In Search Of Superheroes


Joseph Tan


4 min read

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Superficialities and sustainability strategies

“Why is it so difficult to find good people?” – a common human resources lament.

When a company grows, manpower challenges immediately come to the forefront as a glaring “growing pain” which inevitably falls on the shoulders of human resources (HR) leaders.

Purchasing additional equipment and implementing new processes can help a company to grow in terms of its production capacity – however, in order for a company to gain significant competitive advantage, the additional focus must be on leveraging the potential of its human resources.

Yet, tapping on human potential is a frustrating exercise because human nature is not as predictable in performance as systems, software and equipment.

Hence, when an organisation grows, a strategy in products and services alone is not sufficient without an equally important strategy to hire, retain and develop a talent pool.

The manpower challenges we face today arise because of a superficial understanding of what it takes to attract and hire suitable talent. With a superficial understanding of human nature, we will not be able to hire superheroes. So, the first manpower challenge is that of our internal mind set.

This might interest you: Disengaged Employees? Well, What Do You Expect?


Superficiality #1: Brand your company and they will come

While it is true that brand attracts, it presupposes something more foundational – a culture that works. Without a culture that is aligned with an organisation’s vision, any exercise in branding will appear to be cosmetic in nature and even hypocritical (if it is not backed up by a commitment for integrity and alignment).

In other words, do not brand until you are ready to play in the band. I am not proposing that branding is unimportant – on the contrary, it is critical that a growing organisation has a strategy for external engagement, i.e. how customers and the community perceive the company.

If we rely on branding to address manpower challenges, it presupposes the existence of an enthusiastic workforce who is engaged and committed.

But if you already have that workforce, then you won’t have manpower challenges, right? So, branding is more of a marketing rather than a manpower strategy because branding needs an engaged workforce to promote it in the first place.


Superficiality #2: Teambuilding is the way to build morale

When I meet clients, the first solution they usually seek for is teambuilding.

“Can you whip up a two day programme to improve the morale of my staff so that they come back more passionate and productive?”

This is a much sought-after solution because the manpower challenges of the company is now outsourced to the teambuilding vendor. While teambuilding can improve motivation, it requires a supportive environment for the practising of what the teambuilding event aims to teach. Teambuilding does not address manpower challenges at its root cause.


Superficiality #3: Pay them more to perform more

What about dangling the carrot? If money speaks, then more money should speak louder to address manpower challenges. Super money should pay for the superheroes, right?

The thing about money is that it produces quick compliance but the love of money creates a calculative culture where the mode of employee engagement becomes more transactional rather than transformational.

This in itself will create a new set of challenges – the challenge of creating a sense of deep-seated sustainability. Money can buy compliance but it cannot create conviction.

The two-pronged strategy for sustainability

According to Gallup, there are five factors as to why employees become disengaged and eventually leave the organisation:

  • My relationship with my immediate supervisor.
  • My job does not fit with my talent and strengths.
  • My colleagues are not committed to quality work.
  • My salary and compensation are not good enough.
  • My purpose is not aligned with the company’s mission.

Interestingly, the top two factors constitute 75% weightage of why people stay (or leave).

That means when it comes to addressing the manpower challenges of today, organisation leaders need only to focus on two key strategies and this approach is simple to understand and yet difficult to implement because it requires leadership accountability and personal engagement.


Manpower sustainability strategy #1: Develop great bosses

Since people join companies but leave managers, it makes good sense then to develop good managers to become great managers.

In fact, from my observation – employees are able to put up with system issues or even lower pay if they have a great and supportive boss.

Somehow, hard-wired within each one of us is a sense that “I have a need to be needed”. A great boss develops an environment whereby:

  • There is recognition for a job well done.
  • There is regular acceptance of opinion offered.
  • There are clear communicated expectations.
  • There is the providence of the right equipment and tools to do a good job.
  • There is on-going development for personal growth.


Manpower sustainability strategy #2: Design great jobs

The problem with job description is that it is static. As an employee grows, tension arises when there is an increasing gap between the static job description and the discovery of personal strengths.

It is no wonder, then the factor of “wrong job fit” is the second most common factor which contributes to the manpower challenges facing organisational leaders.

Gallup reports that an employee who has the opportunity to do what he or she does best every day is six times more engaged and three times as likely to have a higher quality of life in general.

Great jobs are not defined by job descriptions, it is defined by the willingness of the company to provide alignment between individual strengths with organisational key results.

Here are a few reflective questions to consider so as to ascertain the degree of job-strengths alignment:

  • Do I have a way to identify the unique strengths of each of my team members?
  • Do I know who to place in what role for optimum team chemistry and performance?
  • Do I focus on strengths or “areas for improvement” when it comes to coaching my employees?
  • Do I customise my approach when it comes to employee development and growth?

Fundamentally, the search for superheroes is first of all, an internal effort because without the right political willpower and cultural unity to develop great bosses and great jobs, there is no “super-environment” that will attract the superheroes in the first place.

Meeting the manpower challenges of the future require that present leadership-housekeeping activities begin to put emphasis on managerial development and intentional job design.


Joseph Tan is passionate about ensuring all Malaysian employees are fully engaged in their work and with their organisation. If you would like to enhance the engagement levels at your organisation, email for more details. For more Be a Leader articles, click here.

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