In addition to a clear value proposition that organisations must develop to attract and retain the best employees, the digitalswitzerland Top Talent study also identified the need for adaptive career plans to retain top talent. Our world is in constant evolution. Changes are brought about by what happens inside and outside an organisation. Individuals in an organisation also change as a result of internal and external factors; their careers evolve in response to the alterations in their environment. Sometimes, people can plan their career paths. At other times career changes are unexpected, due to either personal or professional reasons such as a sudden death in the family, divorce, or the restructuring of the company.

Self-motivation a key top talent skill

A key skill within the top talent category is the person’s drive. A primary explanation for why and how top talents excel is found in their motivation, their ambition to perform and willingness to work hard: “They are more than willing to go that extra mile and realise they may have to make sacrifices in their personal lives in order to advance”, said one respondent to digitalswitzerland. Personal motivation, or intrinsic self-motivation, is understood as the decisive factor for why top talents can outperform peer groups with similar levels of emotional and cognitive skills: “Ability and social skill may be considered talent; but potential is talent multiplied by drive as this will determine how much ability and social skills get put to use.” 90% of the respondents in our survey selected self-motivation as the most important criterion for top talent. Digitalisation will further change skill requirements as employers will seek agility, adaptability, flexibility, ability to learn lifelong and social skills in their top talents.

Don’t block a top talent

Top talents expect a personalised growth plan and a compensation package that rewards individual achievement. As Roger Martin, a leading business scholar, summarised:

 “The biggest enemy for top-end talent is blocked opportunity, especially on the way up. If they are motivated to become top  talent, they want to take on big challenges — and the sooner, the better. If they are blocked and made to wait for an opportunity to become available, they will simply go somewhere else.”

More flexibility required in management positions

Top talent is completely unrelated to gender or age: women and men can constitute top talents, although in some professions such as engineering, it is difficult to find female top talent. Because both top talents and employers have high expectations, adaptive career planning regardless of age, culture, sexual orientation and gender needs to be practised by companies and organisations to remain attractive to this employee segment.

The interviews revealed that many of the interviewees observe that the most talented women accept career advancement opportunities less often than men. The survey asked for reasons why. The survey reveals that Swiss-based decision-makers have firm beliefs and attitudes about gender differences. One third of the respondents do not have specific promotion tracks and incentives for women and the same proportion do not accept home working in higher management roles, although this would facilitate the integration of female top talent.

Furthermore, it is also interesting to note that part-time work is not accepted in 60% of the companies surveyed; only one in three companies accepts part-time work by top talents in higher management positions, regardless of gender. Put in the light of the increasing need for flexibilisation in the workplace and the requirements for work-life balance coming from the next generations, it does not augur well for women in the workplace.  In order to reverse this trend, all these points must be rapidly addressed by business.

Adaptive career planning on the way in and on the way out

Another question for top talent retention is the older generation. Due to the trend of ageing demographics, and the massive exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce in the next few years, it is in the economy’s interest to retain older top talents. In Switzerland, 32% of the long-term unemployed population is over 50, representing an opportunity loss in terms of manpower. Companies thus need to put into place adaptive career plans, that encompass women, men and older employees, and give them flexibility in career exit/re-entry, options that take into account the different stages of life these employees may be at. Particularly as employees age, companies should consider more flexible time arrangements, possible mentoring roles (for younger top talents as well as reverse mentoring for older generations). Career exit plans should be put into place to retain these talents while providing for both company and personal needs.  Finally, specific diversity policies should be enforced with the same adaptive planning.

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Author Danièle Castle, digitalswitzerland

Senior Director Education & Talent

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