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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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The Gift We Can Give Our Talent

Santa’s most important gifts don’t come in packages or stockings

For millions of families across the globe, today is Christmas Eve. A magical night of wonderment, hope, celebration and a special visit from the world’s most legendary gift-giver. Santa Claus is more than that, however. He’s not just a toy maker with a passion for rewarding well-behaved children. And his gifts transcend electronics, clothing, dolls or video games. If you really focus on tales of his exploits — from fourth century miracles to modern cinema — the themes that emerge are really about creating a shared culture of empowered people who have faith in themselves and their peers.

Think about it. Santa doesn’t operate in secrecy to prolong a mystery or protect his modesty. He’s a catalyst. He’s the spark that ignites our best characteristics. He gives just enough to inspire us to act individually: to improve ourselves and our societies, to reflect on purpose and meaning, to conquer doubt and rise above the challenges our world presents. He doesn’t solve our problems. He gives us the tools and the encouragement to create our own successes.

As we gather by the fire and gaze into the sparkle of a trimmed tree, let’s consider for a moment how we as talent leaders can give these same gifts to the people we support.

Santa Claus, the agent of empowerment

Saint Nicholas, more formally known as Nikolaos of Myra, was a fourth century saint and bishop in Lycia, which is now part of modern day Turkey. His miracles of intercession and reputation as a gift-giver to the downtrodden earned Nicholas the historic legacy of magnanimity that led to his current incarnation as Santa Claus. One fabled story took place in the year 311, during a terrible famine. Nicholas performed a miracle that allowed sailors to unload a portion of the Emperor’s wheat for their communities in Myra. Yet when the crates arrived in the capital, the missing contents had been inexplicably replaced. The rulers in Constantinople received their full share while the wheat removed by the sailors supported two years of crops, with enough left over for sowing future harvests. Nicholas didn’t merely provide a temporary comfort or end the famine himself — he gave the struggling people the tools they needed to unite, develop their own solutions and grow successfully.

In 1897, an editor for The (New York) Sun named Francis Church penned the most reprinted and cherished editorial in history. It contained the famous affirmation, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” The editorial came in response to a letter from eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who was troubled by her friends denying the existence of Kris Kringle. What Church truly accomplished was to help a little girl and every other reader fight against what he termed “the skepticism of a skeptical age” through a simple reminder of belief and validation.

As an adult, Virginia would be deserted by her husband shortly before the birth of their daughter. She raised the girl as a single parent, something disdained by society at the time. Yet Virginia O’Hanlon went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College, a master’s degree in education from Columbia University, and a doctorate from Fordham — rare accomplishments for women in the early 20th century. She became an educator in 1912 and a junior principal in 1935. She retired in 1959, leaving behind a legacy of supporting disadvantaged students through needs-based scholarships, which her descendants continue. In interviews and in responses to letters from the public, Virginia credited Church’s powerful message about the spirit of Santa as a constant source of inspiration that positively shaped her life.

There’s also the popular holiday film “Miracle on 34th Street.” In it, an indigent yet kindly old man claims to be the authentic Santa Claus. By the conclusion of the story, it’s hard to deny. Yet the gifts he provides don’t come in material form. He instead helps people believe in themselves, capitalize on their passions and talents, have faith in each other and ensure their own successes by promoting the wellbeing of those around them. For instance, he persuades the owner of Macy’s to purchase an expensive piece of medical equipment for a doctor who cares for the poor.

Talent leadership and development, North Pole style

As a manager, Santa connects with his workforce personally, professionally and emotionally. He walks the halls, visits the production areas and leaves his cozy office to oversee the output and needs of his talent. It’s important, as staffing professionals, that we also take the time to know and understand the exceptional talent who drive our successes. Employees who feel vital to a process, who are encouraged to contribute and who feel a sense of camaraderie don’t think of themselves as commodities — they work hard to fulfill the shared mission we have outlined. They also need to sense that as leaders, we are equally experienced in the work — that the buck stops at the highest levels with knowledgeable leaders who are dedicated to coaching and developing their talent.

We, like Santa, should strive to create a positive environment that fosters growth and opportunity among our workers, acknowledging their contributions and providing encouraging yet critical feedback even when we are correcting inefficient or negative behaviors.

In that regard, Santa transcends the boundaries of top-down management to become an inspirer. His operations are multifaceted, multidimensional, multilayered and ever-expanding with his customer base. His intimate knowledge of his workers — their strengths, weaknesses and potential — allows him to optimize their abilities by placing them in roles best suited to them. Santa knows how to expertly match elves to assignments, whether they are in toy making, logistics, animal care, research, development, sales or administration.

Santa also knows that his talent hail from a variety of individual backgrounds, environments, lifestyles and interests. And that means they all have unique perspectives, skills and ideas that will make his crew stronger. Even when members of the North Pole reindeer team derided Rudolph for his unfamiliar appearance, Santa saw the inherent potential in this up-and-coming buck and gave him the chance to become a leader. Santa espouses a meritocracy in his workplace, not a clique or oligarchy.

Diverse talent are paving the foundations of a more robust and unified economy that will flourish for generations to come. Staffing providers recognize this trend and have launched aggressive sourcing campaigns to capture the interest of this talent. Along the way, they are pioneering new methods for recruiting them, socializing with them, engaging them and placing them in business cultures where they will thrive and innovate. Businesses, historically, have gone where the money is. Staffing professionals have followed the talent. On the roadmap of commerce and trade, an increasingly diverse pool of talent has become the X marking the location of tomorrow’s buried treasure.

We can all be Santa Claus

If there’s one key theme from LinkedIn’s research on the talent trends of 2016, it’s the importance of relationships — with clients, candidates and colleagues. The social media boom, enabled by technologies that facilitate real-time interactions from anywhere in the world, gives us the foundation to continue building and strengthening these relationships.

As the economy continues to fluctuate and the nature of work changes dramatically, a lot of people are left insecure and confused about their futures. The leaders of modern workplaces have become time-impoverished and pulled in countless directions. Workers are expected to operate more independently. Skills shortages, the push to innovate, the explosive growth of sharing economy business models, and changing regulations are adding to this sense of uncertainty. Yet as staffing leaders, we can play Santa Claus every day of the coming year. We can provide our talent the tools and insight they need to propel their careers and co-create their own destinies.

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, thought leader and influencer who is transforming the way companies think about and acquire talent. Blending vision, technology and business skills honed in the most innovative corporate environments, he has launched a new model for recruitment called Crowdstaffing which is being tapped successfully top global brands. Sunil is passionate about building a company that provides value to the complete staffing ecosystem including clients, candidates and recruiters.
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