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Culture wins the War for Talent

war for talent

Photo Credit: Kristal Serrano of Partisan Advertising

We’ve all been told that the ‘great resignation’ is upon us and is causing havoc for business. Order fulfilment, service delivery and business performance are all at risk as unsatisfied workers are leaving in droves, ‘reset’ by covid lockdowns towards what they believe is more important in life. Commentators recommend all sorts of solutions, from stratospheric wages for unskilled labour to workplace flexibility.

When I was interviewed recently by the New Zealand Herald on the labour shortages firms are experiencing, I controversially commented that “rather than waste breath on blaming external factors such as closed borders or disinterested Kiwi workers, these firms need to learn from the best amongst us.” I was of course referring to TR Group, where labour shortage is not a problem, and where they are able to attract and retain talent ahead of anyone else.

In my third and last article on TR Group’s success, I’ll touch on how attracting talent in a volatile labour market allows TR Group to lead the same cultural transition in their Australian acquisition as they have successfully achieved in New Zealand. TR Group is doing this by winning the war for talent because of their culture.

The war for talent is a term first coined by McKinsey in 1997, and numerous books followed. The central theme of this ‘war’ is built on the underlying assumption that for knowledge-intensive industries, the worker is the key competitive resource. You’ll hear no argument from me on this point, but HOW organisations attract and retain talent varies widely – from unsuccessful transactional incentive programmes to 75 flavours of ice cream and bean bags in the staff cafeteria. These methods are all wrong as they involve extrinsic motivation, and staff will still pull up stumps if there is a better offer from another firm. The extrinsic nature of this phenomenon is only confirmed when in downturns, you see publications denounce the war for talent with titles such as ‘The war for talent placed on hold’, ‘Ceasefire in the war for talent’ and ‘The war for talent is the first casualty of the crisis’.

What you should do in this ‘war’, is to focus on intrinsic motivation as the foundation for a culture of a firm where talents wants to work. You focus on the common ground between the things a staff member wants to achieve and what a company wants to achieve.

I loved my conversation with Andrew Carpenter and Neil Bretherton, the two TR Group founders I rate as the most authentic leaders I know. They built their winning culture by putting intrinsic motivation at the core of everything they do. They embody it, they expect it, and they’ll stay true to it, to the point it hurts short-term but benefits long-term. As Neil explained in the previous article: “People want to feel part of something and want an alignment between their personal values and the business values.” It’s TR Group’s secret sauce, and source of their sustained competitive advantage.

Last time we discussed how Neil has proven it is possible to change an existing culture to the ideal blueprint TR Group had in mind when they assimilated their TR Driver Training. Now we talk to Andrew about TR Group’s Australian acquisition. Andrew is quick to say it’s early days, but “my belief that we can achieve the same culture is absolute. Nothing makes me think it can only work at TR in NZ.”

Says Andrew: “A number of people joined Australia because they wanted to be part of TR. They have become aware of how we work and it has motivated them to be part of that. The way we operate seems to draw in people. It always amazes me because I think how else would you operate but what it does highlight is how selfish typical business behaviour can get. We’re not in the world to screw people, we’re in the world to delight people and create success in all directions.”

“It is our mental model (way of thinking) and a long way away from what seems to happen quite often, perhaps most often. Many businesses have a less healthy dynamic where they see workers as people they want to maximise what they get from them and minimise what they give back. Why do people do that? And it ends up being a two-way thing: the individual has to act in the same way to protect themselves and to survive in that environment. I know that’s cynical, but you see it. People see we’re different and are drawn to this. ”

Having said that, Neil reminded us in the previous article that working for TR is tough. “It challenges people to park their ego and put other people ahead of themselves. The people that can, stay here. The people that have other motivations leave.”

And there is always a risk, the business culture in Australia is different and TR Group acknowledges that they will have some lessons to learn. But that won’t change Andrew’s resolve: “I’d rather stop trading than switch over to being an arse to do business”. True to purpose.

If you enjoyed this article, check out the other two we have written about TR Group:

About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People