Business owners continually look for the best ways to motivate their employees. Does succeeding mean offering incentives or crunching the internal data to find the most productive workers? Those are common practices, but company leaders can get even better results by focusing on democratizing talent.

What Does It Mean to Democratize Talent?

Talent democracy centers on showing employees they can control their career development and the available workplace opportunities. People’s advancement depends on how hard they work to set goals and show initiative—not whether they have the right connections.

Greater democracy can also spread to the whole facility and how it operates. Rather than solely using a top-down management style, workplace democracy allows people at all levels of the organization—regardless of their role or seniority—to participate in decision-making. Some businesses even offer workers company equity and give them voting rights so they have a say in the organization’s future.

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Why Does Talent Democratization Matter?

When company leaders decide to put more resources and effort into democratizing talent, they can anticipate numerous benefits.

Better Employee Engagement

A 2020 Gallup poll found that only 36 percent of employees were engaged in their work. About 13 percent were actively disengaged and miserable in the workplace.

Numerous factors can make people feel disconnected and purposeless while working. However, that’s less likely to happen when leaders prioritize talent democratization. Doing that gives employees a sense of direction and emphasizes that their actions influence their future success and happiness.

Improved Profitability

Talent democratization also means increasing diversity–and not just going about it as a box-checking exercise. Research shows that a more diverse workplace also often drives profits.

A McKinsey & Co. study revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 25 percent more likely to record above-average profitability compared to organizations in the fourth quartile. Those at the top for gender and ethnic diversity were 36 percent more likely to outperform bottom-level peers in profitability.

Access to a Larger Talent Pool

The rise of remote work has also helped company leaders explore talent democratization. They understand that talented people live worldwide, and it’s sometimes necessary to search for candidates outside the immediate vicinity.

Many hiring managers realize that people don’t necessarily need to stick to a specific schedule to get things done. Providing flexibility for the days and hours worked, as long as someone reaches a minimum weekly total, opens opportunities for people who may dislike or are unable to follow traditional work schedules.

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Higher Retention Rates

People are more likely to show loyalty to companies that democratize talent. It’s understandably frustrating for a person to feel they’re doing everything expected and more, yet still getting overlooked for promotions. Some individuals even find that supervisors rarely or never recognize their workplace contributions.

However, democratizing talent helps create a work environment where all employees feel valued, respected and seen. It also sets transparent expectations showing all workers what’s required to keep moving forward in their careers. These aspects typically make people want to stick with companies for the long term.

Now that it’s clear how talent democratization benefits all involved, here are seven tips for putting it into practice.

1. Provide an Individualized Career Pathway 

Creating a career pathway for each employee reinforces that they’re in control of their futures. Aim to tie certain job milestones to positive outcomes like new titles or higher pay.

Company leaders should consider offering the career pathway in an easily accessible format so people can refer to it frequently or make notes for themselves while progressing.

Employees may find that career growth transparency motivates them to pursue more personal growth, too. People must identify the importance of specific milestones. While doing so, they’ll likely find significant overlap between career and non-work-related milestones.

2. Schedule Frequent Check-In Sessions

Many employees only receive supervisor input about severe errors or during annual reviews. However, people who get sporadic feedback can’t course-correct to fix problems as effectively.

Having ongoing supervisor-employee check-ins allows the worker to know what’s going well and where room for improvement exists. They can also bring up any questions or concerns.

3. Offer Remote Work Opportunities When Feasible

Some people quickly turn down roles that require long commutes or rigid schedules, especially when they have family commitments or lack reliable transportation. That may mean a company misses out on top-tier talent.

Giving people chances to work remotely removes many barriers. It also shows that a company trusts employees to stay productive with limited oversight. 

COVID-19 helped normalize remote working. One study found more than 80 percent of companies intended to let people keep doing it at least part time after the pandemic.

4. Encourage Employees to Embrace Change

Change is necessary for helping employees grow, but many people fear or dread it. A company’s culture should ideally urge employees to view it positively.

When they do, they’ll be better equipped to take control of their careers, even if that means changing their processes or priorities. Having an open-door policy that allows people to voice their concerns about upcoming changes is a proactive step in creating a more democratized workplace.

5. Recognize the Small Victories

A democratic workplace involves recognizing excellent work, even with seemingly minor progress. Doing this shows employees that superiors notice and value their contributions. This makes team members more likely to feel engaged and excited about their jobs.

Having a system where all employees can submit praise for their fellow workers is a great way to boost morale. Company leaders might also urge workers to detail how the outstanding contributions they see reflect the organization’s values.

6. Show Flexibility When Hiring People

Democratizing talent also means eliminating strict hiring requirements. For example, many companies—particularly in the tech sector—no longer require candidates to have college degrees. Possessing equivalent qualifications is often enough.

Flexibility could also come into play if a person lacks experience in a specific skill but shows an obvious willingness to learn. People in a democratized workforce strive to see the whole individual rather than making sure someone fits into tight parameters.

7. Understand the Ripple Effects of a More Diverse Workforce

When prioritizing talent democratization, business leaders should also remember how emphasizing diversity brings benefits spanning beyond a workplace. Researchers recently explored creating more diverse lab meetings among scientists. Part of the effort involved coming up with 10 principles, including one to recognize bias.

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One conclusion was that creating more diversity in the lab caused positive changes in the scientific community and the world at large. The same thing could happen in any workplace or industry when leaders count diversity and inclusion among an organization’s guiding values.

Talent Democratization Makes Sense

Talent democratization makes companies stronger, more adaptable to changes and consistently able to attract outstanding employees. Doing it well takes time and effort, but it’ll pay off, and these suggestions will help.