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Attract and retain the next generation of rising stars

By Eric Beaudan and Mary Barroll


What makes a potential leader? It is the number one question that most organizations grapple with today. While there is no one predictor that wins out above all, research has revealed that there are specific personality traits that tend to be more present in high-potentials. Despite the emphatic hype, it seems that the younger generation of leaders possesses plenty of high potential talent.

As part of its CEOx1Day program – which matches top post-secondary students with leading Canadian CEOs for a day – global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson has learned a lot about the qualities that make up future leaders. Together with its partner Hogan Assessments, the recruitment firm compiled psychometric data examining the key traits of today’s CEOs versus their much younger, Generation Z (Gen Z) – those born between 1995 and 2005 – counterparts. The result?

Despite the 30-40-year experience gap, the key qualities that make up a leader today are essentially the same traits that define the leaders of tomorrow – cultivating a growth mindset, a passion for learning, strong interpersonal skills and a desire to affect positive change.

Does this mean that organizations can use the same recruitment and retention strategies to attract and engage these young rising stars? According to the research, the answer is no.

The “war for talent” and the growing talent gap

Over the past five years, as the war for talent has intensified, attracting and retaining great talent has become noticeably more difficult for Canadian organizations. As 9.8 million Baby Boomers approach retirement and widen the employee talent gap across the country, things will only get more competitive.

To attract and retain the best talent, organizations need to be focused on “big S” succession at the C-suite level, while also thinking about the “small S” succession: Strategic sourcing and development of strong entry- and mid-level people capable of driving the business forward.

While it’s been identified that the leadership traits of high-potential talent may be quite similar to those of previous generations, it’s also been learned that the motivations and priorities of incoming talent are changing from generation to generation.


Changing career motivations

It was first recognized through the millennial generation that career drivers were changing. Potential for career growth and opportunities to have a visible impact ranked above salary and title as the most important motivator – values opposite the Baby Boomer predecessors and factors that continue to outweigh compensation.

Students now applying to entry-level positions are Gen Z, a demographic that is reported to make up roughly 17.6 per cent of Canada’s total population and 25 per cent of the workforce by 2020. Understanding how to attract and retain this talent ultimately comes down to determining their motivating factors of what specifically attracts them to organizations and what motivates them to stay.

Recent data from TalentEgg’s “Guide to Canadian Campus Recruitment” survey found that Gen Z valued social responsibility and a sense of community more than any other job factors – demonstrating a shift towards looking at a job as a central part of their lifestyle and as a way to make an impact. In short, today’s top talent coming out of post-secondary institutions responds best to employers who care about more than just the bottom line – they must be able to connect new talent to a higher purpose and keep them engaged on tasks that have a clear and meaningful outcome.

Gen Z respondents also cited growth opportunities and career development as more important than salary, following the trend previously witnessed by the millennial generation. However, more surprisingly, close to one third also reported that they were planning to stay in a job for four to six years – a significant increase from the average 18-month stay by millennial workers. This is good news for companies willing to invest in attracting and retaining this new crop of talent.


Attracting the next generation of leaders

For organizations that truly want to capture the attention of these socially-minded, highly collaborative and ambitious individuals, being deliberate about recruitment and retention strategies will be key:

  • Showcase an organization’s social purpose: Gen Z employees are passionate about organizations that are invested in making a meaningful impact on the community. In fact, nearly one third of those surveyed by TalentEgg said they would take a 10 to 20 per cent pay cut to work for a cause they deeply care about. Employers should highlight their commitment to corporate social responsibility initiatives – beyond what’s mentioned in an annual report – and offer opportunities for students to volunteer and participate.
  • Provide non-stop opportunities for career growth: As with prior generations, young professionals are driven by opportunities to advance their careers – albeit at a much faster pace. Organizations looking to retain top talent need to provide development opportunities from the moment they are hired, and keep these opportunities coming. These include pairing new hires with superiors as mentors, providing opportunities to take on more responsibility and learn other parts of the business and giving them assignments that will test and build their leadership capabilities.
  • Be nimble and open-minded: Students and new graduates have grown up in an environment where speed and connectivity are an integral part of how they do just about everything. Gen Z candidates are looking for signs that there will be plenty of opportunities to connect and collaborate with their coworkers, bring new ideas to the table and be listened to. They may be the boldest generation we’ve seen, and they want to find quick solutions to problems.


As this new generation enters the workforce in larger numbers, know this – they are committed to the organization and want to grow. Don’t take these high-potential young leaders for granted. Start thinking about retention now. Today’s young leaders are prepared to make both organizations and the world a better place.


Eric Beaudan is global head of the Leadership Practice at Odgers Berndtson. Mary Barroll is president at TalentEgg and general counsel and vice president of Media Affairs at CharityVillage.




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