Massachusetts at a Crossroads:
What We Need to Do to Attract and Retain Top Talent
by Harvey Wigder
The economic forecast for the
Commonwealth does not bode well, starting with the news that Boston is the most expensive city in the country to reports that
the high tech and finance industries are declining at an alarming rate. If this news isn't bad enough, the Boston Foundation
and Tufts University just released its joint-study findings: Sad to say, Massachusetts' ranking in public higher education
spending per student from 2002 to 2004 has fallen from 9th to 34th in the nation -yet another indicator that New England is
slipping in a sector that has prided itself on its preeminent status as the higher education capital of the U.S. The ultimate
forecast facing New England at this very moment is that droves of people (i.e., recent college graduates, young, working families,
and mid-career professionals) will be leaving the state, in which case Massachusetts will surely suffer from a massive brain
Despite this disheartening forecast, our region's
companies can remain competitive and excel in the global marketplace if they choose to follow a deceptively simple formula:
Create a work environment that attracts qualified candidates. Although this formula may conjure up the cliché, "Our
people are our best asset," this formula is entirely different because the emphasis is on the word "create."
It's the act of creating that makes the difference between paying lip service to a meaningless phrase and doing the hard
work of building a workplace to which top talent will be knocking down the doors. The following advice is a starting point
that will help our region's companies adopt the mindset that will help them create a workplace that will attract and retain
the talent they need to compete in the global marketplace.
to Terms with the Global Economy.
The first thing that
our companies must do is acknowledge that there's a whole new world out there and a whole new kind of employee. Two groundbreaking
books give context to this phenomenon and should be must-reads for any company that wants to excel in the global economy.
Thomas L. Friedman's The World Is Flat describes how communications technologies (e.g., computers, the Internet, worldwide
fiber optic connections) are leveling the playing field, making it possible for any company or any person anyplace in the
world to compete. Friedman argues that American workers need to be big picture thinkers who have the ability to develop new
products, services, and markets of higher value based on innovation and creativity.
Daniel H. Pink, in A Whole New Mind, goes on to describe in detail the new kind of employee that is needed to succeed
in the new world. Unlike employees of yesterday who are technically competent and left-brain dominant, Pink argues that the
employee of the future must have well-developed right-brain abilities that reflect the attributes of an artist (creativity,
inventiveness, empathy, and meaning), as well as those attributes of an inventor - that is, one who has the ability to see
new combinations and
Invest in Your Employees' Professional
Once our region understands the changing economic
landscape, our smart companies will be those that are willing to revamp their approach to hiring new talent, beginning with
creating new job descriptions and hiring criteria to developing new training and educational programs that promote big picture
thinking, also known as conceptual, creative, and inventive thinking.
This type of thinking already comes naturally to our younger employees because they have been brought up in the digital
age, which encourages abstract, nonlinear, and three-dimensional thinking. Given their predisposition, young employees will
be more demanding of their employers and less tolerant of routine, mechanical work. Not only will they want to be problem
solvers and creative thinkers, but they will also want to be autonomous risk takers who play an instrumental role in helping
their companies maintain their competitive advantage, either by helping them develop new products and services, or by bundling
existing products and services that create whole new markets.
Generate Loyalty by Providing Meaningful Work.
many old-style companies are reluctant to invest in their employees' professional development for fear their employees
will go elsewhere once they've acquired new skills, those companies that wholeheartedly engage the minds of their employees
will not only produce new products but ironically, they will likely produce more loyal employees. This loyalty byproduct flies
in the face of the current assumption that today's employees are anything but loyal, but it's the smart companies
that are winning the loyalty game and retaining their top talent. It makes good economic sense to boot: All other things being
equal, why would a top performer jump ship if he or she is being continuously challenged and rewarded for meeting these challenges?
In the end, investing in your people's professional growth is a smart strategy that offers a good return on a company's
investment; that is, the ability to retain top talent.
New Englanders are known for our ingenuity and steely characters. Although we're at a sharp turn in the road, there are
plenty of New England companies that are willing to do the hard work that will make them the employer of choice. Despite the
doom and gloom, New England is still a desirable place to live and work. We just need to publicize our successes and show
the world what our companies are made of. It all begins and ends with our commitment to creating work environments that attract