The Great Response: 3 Secrets to Building and Blending Talent in a Time of Mass Employee Movement

If we’re in the midst of the Great Resignation, then it is time employers come up with a Great Response. Because like real estate, Corporate America is a seller’s market right now. And what’s being sold is talent. Put simply, demand for employees is higher than ever, making this a wildly competitive job market for employers looking to stand out.

You know the numbers. Tens of millions of employees have resigned, many without having new jobs lined up. Nine of 10 executives are experiencing high turnover. And, even today, 64 percent of workers say they’re on the hunt for a new job. These trends aren’t changing anytime soon, and the time for companies to prove their worth is now.

Leaders today must craft proactive strategies, ones that will not only help to attract employees but to retain them — no matter the stage of their professional career. Think of it like selling to customers: You have to earn their trust before they invest their time and energy in you. For example, while it’s nice to pay people more or improve benefits in the short-term, neither serves as a panacea. In fact, 75 percent of employees say they’d choose an employer with a strong culture of empathy over one offering a slightly higher salary.

So, to build a successful team today — one where you can mix early talent’s hunger and fresh ideas with seasoned talent’s decades of expertise and hard-earned wisdom — you have to make everyone feel like an integral part of the team. You must foster an environment where everyone feels valued. Because while plenty of organizations have programs designed to embrace digital natives and young workers, for instance, far too few have similar initiatives built to take advantage of established talent and their contributions, or even programs to tap into their expertise in ways that best suit working preferences in the latter part of a career — let alone blending the two demographics and capitalizing on both.

That’s how you’ll unlock the collective power of your team.

Response #1: Listening Closely, Finding Common Ground

The first step is recognizing that we’re not as different as we sometimes think.

In fact, a few years back, one thorough analysis of 20 different research studies found that sweeping differences related to age and generational membership don’t even exist. Additionally, the European Conference on Knowledge Management says that when it comes to values and priorities, especially in relation to knowledge sharing, there are no significant differences between younger and older employees.

So, maybe we should spend less time focusing on the differences in the five different generations currently in the workplace and more time finding our commonality and what we can learn from each other. 

In our organization, for example, we run a peer co-op program that encourages cross-pollination of employees — of all ages and backgrounds — who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to interact. This engagement can make a huge impact for workers, whether they’re young, seasoned, or anywhere in between. To keep a pulse on what is top of mind for our employees, we also plan regular touchpoints with early, emerging, and established talent to create a safe place for them to share their thoughts. While these kinds of initiatives can feel awkward at first, you must remain deliberate about creating these opportunities for shared connection, continuous learning, and growth.

And don’t forget to have a little fun along the way!

Response #2: Coming Together, Creating a Shared Purpose

In addition to helping employees learn and grow from each other, companies must be introspective about what they are providing in the employer-employee relationship.

Think about where we’re at in our larger work culture. More than ever, people are prioritizing their own well-being and happiness in choosing where and how to work — and they’re looking for deep purpose and meaning in everything that they do. In other words, the days of using ping-pong tables and lounge chairs to attract workers may be numbered. To build a strong team, we have to focus on helping the entire person — whether they’re navigating financial fears, social issues, or looking for ways to improve their physical health.

That’s why, last summer, as our hybrid work reality grew increasingly entrenched, SAP’s leaders announced the Pledge to Flex, our company’s commitment to providing a set-up that fits every potential role, style, and location, all embodied by these key tenets:

  • A 100 percent flexible and trust-based workplace
  • An inclusive, work-from-anywhere environment
  • Adjustable work schedules, according to business needs
  • Inspiring office designs focused on creativity, collaboration, and community
  • A prioritization of sustainability and health

All in all, it’s about giving people what they need to be engaged and — ultimately — fulfilled.

That also means constantly inspecting what you’re expecting. Do your internal metrics reinforce the behaviors you want your team to embody? Are you rewarding individual performance, or progress toward shared goals? Are your employees able to take advantage of the talent all around them? Just keep asking yourself: Are we all growing together?

Response #3: Be Unknowing, Keep on Going

Sometimes, people are afraid to say “I don’t know.” However, I can’t think of three words more important when it comes to developing your vocabulary. I sometimes tell people, “I didn’t hire you for what you know, I hired you for what you don’t know.” In some cases, I don’t want people who already know how to do something.  I want them to go figure out a new way to do it so we can approach things differently. That’s how innovation starts. And that’s why I try to hire people for what they can learn and for their unique point of view. Taking that and combining it with the wisdom and experience of other workers? That’s priceless.

Look at SAP’s JT Malorgio. He’s a great example of what it looks like to challenge employees and watch them grow into new and exciting positions. In 2021, he took on a new role in our team as an Enterprise Architect. It’s a highly coveted technical role typically filled by folks with decades of domain experience and know-how. But JT is a dynamic individual with a history in storytelling. So, we decided to take a chance on him largely because we felt he would take a unique approach to the role and be able to quickly pick up and learn some of the other elements. Before long, he was collaborating in lockstep with his teammates - former tech CIOs, IT VPs, chief architects, and more. And, eventually, JT found where he fit in. Ultimately, JT was able to use his expertise in storytelling to help other enterprise architects frame big-picture stories for customers. And, of course, he’s learned from them along the way, too.

His story is a great example of what we want to accomplish with our employees. We want them to embrace “why” and “why not” simultaneously, and we want them to be comfortable being exactly themselves. Because that’s who we want.


At SAP, our business sits at the intersection of people, processes, and technology. And in today’s day and age, we won’t succeed without all three working in concert.

We have to make sure we’re constantly exploring, analyzing, and evolving our understanding of how to build and lead our people. Our SAP workforce is exceptional because we focus on building cohesive teams, driving cross pollination and collaboration, and extracting value from all of our talent — regardless of age or background. Everywhere you look, you’ll see high performers and top talent.

That, in the end, is how the Great Resignation will become the Great Response — and, ultimately, a great success.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: