An element of leadership is asking the right questions and then probing the answers.

In a time of economic ups and downs and high unemployment, it's possible to argue leaders should be asking about cutting costs. In the view of one economist, leaders should be more concerned about labor shortages vs. surpluses.

The data, claims Gad Levanon, director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board, supports a focus on attracting and retaining talent--NOW. This data includes a decline in U.S. productivity numbers, the aging of the workforce and a skill gap within the unemployed.

So what are some of the questions to be asking if getting the right talent onboard and then keeping people in place are key priorities for your organization's leaders?

What do you tell your family or best friend about working here?

We most often confide in our families and friends regarding their work lives. They hear it all--good, bad or indifferent. So wouldn't it be great to know exactly what is said about your organization without any filters? What is admired, feared or laughed about? How is your culture viewed?

Are most days glorious or is it really "just a job"?

Asking this question can generate intel for your marketing team or help you course correct if the trends are in the trash. A key outcome would be the development of your organization's persuasive story. The one your recruiters and hiring managers tell candidates about why people work at your company.

Are we hiring retainable employees?

I've got news for you...that "A" player accountant you just hired isn't going to want to be an accountant forever. Organizations always want to hire the best, but the best will demand new challenges or they will find them elsewhere.

If your goal is to hire people who stay with you for a while, you've got to have room for them to move upwards or laterally. If that's not feasible, then you better have meaningful project work OR (gasp) go hire the solid "B" player.

Retainable employees will come in many forms and as a leader it's your job to recognize when you have the right mix.

Still compelled to hire nothing but superstars? That can work too. You just have to make sure you can get the value out of them for the time they are with you.

Why are people leaving and do we care?

There are some organizations that do thorough exit discussions...and then file them away without sharing due to the "confidential" nature of the content. Others think exit interviews are a waste of time and prefer to have more informal conversations.

How you collect the reasons why people are leaving is irrelevant; what you do with it is key.

Back to our data--low productivity; retiring baby boomers; a big skill gap. You should care if you are losing highly productive employees because they work around a bunch of slackers. If your brightest engineer wants to leave to spend more time with the grandkids, you need to ensure a transfer of knowledge has occurred. When your mechanic finds a job closer to home and takes it even if the pay is slightly less, you should quickly find a workable solution.

Those leaders who question if we should be going against the grain when it comes to talent right NOW will be better set up for success this time next year.