In recent years, the workforce has been evolving with increasing rapidity.
Some of these changes were in many ways to be expected: demographics inevitably shift as one generation ages out of the workforce and another new one enters it, and technological advancements have been causing disruptions since the Industrial Revolution. Others, such as the changes that were accelerated and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic like remote working and inflation, were unable to be anticipated.
From debates about the best form of hybrid working, to headlines heralding the “Great Resignation”, to “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing”, today the future of the workplace – and the workforce – seems cloudier than ever before. With so much uncertainty, how can leaders expect to maintain a thriving organization?
Publications have cycled through a number of catchy terms attempting to capture the current state of the workforce. First, there was “The Great Resignation,” followed by “The Great Reconfiguration” and then “The Great Re-evaluation.” More recently, “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing” have made the rounds in the press, describing the phenomenon of workers choosing to not go beyond meeting the minimum requirements of their job description, and employers’ failing to provide support that would encourage them to do otherwise.
A crucial difference between quiet quitting and quiet firing is that while the former is an intentional decision, the latter is often an unintentional case of neglect. According to Stephen Bittel, founder and chairman of the alternative investment firm Terranova Corporation, leaders of successful organizations are practitioners of “quiet hiring” – leveraging current employees' capabilities to acquire new skills by focusing on nurturing and promoting in-house talent.
Bittel’s Terranova is an institution in the South Florida commercial real estate sector. Since founding it over 40 years ago, Terranova has acted as the sole representative for commercial projects valued at over $5 billion, and currently owns and operates more than $1 billion in assets. Over the course of his career his company has weathered five recessions and numerous other shifts in the industry and society, and Bittel credits cultivating talent internally as a vital aspect of Terranova’s success.
Retaining talented employees is crucial for building a resilient organization, during uncertain times in particular. It establishes a solid foundation that enables swift and efficient adaptation to change, and builds an institutional memory that can weather the sea of change. Employee turnover, on the other hand, introduces various disruptions to business operations, hindering optimal performance and placing additional strain on existing staff who must shoulder extra responsibilities until vacant roles are filled. When you haven’t been cultivating a strong culture and have some quiet quitters in your midst, this can trigger a cascading effect throughout the organization.
Bittel’s mentorship work was recently highlighted in an article for the commercial real estate publication Bisnow. Highlighting how the Miami real estate sector is breaking barriers in terms of elevating women leaders, the piece points to the fact that many of the city’s female leaders in the industry got their start at Terranova, including two women who have gone on to found their own businesses. Beth Azor, the founder of Azor Advisory Services, said in the piece that she counted Stephen Bittel as a mentor, who even co-signed on her first commercial real estate property loan. Trish Blasi, the founder of Borghese Investments, was Terranova’s president before leaving to start her own firm.
Terranova’s current president, Mindy McIlroy began at the company in 1997 as an executive assistant. She told the publication that while she had no plans initially to be involved in the real estate business, the president at the time encouraged her to transfer to a sales role in the leasing department and she is grateful every day she said yes to the opportunity. Since its inception, Bittel has encouraged strong mentorship relationships amongst its employees, believing that keeping good employees is worth twice the weight of hiring new ones.
Indeed, the benefits of quiet hiring are twofold. Leaders are able to maintain a stable headcount by giving priority to the development and advancement of internal talent, and employees are given the chance to upskill and experiment with new tasks. Contrary to many publications’ doomsday warnings on quiet quitting, Bittel does not believe that it is a reflection of a society fed up with working. On the contrary, he believes it is a symptom of businesses failing to create engagement and opportunity within their companies.
There are a number of other advantages for employers in focusing on developing talent internally, particularly in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness when addressing skill gaps without the need for additional full-time hires. By tapping into internal talent, organizations can avoid the lengthy recruitment process and enable resources to be quickly allocated to areas of the business that are of the highest priority. Additionally, investing in the upskilling of employees can lead to improved retention, engagement, and productivity.
Bittel notes that for companies to truly benefit from this practice, it is essential that they approach it ethically. Without doing so, employees may end up feeling exploited or undervalued rather than inspired and motivated. In order to do so, leaders should present new assignments as valuable learning opportunities that hold the potential for career advancement and increased compensation. Times of difficulty for an organization should be presented as such by leaders, rather than trying to put a spin on things and make the temporary additional workload seem like an opportunity. Support employees by fostering a culture of honesty, transparency, and acknowledgement for their exceptional performance.
Leaders should look to foster and promote internal mobility within an organization. When employees comprehend the possibility of transitioning to new roles, acquiring fresh skills, and embracing diverse responsibilities within the company, their engagement and dedication to their work are likely to increase, notes Bittel. In order to facilitate seamless transitions, he advises leaders to establish a well-defined internal mobility program with explicit role descriptions, structured job rotation schedules, and comprehensive training modules.
Additionally, like Bittel it is important to not discount the benefits of collaboration and cross-functional teams. By reassigning employees to different roles, leaders can effectively dismantle departmental barriers and cultivate a culture of collaboration across a wide array of departments. This exchange of ideas and expertise can result in innovative solutions, streamlined workflows, and a deeper organizational comprehension, in addition to fostering a more integrated and unified company culture where all individuals feel connected to the organization’s broader vision and mission.
Focusing as a leader on developing internal talent also promotes a culture of continuous learning within the company. By providing employees with opportunities to acquire new skills and assume diverse roles, they are more inclined to embrace learning as an integral aspect of their job. This culture of ongoing learning contributes to the overall adaptability and resilience of the organization, especially during periods of economic uncertainty or rapid market fluctuations. By nurturing a workforce that values continuous growth and development, companies can better navigate challenges and seize new opportunities.