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ESMT Annual Conference: The competition for talent is on!

One of the greatest challenges managers and business leaders worldwide are facing today is to attract, retain and develop talent. At the fourth annual conference of the European School of Management and Technology ESMT in Berlin international experts in business, economy and science discusses success strategies in talent management. talked to some of the speakers.



Subject knowledge, creativity and passion – today, almost every company places specific emphasis on how valuable and important its employees are. But is this appreciation always sincere? Professor Charles O’Reilly, Director of the Centre for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business has conducted a litmus test in Berlin: “Who here has been working in a company where it was perfectly clear that the HR manager is more important than the CFO?“, he asked the audience at a panel discussion about ‘Competition for Talent’. Indeed, hardly anyone in an audience of 60 people from business and science could give a positive answer to the question posed.

O’Reilly’s core message is clear: Only few leaders in business actually live up to the values they set. Instead of grounding their leadership style in trust, they tend to focus on control; performance incentives are almost exclusively financial in nature and in many places human resources are considered a cost factor rather than an asset. The good news is: organisations that can change this thinking are not only more successful economically but are also difficult to imitate by the competition. MBA professor O’Reilly names the US dialysis expert Davita and the software provider SAS as two success stories. Both companies have managed to retain employees on a long-term basis through fair and employee-focused leadership and to motivate them to excel in their performance.

How crucial structural measures are for the efficient and effective development of employees has also been demonstrated in a scientific study conducted by Professor Monika Hamori at the IE Business School in Madrid. Hersurvey was conducted among 1,300 young professionals in Germany and shows that specifically the hotly contested young top talents have a tendency to job-hop. Survey participants were on average 30 years of age, with three to four years of professional experience and they do not only bring good grades to the job, but also extensive practical and international experience. The results clearly show: top talents stay true to their employers for an average of 26 months: “40 percent are actively searching for jobs, go to several interviews or are in regular contact with head-hunters”, Professor Hamori explains. However, “Generation Restless” won’t have to worry about facing disadvantages – quite the contrary: self-interested job hoppers tend to do better in terms of pay increases and promotions than company-loyal employees.

So, are company leaders perhaps sometimes overlooking the obvious? Quite likely, claims Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School who studies interpersonal relationships and consults companies on issues like decision-making, negotiations and ethical behaviour. Gino showed with a simple video demonstration how quickly we fail to spot obvious contexts when we focus too much on one task. In a business context, this could mean that managers run the risk to ignore questionable business practices, conflicts of interest or unfair working conditions when they are too focused on financial goals or KPIs. Another noteworthy experiment impressively highlighted the human tendency to overestimate one’s capacities. Asked about specific soft skills, all panel participants estimated their skills above average – psychologically understandable but mathematically impossible. Here too, Francesca Gino’s research demonstrates the potentially dangerous consequences such overestimations have for companies, for example in a disproportionately fierce internal competition among team members or in risky take-overs - when the buyer believes they possess better management skills than the seller. In an interview, Francesca Gino explained to MBA Channel what business schools should take into consideration when educating future leaders for the challenges of global competition – see interview.

ESMT was founded in 2002 by 25 high profile internationally operating companies and economic associations, and has its headquarters in Berlin. The celebrity factor was accordingly high at the 2011 fourth annual forum. Among the speakers were Josef Ackermann (CEO Deutsche Bank), Michael Diekmann (CEO Allianz), Jürgen Grossmann (CEO RWE) and Henning Kagermann (former CEO at SAP, today president of Acatech and head of the National Plattform Elektromobilitaet). Lars-Hendrik Roeller, President at the ESMT from 2006 to 2011, recently transferred to the German chancellor’s office as chief economic advisor of Angela Merkel.

Annual forum ESMT

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