Talent as a True Competitive Advantage

The rise of technology has offered a myriad of ways to increase efficiency and improve productivity. But how far is too far? Invest too heavily in the wrong tech, and you risk overlooking your true competitive advantage: human talent.

A lot has happened to change the face of corporate culture in recent years; you’d be hard pressed to find an office - anywhere in the world - that’s the same in 2019 as it was at the dawn of the millennium.

Most recognizably, communication technology: first fax, then email, now instant messaging pinged off by a simple touch on a smartwatch.

On one hand, digital dialogue has brought global teams closer together; we’re living in a globalized community, boosting business output across the world. On the other, employees now struggle to “log off”: a problem far fewer workers had in the 20th Century.

A Deloitte study calls this the “overwhelmed employee” phenomenon. Hyper-connected and on the brink of burnout; these workers reply to emails 24/7, resulting eventually in sluggish productivity and limited engagement.

How many of these employees do you recognize from your place of work? Chances are, quite a few.

According to Deloitte, this should concern “everyone”, even within multi-generational workforces; it isn’t just a Millennial or Gen Z issue, and “the problem is only getting worse.'' The pressure on employees is mounting.

So what can we do to turn this around? To ensure that our workforce is happy, productive and getting the most from their employment? And what — as managers, leaders and teammates — do we risk if we can’t?

Here’s the truth: talent, or human capital, cannot be under-appreciated. Your people have the ability to push your business forward, or slow progress right down.

And you can take it from the best:

"The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” - Steve Jobs

Organizations need to understand the true importance of talent and teamwork. Because this is your biggest competitive advantage, not the innovative technology your office may adopt.

What “teamwork” means in the 21st Century

Whether it’s apparent or not, your team is now made up of traditional workers, as well as technological ones. The use of hardware, software and workplace apps is now prominent in offices the world round.

Today, automation is the trend du jour, and delegating tasks from humans to artificial intelligence brings a wealth of benefits. It can streamline efficiency, increase productivity and, by reducing non-essential human activity, give employees more time and energy to commit to the roles technology isn’t yet capable of achieving.

On the whole, employees are embracing the influx of automation.

Research, from HR services company Randstad, has shown that over half of US employees are happy to be retrained to work in tandem with automation, as long as their pay doesn’t suffer as a result. What’s more: 30% of workers believe new technology would make their jobs better.

This paints an optimistic picture. One where teams combining human capital and technological advancements can work effectively, to the mutual benefit of the employees and the business.

However, as with most things in life, there’s another side to the story.

Deloitte’s “over-whelmed employee” study found that nearly three-quarters of employees struggle with the computer systems already in place; 72% of those asked claimed they can’t always find what they need, within their organization’s information systems.

Graphic: Deloitte University Press ⎜DUPress.com

We’ve all been there: trawling through a labyrinthine server, in search of a specific file or folder. It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The lesson?

Your priority should be to optimize how your workforce relies on technology today. It may sound impressive to tell clients about tomorrow’s technology your workplace is already adopting. But the real measure of your business is still its personnel.

Human talent: your biggest differentiator, your strongest sales tool

Pause for a moment to consider the tasks you’d happily pass on to artificial intelligence.

CRM databasing? Probably. Real-time responses to customer queries? Possibly. Crafting email marketing copy? Perhaps not (yet, at least).

And that’s because, whilst excellent at rising to administrative challenges, there are still plenty of tasks we’d more readily brief a human being to perform. There’s a matter of trust and reliability: for truly complex projects and ones which require creativity, nuance and emotional intelligence, humans still have the upper hand.

But it’s also about appreciation and value. Alleviate the monotony of certain tasks, and your employees will thank you. But rob them of the parts of the job they love, and they may take their enthusiasm elsewhere.

It could be said that with continued advances in computing and technology, your human capital is more important now than ever, and will only become more important. Fast forward to a time where, potentially, automation has meant your workforce is made up of significantly fewer members, their individual impact will be all the greater.

Even today, the role your talent plays is crucial, and you should treat them as such.

As Richard Branson said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Peruse any of the studies online today about what makes a workplace attractive to top talent, and a variety of benefits will be quoted, including:

  • Flexible working times
  • Personal and professional development
  • Listening and responding to employee input
  • Clear, and well communicated, company vision

What doesn’t necessarily factor? An organization’s use of technology. Your workforce needs to feel understood and respected, not replaceable.

More often than not, the people you employ are the face of your brand. Your staff are a key channel through which your business’ values are communicated.

Your company’s future prosperity is truly in your employees’ hands. A customer is more likely to have a positive experience, if they interact with a staff member who is satisfied and engaged; and a happy customer becomes a loyal one.

Consider your biggest competitor: how easy is it to draw apart your differences in terms of core capabilities and product offering? Given today’s competitive landscape, it may be hard to do so.

Sure, the fight to one up the marketplace through novel features and technology can bring incremental — and transient — distinctiveness. But significant and sustainable competitive advantage? That’s all down to your team.

How to attract, engage, and retain top talent

21st Century talent has a vastly different set of expectations than its predecessors. A perceptive understanding of their wants and needs is key to attract, and retain, the best possible players for your workforce.

“Meaning” and “purpose” are increasingly prevalent buzzwords, but are certainly not drivers not to be dismissed as merely a trend.

Of 2000 American professionals asked, 90% were willing to trade a percentage — 23% on average — of their future lifetime earnings for a more meaningful work experience. Finings such as this lead one article to conclude: “meaning is the new money”.

And, as a result of globalization, a greater number of employees are seeking work opportunities that enable travel and even relocation; indeed it’s predicted that the global number of expats will have exceeded 87 million by 2021.

Now, it may not be possible for you to build international travel and expatriation into your business model. Or signpost roles with “meaning” or “purpose” within your organization, as the definition of each will vary from person to person.

What’s crucial to comprehend, though, is that employees’ needs are evolving. And, in an ever intensifying competitive landscape, your business should too.

So what can you do, starting today, to better attract and retain top talent?

You can:

  • Keep abreast of trends within your industry, with regards to employee satisfaction and retention rates
  • Listen, and respond to, employee insights. This may mean redesigning your performance management approach; moving from less-effective annual reviewing, to realtime, ongoing feedback loops
  • Create a culture of respect and responsiveness; make change, where change is needed, and ensure your staff know their value within your organization
  • …And part of this, is the judicious introduction of technology to the workplace; with aim to alleviate staff of tasks which drain their time and resources, rather than automate for automation’s sake.

The bottom line?

What makes for a market-leading workplace in the 21st Century?

We’d argue it has less to do with the software solutions they have in place, and all to do with how they treat, engage and reward their talent. Organizations need to adapt how they operate with respect for their employees’ expectations. Of course, savvy leaders will leverage modern software that enhances their ability to do so.

The bottom line: your talent cannot be overlooked as a tool for true competitive advantage.

As the conduit between the business and its audience, they have the ability to deliver a positive — or negative — customer experience. Your talent perpetuates your brand values externally, to the rest of the world, and internally between their teammates.

Make your appreciation clear; then harness this potential and transform it into business success. But fail to do so, and talent which could have been your advantage, may go knocking on the door of a competitor who can.

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