11/6/2017 | Dan Harris

Talent management is tricky business. 

Just ask middle market executives what their top challenge is this year and that’s exactly what they’ll say. In fact, according to a 2017 first quarter report from the National Center for the Middle Market, about 25 percent of middle market executives expect a tight job market this year.

With these challenges on their shoulders, it’s more important than ever for middle market leaders to focus on planning for employees’ futures. Perceptions of an ambiguous future about one's career, potential growth, or organizational fit will only further talent management difficulties and tighten the job market. 

Here at Quantum Workplace, we found in our 2017 Talent Management Middle Market Index, it’s these future misalignment issues that are one of the top three mid-market turnover predictors. Once this uncertainty and stress reaches a tipping point, employees will look for opportunities at companies offering a brighter future where they can align and take charge of their own goals and career growth. 

Here’s how your mid-market company can align employees with the future to start building strong talent management and effective retention strategies: 

Use data to your advantage
Big data, fast data, smart data, data analytics, data scientists -- are you starting to see a pattern? 

We live in an age where data is the key to reducing the ambiguity of the future. Unfortunately, many companies continue under-utilizing its advantages. By not using data to its full capacity, or ignoring it altogether, leaders are missing opportunities to fully recognize what business problems are contributing to employees’ misalignment with the future. 

Start taking control of how your team sees their future with the organization by adopting a scientific perspective around data. First, state business problems, generate questions about those problems, and hypothesize what the answers to those questions might be. 

Then, gather and analyze data, extract insights, assess alignment between hypotheses and results, and adjust perceptions and strategies from there. It’s important to always use data as a tool to aligning your team with the future, not the only resource. Have all of your results in one easy place so employees know exactly what you’re seeing and can offer opinions or advice to solve the disconnect. 

Involve them in strategic planning
Leaders take on many challenges and attempt to solve them on their own. Unfortunately, it’s these attempts that can leave a major gap between what leaders’ viewpoints of the company’s future are and employees’. 

This misalignment will hurt both current and future employees -- which in turn hurts the company’s future. In fact, our report found nearly four in 10 mid-market firms say a lack of talent curbs their ability to grow.

It’s time to stop tackling talent issues on your own.

Bring your team in on strategic planning. Show them you’re interested in how they see the future of the company by involving them in planning at a team level. Find out where they think the company should invest, if you should put more time and money into marketing or customer acquisition, or where they’re seeing issues with growth. 

Make them active in personal goals
Personal goals should be just that -- personal. And because mid-market employees are more likely to feel misaligned with the future, it’s crucial to make them highly active in their personal goals. 

This doesn’t mean sitting them down each quarter to discuss where they stand with their goals. Instead, leaders need to actively involve each person in management’s plans. 

Start by having employees set up OKRs (objectives and key results) individually and as part of a team. These OKRs allow for stretch goals to push employees to grow and develop either in their current roles or toward a role that is better suited to their individual interests and strengths. 

Ensure each individual OKR rolls up into team-based strategies, then explain how those team OKRs roll up into organizational strategies. Strong, data-driven goals that accelerate from the bottom-up will align employees toward one common mission and purpose -- giving your team a clearer view of their future. 

Create a team they want to be on

Team dynamics are crucial for employees working in the mid-market. Luckily for managers, this is largely due to their desire to be part of a high-functioning, successful team. 

This is why, according to our report, employees in the upper middle market were more likely to leave their job when they showed uncertainty about their team members’ effectiveness. This is also true for those who weren’t sure about the likeability of their immediate supervisor. 

Building a strong team isn’t an easy job, but somebody has to do it -- and it’s up to managers to find a way. The best place to start is by acknowledging each individual’s strengths and putting them to use in a team setting. As your team begins working side-by-side with their greatest abilities put to use, they’ll effectively leverage one another’s positive attributes. 

An added bonus to this is seeing management put their best foot forward in enhancing teamwork. Personally observing their immediate supervisor take time to collaborate and communicate with both individuals and the team will create much needed trust and respect.