If You Love Something Let It Go

I’m going out on a limb here to challenge the notion that organizations need to invest heavily in employee engagement efforts.

Blasphemy! You say? Hear me out first.

I’m not saying that companies can simply maintain business as usual and drive people away with horrible leadership and poisoned cultures but I do think there are some assumptions being made about attrition’s relationship to employee unhappiness. I think too that the issue has become very big business for some because as we know, fear sells.

So here’s my basic assertion:

What may behind talent loss could be less about organizational inadequacies and more about the lure of new opportunity.

Human-beings are mobile creatures. Since the moment we stood on two legs on the plains of Africa we took off and conquered the globe. We went to the moon, not because it was easy, as President Kennedy said but because it was hard. We like the challenge, we need the challenge. Movement leads to new experiences which help us grow. It’s in our DNA. In the Industrial Era people stayed put because they had to; geographic-based work, home, family, and community were all in walking and eventually driving distance. But today work is everywhere, one’s peers are a click away, and your community is a blend of physical and virtual. Technology has given us new legs and we’re using them.

In the face of this ever growing fluidity of talent it seems futile for organizations to try to plug the damn. We can’t manage talent just like we can’t manage knowledge. People and their knowledge need to move to have value. So rather than strive solely for containing, we must also invest in better ways to harness the power in the flow.

What happens if organizations focus on the realities of attrition rather than just on fighting it? What if more time, money and energy were put behind better internal systems (human and technical), Systems that capture employee work products and processes, and aid new workers in quickly picking up where work was left off? Some of these things are already percolating today such Personal Knowledge Management skills, social technology adoption, the practice of Working Out Loud, and the recognition and support of 70:20:10 frameworks vs. training-centric models. I ultimately believe these approaches will need to be the rule rather than the exception as organizations will have to be more porous to survive.

Mobile is not about a device, it’s the new reality as what was old is new again. And technology continues to do what technology has always done – extend and expand our human ability and desire.

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