MANAGING PEOPLETalent Tactics – Getting and keeping the best people

Our economy is booming, creating high demand for talent but supply remains thin on the ground. The situation requires employers to transform and, in many cases rethink, their hiring behaviour. Even the Government has urged expat New Zealanders to return home, but asking doesn’t mean they will arrive in droves. We can’t match the pay packets proffered by many other nations and although lifestyle and destination will attract some it would be naïve to think this carrot alone will be sufficient. Today’s employers need to devise other, more creative tactics.
The dearth of talent is global issue. McKinsey Consulting research predicts the problem of finding, capturing and retaining talent will persist over the next two decades at least. In the United States, for example, the number of workers in the productive 35 to 44 year-old age bracket is tipped to decline by 14 percent over the next 15 years. The statistics for Europe are even more severe and the impact ripples throughout New Zealand.
Kim Smith, senior consultant at Robert Half Finance & Accounting, believes the impact will be further brain drain as Kiwis leave to fill high paying jobs overseas. How can we win this war for talent as the US and Europe consume more of the dwindling labour force?
There are several schools of thought. Smith believes the focus should be on fresh hiring attitudes and activities that cut across several areas, from having more flexibility in who is hired, to more speedy decision-making and better ways of selling positions. Others think outsourcing is the way to go – hire staff in core competencies and recruit specialists on contracts.
“One great example is the willingness of New Zealand employers to work with candidates who have the required skills, but will not get work visa until they get job offer,” says Smith. “So often, many employers put these candidates into the ‘too-hard basket’, not realising that they are missing great opportunity, and that the situation is easier to manage than they think.”
Large recruitment companies with offices in several countries have access to many strong potential employees from overseas who can take up roles that are hard to fill. Attracted to the Kiwi lifestyle, these immigrants can help plug gaps in the market. Many recruitment managers echo this point, arguing that local recruiters are missing out on opportunity and urging managers to develop strategies for selecting talent from among new migrants.
Smith suggests companies employ raft of measures, including making tight interviewing schedules and not expecting to see broad range of candidates. “Be prepared to hire the first person you see and make decisions quickly,” she says. “This is not market that will provide lot of benchmarking. Be flexible with roles – consider the viability of hiring someone with alternative experience if you believe the candidate shows keen attitude.
“Actively sell your own company. Employers often forget that it’s just as much their job to sell the role to potential candidates, as it is the candidate’s job to sell themselves. And, of course, ensure pay parity.”
Actively selling your own company is another way of saying beef up on your branding. Melissa Keane, general manager at TMP Worldwide, also notes that companies here are now spending significantly more on overseas advertising but believes in order to remain attractive to the best employees, organisations must invest in their employer brand.
Earlier this year TMP Worldwide completed an online survey asking organisations around the country what they did after failing to recruit the right person the first time. Clients and participants alike were relieved with the results as they discovered they were not the only ones struggling to attract and retain great employees.
“Our survey told us that although salary was an important factor, it was not the most important thing,” says Keane. “In fact, people valued the profile of the organisation (something that many organisations put little emphasis into), employees valued their colleagues, the company culture and being recognised against their peers.”
How do employers ensure they get good return on investment? Keane says it is important for organisations to understand why their staff enjoy working for them. “This is fundamental to understanding what makes your organisation tick. Without asking the questions and understanding the answers behind them organisations will always struggle to retain, attract and recruit the right people. Employers need to invest in increasing the profile of their organisation so they get unsolicited CVs in the manner that they were used to in the past and employers need to invest in understanding their employees.”
In such hard times is it still useful to devise ever more cunning psychometric tests for potential employees? The desire to get it right and choose the best candidate in the first place is understandable so it comes as breath of fresh air to hear John Robertson, director at John Robertson & Associates (JRA), say that building better interviewing and assessment mousetraps is waste of time. “We know we can’t compete on the wages front so it comes down to employers offering better workplaces, which can be added to our natural advantages of lifestyle and destination.”
What are our employee workplace drivers? What turns on employees when it comes to workplace satisfaction and how does this translate into behaviour such as likelihood to stay?
Since 2000 JRA has conducted five surveys and Robertson’s observations are based on data collected from his “Unlimited/JRA Best Place to Work in New Zealand Survey 2004”. Over 160 organisations with 17,000 respondents took part in this survey with numbers predicted to swell further 30 percent this year. “With talent in such short supply it is crucial to understand what employees want, and what are the causal links between certain factors like commitment and job satisfaction,” says Robertson.
His survey found that key drivers in order of importance were:
• I feel there is future for me in this organisation.
• This organisation is fun place to work.
• I feel sense of belonging.
• The work I do makes full use of my knowledge and skills.
• My pay and benefits are fair.
• I’m working in successful organisation.
Whether the organisations were law firms, local government or manufacturing companies there was consistency found from employees who described ‘fun’ not just as having Friday drinks, or PlayStations, but being in supportive environment including great support for technical needs. “It’s not fun to work in company that routinely has slow computer support when things go wrong, is it?” asks Robertson. Employees at Vodafone, More FM and Toyota said ‘fun’ was one of their values, with events and happenings that brought everyone together. The word ‘family’ was used frequently, engendering sense of belonging, along with being respected and valued.
Based on the results of this survey the winning best small organisation is More FM. Larry Summerville, CEO at More FM, knows company that can energise, excite and enthuse its staff to achieve high standards of performance will make more money. “Making more money is an outcome, not cause, of achieving better employee attitudes and higher standards,” says Robertson.
JRA’s “Anatomy of Great Workplace” survey found that the top 20 companies to work for in New Zealand share four factors. All have clearly articulated vision so that employees have widely known set of values. They share sense of community that generates feeling of real optimism. Thirdly, there is almost an obsession for developing people to realise their fullest potential, encouraging staff to develop in ways not necessarily relevant to the specifics in their job but to round them out as people. And lastly, employees wanted to be working in high performance culture.
Put simply, the stronger the branding the better. It’s win-win situation – the employer sets clear

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