Carla Harris, senior advisor, Morgan Stanley
5 December 2019

How companies can win the war for talent

Companies are engaged in a war for talent that will only get increasingly fierce in coming years, according to Carla Harris, senior advisor at Morgan Stanley, as competitors fight to attract and retain the best young employees.

Giving the keynote speech at the Cayman Captive Forum, in which she offered advice – or “pearls of wisdom” – to employers wishing to thrive in the war for talent, Harris said millennials have a fundamentally different outlook on life. Older generations are responsible for this, having brought them up to understand they have choices, she said, and should not be frustrated that they do not respond to managers the way previous generations did.

“This is industry and gender agnostic,” Harris added.

Harris said the increasing number of millennials in the workforce means managers must change their approach if they want to retain and attract the best employees. In the past companies have promoted people who were outstanding at their jobs to positions of management, without considering whether they had leadership skills, she said. Today it is vital that business leaders actually have leadership skills, with millennials demanding regular feedback and greater transparency, she added.

Harris said: “When us boomers were starting out in our careers we were told to keep our heads down. There was little transparency around the path to success.”

Older generations have to come to terms with the fact that millennials have a different approach to life than they do, and will progress through their careers differently, noted Harris. While it often took boomers 20 years to reach management positions, talented millennials can make it in five-to-seven, she said.

Harris encouraged managers to be authentic, arguing that fosters trust. Companies are increasingly competing in terms of innovation, which means embracing the unknown, she explained. People will not follow managers into the unknown unless they trust them, she said.

Managers must also create clarity for their subordinates, even when they do not see clearly themselves, said Harris, which means clearly setting out the definitions of success. “Millennials are very literal and they want to know what success looks like,” she said.

Good managers should be willing to create other leaders around them, she added, which amplifies their own role in the organisation. “If you invest in millennials' ability to lead that will enhance your retention,” she said. “Most people don't understand that the way you grow your power is to give it away.”

Increasing diversity prevents homogenous thinking and improves teams' idea generation, she said, while leaders should also promote inclusivity, soliciting the opinions of team members, ensuring they feel a sense of ownership over the team's decisions.

Managers should ensure they have the “innovation muscle” in their teams, Harris added. “That means teaching people how to fail. Do not let people be afraid to fail, but celebrate failure. If leaders react poorly to failure teams will not be willing to take risk,” she said. Harris advised managers to discuss failures openly to better learn from them, but to praise people, even when they fail, for having been willing to take risk.

Employees, especially millennials, respect leaders who “are willing to call a thing a thing,” to say what others might be afraid to say and to call things out when necessary, Harris said.

Harris concluded business leaders must be brave in order to inspire loyalty and respect in their employees. “What ties all this together is courage,” she said.