everyone and anyone.

The key, of course, is the next step—to take that information and use it. Get rid of the old methods and mindsets around recruiting—traditional recruiting tools are designed to attract unemployed people. Top talent is not unemployed! Where is that top talent? They are not sending resumes around. They are working at your competitors, already trained, already top performers. Perfect sitting targets. Companies have to identify the best talent constantly, and hire continuously.

“The hard part,” says Sullivan, “is convincing talent, once identified, to leave a pretty good job, or a great job, for another job. You have to take somebody with a great job and make them a great offer—which becomes a Dream Job.” You can create Dream Jobs by finding out what people really want. And giving it to them. No questions, no delays. Dream Jobs are absolutely essential to recruiting and retaining top talent.

It all comes down to recognizing the value of a top performer versus an average performer. The difference translates into real bottom-line profits for the organization. It’s estimated that Michael Jordan made the NBA around $10 billion. In comparison, his astronomical salary was mere chump change.

Boomerang Employees—A Great Asset

You invest a lot of time and energy in hiring and retaining talent. You create great jobs, lots of flexibility, and a learning environment. Yet you’re losing a valued employee. It’s an inevitable occurrence in today’s free agent world.

Many executives at the Forum said that it pays to be nice in this frustrating situation. Leave the door open. Make the departure positive. The employee just might come back some day!

Return, or “Boomerang,” employees are some of your company’s best sources for talent, and they come with an already flattened learning curve. Jeff Taylor, founder and CEO of Monster.com, gives his boomerang employees a very public forum—he puts them in front of the company and lets them explain in their own words why they came back. Inevitably, the “grass is browner” stories they share are invaluable.

Boomer Exit

While most of us are caught up in the New Economy swirl, we’re missing a phenomenon that will soon reach dire proportions. Jeff Taylor thinks we’re reaching a crisis point. Why? Because we’re not paying attention to who is retiring from our companies.

By 2003, Taylor says, Baby Boomers will be retiring in larger numbers than there are people to replace them, creating a generational labor shortage. To add to the bad news, Boomers are not retiring from sexy jobs, either—they’re leaving the “boring” jobs that no one today wants to do. This brings a double dose of bad news for large corporations already decimated by the mass dot.com exodus.

Taylor thinks we’ll have to retool organizations to make “boring” jobs less so, through methods like job sharing, cross training, and creating opportunities for employees to move through the organization more freely.

Beth Scofield, reporting for LiNE Zine.

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