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Exploiting old ideas or new possibilities?

November 23, 2021
clock 6 MIN READ

We’re baaaaaaack!!!! In the classic ‘80s movie “Poltergeist,” a little girl named Carol Anne disappears into her TV, lured by some sort of supernatural being. The tagline: “They’re here!” And in its sequel, “They’re back!” While the “Front and Centered” team hasn’t been lured into some alternate dimension by scary poltergeists, we have been digitally silent for a bit. We’re happy to back.  

During our time away from our F&C community, we regrouped and reimagined work as the pandemic continues. A lot has changed, and like all of you, we’ve been busy trying to navigate this change and discover new possibilities. We’ll spend the next several posts sharing what we’ve been up to during our hiatus, and today I would like to start by reframing the future of talent management.

Old thinking will not bring new opportunity

The talent crisis is a global phenomenon—not just within the wealth management industry, although we are certainly feeling its impact. Every industry is feeling the effects of the “great resignation,” and COVID-19 has been the great equalizer in the world of talent. The battle for talent is real, and it centers on the social contract between an employee and employer. The winners will be those that understand this and proactively focus on it. The good news is there’s no template, but there is a lot of pent-up demand for change. Having the courage to think and act differently as a leader and a company can be what attracts and retains talent.  

How you manage the renewed social contract is your competitive weapon in the war for talent. This will take strong leadership steeped in listening, support, development, and trust. Leadership that hangs onto the old way of command and control will not win this war. This is an employee-led market in which younger hires (truthfully, any hires) want different things, and they’ll walk if they’re not heard and their needs are not met. This is happening today—right now—within your walls and ours. The battle is not about loyalty and compliance; it is about value and respect. Leaders have to listen to employee voices, have the humility to admit what they don’t know, and have the courage to act differently if they want to attract and retain talent.

The first place to start is understanding this is not a question of remote, hybrid, or full-time in-office. It’s not about where you sit. It’s about values. What do companies value, what do employees value, and how can you reset the social contract based on these values?  Right now leaders need to ask more questions, not provide answers based on our past practices or mental models. We need to challenge ourselves to listen and think differently.

Ask the soft questions

Today’s most important questions may seem more like something a psychologist would ask, not a business leader. How do we solve for employees’ desires, not locations? What makes my employee happy? How do we engage talent in designing for their ideal future, while achieving our business results? It starts with a focused commitment to working harder to understand what talent wants and trust them to act with standards of excellence, even when you are not watching. We need to understand that work is human. And leading with empathy isn’t “soft.”

More importantly, we must act and lead with humans in mind. But how do we go from managing people to managing results? Most leaders are talking about what days their teams should be in the office instead of how to lead and manage results in a world that has proven that location has no bearing on results. Don’t get me wrong, there is a need to be in person, but it’s not to get work done. Being in person builds connection and community that can drive your workforce, culture and business results forward. 

I would bet that when you think about places to connect with family and friends, it’s not an office or a cubicle. But you likely feel warmth and engagement, and bringing that feeling into your workspace can inspire next-level creativity and innovation. Offices will continue to exist, but as a place of connection and inspiration, not as a place of work and monitoring. Tomorrow’s great leaders will recognize that work is human, and trust—not governance—will yield results. We need to use this moment to admit the past social contract was not working and have the courage to redesign it.  

Turn possibility into action

If companies want to act before they lose out in the talent war, it’s most important to get leadership roles right. Looking at my industry, it’s historically conservative and somewhat adverse to change, given the highly regulated and high-risk nature of our business. The good news is that this is an area in which leaders can experiment with very low risk. 

Start small through experimentation—perhaps on a unit or even a team level. Your number-one priority should be to avoid the “snap-back.” It’s natural to want to just get back to a working model pre-COVID, but the reality is that model no longer exists. And the hardest part may be accepting that. Change is hard, but accepting and leaning into it is one huge step forward. Once you do that, you may start to feel inspired by the possibility of “what if,” and that approach will more than likely attract and retain the top talent.

Organizations need flexible, open-minded, empathetic, and courageous leaders to help guide them into the new era. No one has it figured out yet, but it’s certain that talent wants to be part of the conversation and not trade everything they may feel they gained as a benefit from the pandemic. Show them through actions that you’re ready to figure out a post-COVID life together, and they will likely want to talk and walk with you. Who knows, we just might have fun while we work together to build a better tomorrow.  

Community is the great enabler

It feels really good to be back. I believe the future is all about community. This is not a new philosophy, but it has been validated in spades since March 2020. Community and connection have been a true upside of a very challenging and difficult period in our world’s history. Leaning on each other has helped us through and given us some of the brightest moments and the biggest laughs. “Front and Centered” is a community of which I am so proud to be a part. I hope you feel the same and will jump back into the conversation with me. To my U.S. friends, have a very happy Thanksgiving, hopefully with a little more normalcy than you had last year. We will be back with another post in December. See you then.

Albert Chiaradonna

Executive Vice President, SEI Global Private Banking

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