Since taking control of the company in 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been on a mission to transform its culture from one of fierce internal competition to the collaborative ideal of “One Microsoft.” Nadella’s tenure has seen an increase in the number of “boomerang” employees returning to Microsoft after stints at other companies, Seattle Times business reporter Rachel Lerman observes—over 2,200 in total:
During the few years before Nadella stepped into the role, about 12 percent of the company’s new hires in the U.S. each year had previous job stints at the company. But that number ticked up to 16 percent, or 621 boomerangs, between July 2014 and July 2015, starting a few months after Nadella took over as CEO.
These returning employees, who remember how Microsoft operated a decade ago, are particularly attuned to the change in the company’s dynamic, which in many cases, was part of the reason they decided to return:
When [Dean] Lester, an engineering director, left the company at the end of 2009, he was craving some time off and new challenges, but he was also feeling frustrated with the way Microsoft teams were being run — they were so focused on rapid project launches that people were burning out. That was changing, the chorus of former co-workers told him. He should take another look. …
A recent survey of around 400 HR professionals conducted by Marlin Hawk and Hunt Scanlon Media warns that a quarter of US businesses are seeing a rise in C-suite poaching but have no plans to combat it:
Of responding HR experts, 54 percent indicated that their company either has no plan to ward off poachers or, if it does, they’re unaware of it. And of those whose companies have a strategy in place, only 39 percent were satisfied with it. …
This talent retention survey – which collected information from companies in sectors including financial services, technology, retail/consumer goods, healthcare, government, and manufacturing – indicates that while only 4 percent of respondents believe talent raids have been declining during the past two years, just 47 percent of respondents said their companies have a definitive plan to identify vulnerable talent.
This presumes that companies control people, but in today’s labor market, that’s outmoded thinking. If you really care about employees, you make them employable. And if you do it right, they thank you for it and stay. Or if they don’t stay, they’re more willing to come back.
That’s why employer alumni networks are growing. Not only that, given how many CEOs want to reposition their companies in the broader ecosystem in which they operate (according to IBM’s latest global C-suite study), and that CXOs increasingly need to partner with more organizations, having your talent go elsewhere can enable these objectives. That’s because you really know the people on the other side.
In short, thinking of talent as a zero-sum game is, at best, a distraction for a company. Focus on building your reputation as a talent magnet, not forcing people to reluctantly stay at your company so you “control” the best resources.
I’ve been doing research and giving presentations on leadership for almost 10 years, and despite that (or maybe because of it), I’m often debating with my team these two possibly unanswerable questions: Is there a single “best” model of effective leadership or does the right model vary by situation? And accordingly, should leaders carry around a dog-eared copy of one book on leadership or do you need a shelf of them?
Sydney Finkelstein’s exuberant new book Superbosses brings me back to those questions. Across all of the research I’ve done, I’ve found that how you define good leadership depends profoundly on what kind of leader you’re trying to be. If you’re leading a team through a turnaround, you’ll find one set of things you should do; becoming a global leader, there’s another set; trying to be more of an enterprise leader, yet another set, and so on and so on.
Finkelstein starts with an interesting observation. If you look at most industries, you’ll often find a handful of dominant leaders, who transformed the industry not only with their innovations but also through their ability to develop and disseminate talent. For example, football coach Bill Walsh “produced twice as many active NFL coaches as the next most prolific talent spawner.” Another is Lorne Michaels, the creator of Saturday Night Live, who managed an enormous number of comedic stars. As Finkelstein notes, Superbosses aren’t very hard to find in any given industry. Those in the information industry in the Washington, DC area might think of David Bradley, the current owner of the Atlantic Media Company and the person who originated CEB and the Advisory Board.
But of course, if we take this Superboss quality as the definition of leadership, that doesn’t seem to work in every situation. The book’s most notable finding is that Superbosses export, not hoard, talent. I would expect this of talent spawners; it’s part of who they are. Exporting talent, however, isn’t necessarily a helpful leadership quality if, for instance, your job is to turn around a business unit.