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The three sisters: the relationship between idolism, talent management, and employer branding

In most companies, the topic of “talent management” comes up when people talk about runaway turnover or the fear of losing key people. Even the most professionally skilled HR professionals are sometimes at a loss when faced with this situation. Some admit it and start looking for a concrete solution, calling in external support, and others make an ego issue out of it and try to solve the problem themselves within the company. However, everyone quickly realises that today’s talent management issues cannot be tackled by HR alone. In a conversation with a real professional, it becomes immediately clear that the talent management problem is the result of idol management and employer branding, and that the solution to it requires something that can address these three areas simultaneously.

Intense complexity

As strange as this term may seem, it is indeed a good description of the past decades in the HR field. Who remembers the days when HR was called “work” and was there to get people to come in and talk, to tell them their problems. Yet we only have to go back 15 or 20 years to find ourselves in that era. Generational change, coupled with the global economic crisis, has completely upset the traditional order. After the 2008 crisis, when the generation of Ambitionists (1985-1996) entered the labour market, HR faced a new challenge: sales. If you couldn’t sell your company at the interview, the most talented young people didn’t end up at the company, even if it had a traditional and very strong image. Already in those days, questions such as “Who will be my boss, what do I know about them, what is their speciality?” were being asked. This was a clear indication that this generation was looking for idols. The next step was the emergence of drastic employee turnover, which also intensified mainly due to generational change. The newer generation no longer had the traditional “workplace loyalty” of their elders, so if they didn’t like something, they moved on easily. HR professionals tried to reassure themselves, even with very dangerous turnover rates, that this was the market situation, that this was the case everywhere. But more and more information was coming in that made it clear that this was not a general trend. There are companies that are “over-subscribed”, and it is simply impossible to get in because nobody wants to leave. Moreover, at the time it was striking that these desirable companies were not the traditional large multinationals with extra status, but mostly new, dynamic, young companies, which were then known by the generic term “startups”. But they were not the only ones to experience such a positive situation: an increasing number of small, locally-owned, so-called “boutique” companies were also experiencing similar problems of oversubscription. In other words, the excuse was no longer as valid, and the top management of larger organisations were certainly bringing in their often very large HR directorates to blame for the inefficiencies. There was a lot of “head-scratching” at the time, as international companies with serious plans could not tolerate both inadequate staffing levels and a lack of access to the best quality. It was time to act.

The last stab

The crisis of 2008 set the stage, and the pandemic has finished the play. On the one hand, it spurred even the most loyal generations to action until before the virus hit, and on the other, the generation of Followers (1997-2008) now entering the labour market is finally embracing a set of principles that is failing the traditional talent management approach. When you talk to serious organisational development professionals and outline talent management problems mixed with some turnover, you can see the somewhat “bored reaction” on their faces, as the topic is more than familiar. However, their initial reaction surprises many HR colleagues as they clearly steer the topic towards “idol management”. Talent today does not exist without idols, as talent wants to follow the idol, grow up, become a good professional in his own right and later become an idol. It is the idol that can make the most of talent, and for the under-40s today, but especially for the under-30s, this is a prerequisite for applying for a job and staying in it for the long term. In other words, a really good organisational developer starts by looking at the existence of idols, by assessing the senior and middle management team on an idol basis, because he or she can assign talent to them in order to achieve lasting results. Of course, idol-capable managers still need to be trained as idols, as most cultures and societies do not automatically build this in the manager. It is not enough to be an idol, you also have to be able to present it in the right way so that it reaches the talent.

You can only retain the people in the organisation

This is the third leg of talent management. Idol management and a directly linked talent management programme can indeed solve the retention issue, drastically reducing turnover, but obviously it cannot have a direct impact on attracting the right amount of new talent to the company, and in addition, to attract the best in their profession and their age group. The big international organisations make the mistake of wanting to appeal to everyone in general, as they expect a large intake. And startups are more successful in recruitment because they are more specific in their message to prospective professionals. Because really good professionals don’t want to be one in a million, they don’t want to end up as a “robot” in a multinational. As individuals, they want to produce real value, so general recruitment messages leave them cold. This is why it is very important that the employer formulates a clear message for a specific narrow target group when recruiting, based on the idols that exist in the organisation, the real core objectives of the company. It is very important to get off our own merry-go-round, because just because we as HR directors went to work for our company because it was the biggest in the world in its field, we should not think that this will attract young talent. Rather, it repels it. Building idiosyncrasy, talent management and employer branding is a complex process that has to be done “as a package” and therefore requires the knowledge of several specialised disciplines at the same time. Moreover, for this linkage to be successful, it is important to have a common “language”. Since our personality is responsible for our decision-making mechanism, for the most important decisions we make, personality-based approaches are used in modern development. In other words, a company can say, for example, I have idols with personality type A, they will be role models for talent with personality type A and B. In other words, I need to produce messages that clearly speak to personality A and B in recruitment. Otherwise, the process is really not complicated if you follow the necessary steps with the right humility.