The Missing Generation: How to fill the talent void
by Sarah Becker
Practice Leader at Charles Aris Inc.
When the Dot-Com Bubble burst and the U.S. stock market crashed from 2000 to 2002, many businesses in the United States had to decide how to constrict to their lower revenue stream. Naturally, companies typically retained the “seasoned experts” with experience across multiple functional areas – and employees with less experience or expertise were often released.
While this impacted various consumer-facing sectors at the time, it had an outsized impact on industries such as home furnishings, where history and legacy are passed down from generation to generation. Fast-forward 15 years and we find ourselves with a “missing generation” – and a dangerous lack of high-potential professionals trained to carry organizations forward.
As I speak with clients, I regularly face questions such as:
- How do we attract high-potential, next-generation leaders who will not be intimidated by our industry’s historical constrictions?
- When do we look outside our industry to attract “new” talent? And how do we ensure that those outsiders will be able to acclimate to our industry’s history and legacy?
- How do we attract talent with the ability to breathe fresh experience and innovative thinking into our organization, all while ensuring that they have the skills to influence our seasoned experts to effect change while respecting their experience?
Of course, my first response is “Hire me.” This is where the right executive search partner can provide expertise and consultation to both the client and candidates to find the perfect match for specific organizational needs.
From a broader perspective, here are a few pointers for hiring authorities attempting to navigate this challenge:
Seek change agents
When screening candidates for a mission-critical role, seek individuals with a history of navigating the channels of change. Look for candidates who have crossed industries, crossed functions and / or successfully managed innovation projects across multiple disciplines. If this is something they lead with in interviews, you will see examples in their résumé. When asked what they are most proud of, the better candidates will respond with specific examples tied to change.
Seek “comparable” industry experience
Think outside the box by considering parallel industries which may not have been quite as impacted by the crash at the turn of the century. If your organization conducts business in home furnishings, for example, an excellent adjacency would be the fashion industry. Target fashion, apparel and / or textile firms which serve the same customer base you serve. Often, these companies were not as impacted, so they hold many talented individuals from this generation. Additionally, these individuals typically have translatable experience and capabilities such as understanding the emotional connection to a consumer product such as furniture – and can bring immediate value while transitioning across industries fairly easily.
Define – and interview for – role specific cultural traits
When preparing to interview for a role, spend time as a leadership team defining your cultural needs specific to that position.
- The successful candidate likely will join a particular team – what is it like and what does it need?
- What industry-specific cultural challenges might the new hire face?
- What is the organizational culture like overall?
- Are there characteristics in your successful senior leadership team which the person in this role will need to demonstrate herself?
Once you’ve built out the cultural profile of the role, be sure to spend time developing strong behavioral questions and defining the desired responses. Ensure that each team member performing in the candidate interviews is assigned specific questions, with some overlap to ensure that the winning candidate’s responses are consistent.
I identify and place “change agents” with the ability to integrate into new industries and companies on a daily basis. There is talent available and interested in joining your organization and helping carry your history and success forward. The key to finding this talent is to invest in proactively searching in the right places for these individuals – and then to spend the time to verify their cultural alignment. If you would like help in finding this talent, please visit CharlesAris.com to learn more about our specific approach and practice.
"Thanks, Charles Aris, appreciate your dedication in finding such great talent for us to select from."
— The VP of Strategic Product Management for a Fortune 30 retailer, responding to an email informing him that Charles Aris Inc.'s candidate had just accepted the retailer's job offer.