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September 2017

The War Within

A war for talent is raging, and it’s the one inside your organization that matters most.

Written by Paul thallner | 0 comment

To many, the competitive aspect of talent management happens during recruitment. And it’s true, finding great people for jobs in the ski industry requires a solid strategy and constant effort. It’s a competitive marketplace. Prospective employees are fickle, and seem to have many more options available to them than you can possibly compete with.

However, once the employment offer is accepted, a new battle takes shape inside your organization: the retention battle. It starts peacefully enough. Managers take time to carefully ensure new employees are set up for success in their new roles. They provide training and other resources so the new employee can begin adding value as soon as possible. But in the back of every manager’s mind is the unspoken worry, “How long will it be before this person leaves?”

Unfortunately, organizations that rely on a large number of temporary/hourly workers often settle on a narrative that benefits neither the company nor the employee. Employers hedge their bets and invest the minimum in training and developing their temporary employees. And temporary employees—given no reason to fully engage in their work, since they feel dispensable—deliver the minimum effort required to collect their paycheck.

This tacit bargain can put your company into a death spiral. It leads to poor service, fewer customer return visits, and ultimately, diminished revenue.

Companies often fail to recognize that poor employee performance can be traced back to this weak link in company culture. They may conclude that they’ve made a bad hire and need to replace a poor performer. Or they may see a pattern of poor performance in a department and double down on tactical training.

There are indeed bad hires, and employees who lack the will or competence to do their jobs should be encouraged to take their talents elsewhere. Similarly, if employees lack the technical skills to perform their jobs (e.g., using a new POS system or maintaining a new piece of equipment), specific training is absolutely necessary.

But, when it comes to training employees to deliver their best every day, companies need to focus on two things: skills and mindsets.


Employees need the skills that the job requires, such as using specific software applications, technology tools, or equipment. They may need ancillary skills, such as food handling, first aid, emergency preparedness, or even customer service.

No employee is a blank slate, of course, and employers often build on attributes discovered in the interview process: an outgoing personality, competency with math, or mechanical aptitude. This applies equally to new hires and veteran employees. As the organization adapts to trends, customer patterns, and even weather patterns, all employees need to be trainable.

But from an organizational perspective, what are some of the hidden benefits of training that alter the narrative described earlier?

First, just like physical training, company training strengthens areas that are not strong. Strengthening weaknesses is a fundamental component of learning and personal growth. When people strive to be better at something, they gain confidence, and confident people see the world with more optimism. People with optimism are much more engaged at work and have a higher regard for their workplace.

Second, training is an opportunity to develop alignment and consistency across an organization. That helps people feel they are part of a high-functioning company (not just a high-functioning department). They realize that learning the system enables them to add value not only in their current role, but in other roles too—even in other parts of the business. That is worth sticking around for.

Third, training (and re-training) employees gives them a chance to raise their game. Employees who embrace and apply their learning are more apt to deliver an exceptional customer experience, be more creative/innovative, and offer more positive suggestions. When employees are focused on being good at their jobs, they often avoid the negative forces that can erode a culture: gossip, negative assumptions, and cynicism.

Finally, skills training helps employees determine what they are interested in. With the help of a mentor or great manager, employees can reflect on why some training gets them excited while other training doesn’t. This analysis, regardless of career stage, helps both employer and employee decide where to invest time and energy in building a career. Plus, your interest in their choices signals that you want them to have a career orientation rather than a paycheck orientation. That builds confidence and trust.


Training has a shadow side, however. Like an iceberg, training has parts that you can see, and parts that are hidden under the surface. Mindsets are often among the latter, and they can dull the effects of skills training.

For example, I recently worked with a $5 billion organization that wanted to train its leaders to be more innovative. cont.

I developed a solution that promoted creative thinking and gave leaders an opportunity to practice the new skills. On paper, it was perfect.

However, nobody adequately communicated why innovation was important to these leaders, or to the business. The CEO, HR chief, and other very senior executives all failed to communicate, support, model, and reinforce the value of innovation. At the end of the day, leaders felt that this was just another training coming down the pike from corporate. That’s a mindset problem.

Does this type of problem exist in your organization? Imagine the faces of your most well-trained people, the ones who have technical expertise to excel at their jobs. Now, think of your most disruptive employees, those who create conflict, show up late, bad-mouth others, or deliver a poor customer experience. How many people show up on both lists?

Every organization has its share of talented jerks who erode the culture you work so hard to build. Stanford business school professor Robert Sutton says that these toxic employees have such a significant negative effect on morale and productivity that these “a**holes” (his term) need to be removed. The cost, he argues, of replacing a toxic employee is lower than the business impact of keeping them around.

To be clear, I do not recommend that you fire all of your employees who have a negative mindset. Try to change the mindset first. The author of the immensely popular book, “Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success,” says that persistence and belief are the keys to overcoming self-imposed limitations on performance. Managers can play a key role in encouraging employees to remain positive and keep going when things are challenging. But managers have to be persistent and establish a new, more productive mindset.

For that, managers must be willing to dive under the surface and meet employees where they are. They need to be attuned to their employees’ attitudes and capable of providing clear direction and objective, constructive feedback. That’s what management is all about.

No Simple Solutions

We want our organizations to succeed, and we want to provide great jobs to those who want them. When things go sideways, it’s too easy to blame the employees if they’re regarded as “temporary.” The problem could be a matter of skill or mindset, or both.

Ski areas need to look at their own practices, and make their businesses as attractive as possible to current and prospective employees. This takes work. It requires buy-in from all senior-level leaders. To be a convincing employer of choice for people with many options, leaders must fully embrace a new narrative that sets up employees for true success. That will fuel the organization’s success as well.