The Great Resignation

Have you heard about The Great Resignation? Almost 41% of the workforce is looking to quit, has quit and wondering if they accepted the new job too quickly. If anyone says it is a "Black Swan" event, tell them they are wrong.

You could say the pandemic caught the business world unprepared like deer in the headlight. The Great Resignation is also telling us how unprepared the employers are. Maybe this is the time to create a planned destruction of the old talent pool and rebuilding it once again. Some shrines that have lasted for centuries have practices that need to be brought in to talent management.

Make me an offer I can't refuse

4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021. That triggered the 'great resignation'. There are 9.2 million vacancies in US alone. My neighbor is a HR leader in a global financial services company. He says people are waving offer letters that are doubling the salary for entry level jobs and the employees want additional perks and incentives to stay back.

Some say that asking employees to come back to the workplace is making everyone nervous. Employers are wondering if they are going too far if they insist on people getting vaccinated before they get back to the office. Employers are walking on egg shells after reading that 41% employees expect to resign.

It is not just the immediate projects that get impacted with this exodus, the loss of tacit knowledge is often that devastates businesses.

Read: The 2021 Work Trends Report

Can be learned - not taught

I remember being disappointed with the stage show of a well-known Bollywood singer. I had heard his songs on the radio and bought the CD. But the concert was a disaster. The jokes were lame. The chemistry was missing. He sang all the songs to perfection. That evening I went back disappointed and never forgave the singer for disappointing me. Tacit knowledge of engaging the crowd and keeping them enthralled is very different from listening to the songs at home. The singer has to build space for the audience to interact and engage. It is a skill that hard to teach.

Skills take time to build and need to be documented and shared in order to maintain continuity. The implicit knowledge is harder to retain. That is the personal wisdom, experience, insight, and intuition that the employee carries. Every job has some implicit skills that can only be learned over time and are often hard to teach. Implicit knowledge is hard to teach but can be learned. Read more

As someone who is learning how to bake bread told me that temperature and time are two of the most important ingredients that are never mentioned in any recipe-book. That is implicit knowledge.

Keep the fire burning

How do some organisations maintain the continuity of traditions and skills? Let me share three stories.

The Olympic flame is a symbol that traces its origin first recorded Games were held in 776 B.C. The Olympic flame symbolises the light of spirit, knowledge and life. By passing the flame from one person to another in stages, the Torch Relay expresses the handing down of this symbolic fire from generation to generation. (Read more)

Ise Jingu

The Ise Jingu Grand Shrine in Japan dates back over 2000 years. Every twenty years the shrine is rebuilt using the same materials, the same construction techniques, and is built from the same set of drawings. This reconstruction at Jingu has taken place every 20 years for over 1300 years - give or take a few hiccups. (Read more)

The techniques used to build Jingu depend on experience and expertise; learning them requires practice and feedback. Transferring the knowledge required to build the shrines can’t be done with words or text. The only way to pass it on is to create the conditions for someone to acquire it.

The Jagannath Temple

The Ise Jingu example is a great example of how the 2000 year old shrine stays ever relevant. The Jagannath temple in India offers a different perspective. The temple remains intact but the deity is built afresh.

 Unlike the stone and metal icons found in most Hindu temples, the image of Jagannath (which gave its name to the English term 'juggernaut') is made of wood. The temple was built in the 12th century. The three deities of the Jagannath temple in Odisha, India are replaced every 8th, 12th or 19th year. Nabakalebar (literally meaning a new body), is a ritual which involves replacing the existing wooden idols with newly carved ones. (Read more)

Leadership, talent and culture

Talent is not equally distributed. It follows a power law. The top 1% of the field are much better than the rest. Michael Phelps Olympics medals tally consists of 23 gold medals (from 2004 to 2016) – the most Olympic gold medals ever won - three silver and two bronze medals. The haul of 28 medals makes it the most ever in Olympic history. (Read: The Science of Talent Management)

In my book Dreamers and Unicorns, I speak about most founders being good at building businesses - not organisations. To build continuity in the organisation, one has to look at creative destruction of the skill building process. Here are three areas to think about.

  1. Leaders set the agenda: Building an organisation involves having the "right" leadership team that has all the skills that the business needs for the future. Past performance is not a predictor of performance if the business canvas and the consumer have changed as radically as they have during the pandemic. Running a modern day enterprise needs leadership to be decentralised. That means having leadership skills at various levels of the organisation.
  2. The talent pool executes the vision: The right leadership will invest in building the talent pool. That means really thinking about the skills needed to be acquired or built in the short term and a longer time horizon. (The definition of long term changes with the industry). The role of the learning and development team must be viewed through a strategic lens. "An individual carpenter’s knowledge will be lost when the carpenter dies, but a carpenters guild can ensure there’s always a steady stream of new recruits to keep the craft alive." The same philosophy is useful to revisit while dealing with the great resignation.
  3. Culture creates sustainability:When the organisation has the right leaders and a talent pool that prepares it for success, it is the culture of the organisation that enables them. Whether it is innovation, growth, agility or deep expertise, the cultural norms create the conditions in which the leaders and their teams operate. Looking at the behaviour of employees when they resign is a great peek in to the culture. Are they comfortable sharing their next move? Do they work hard to train their successor? Do they stay in touch long after they have resigned?

The pandemic has put the digital transformation agenda for the whole world on steroids. The Great Resignation is doing the same for talent.

What do you suggest the professionals and organisations do to prepare for the great resignation? Leave your suggestion in the comments below.

H/t: Estelle Metayer's newsletter for the Ise Jingu story


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