The Talent Wars

The business of hiring top talent has
switched from buyer’s to seller’s market in the past five years. Improved technology has helped search firms to move the ?war for talent’ onto global market.
To get ahead corporate high-fliers must proactively manage their careers. Many New Zealanders think this means being pushy and prefer to leave that to their American and Australian colleagues. But being aware of your strengths and making sure that the right people at the top know them too, will bring mutual benefit. What are the best ways to manage your career? Larry Small, managing director at Executive Appointments, says, “make the most of your human resources department and seek strong mentor from someone more senior. Mapping out your career path means asking the right questions and then following this up with appropriate action. Ask yourself ?is my company providing the right environment? Do our values match? Is their ongoing training, and are those above me passing on their skills?'”
Planning your career means taking critical look at the company you are working for. “Sometimes it is better to take step down or move sideways if it gets you into market leading organisation,” says Small, “especially one that will support you with training to develop your potential.”
Networking and self-promotion are still key skills in career management. Reece Notton, executive director at DBM, says, “it is about talking to the right people. If you have particular strength don’t leave it to chance that the senior executives will hear about it. Employee development is crucial in today’s workplace. This includes training, feedback and coaching, career advancement and management. Companies that provide opportunities for employees to develop their skills actually have positive impact on retention, rather than leading employees to better jobs outside the organisation.”
Be as multiskilled as possible and keep pace with technological changes, is the advice from Ian Taylor at Sheffield Consulting. Seek out search companies and take their questionnaires and psychometric tests. “These tests usually confirm what you already know but might provide guidance by seeing what skills need to be developed. The main challenge at all experienced levels is about planning career and not being constrained by geography.”
Gaining international experience is seen as way to progress in your career. Ten years ago many people left New Zealand and arrived in London or Sydney and then looked for jobs. Now people scan the recruitment sites online and find jobs before they embark overseas. While it’s true to say that many return, and executive search firms naturally target Kiwis wanting to return, there is haemorrhaging effect of our best performers in the 25-35 age group going overseas for considerably higher levels of remuneration.
Although there are more young single people moving abroad, some of the top talent at senior level is also going overseas, especially as there is trend for head offices to relocate in Australia.
“Top talent, people at CEO level, are citizens of the world, not citizens of New Zealand,” says Taylor. There are unique lifestyle opportunities here to entice talented people, and it is possible to lead comfortable life here on less than in many other countries. But the gap is widening when it comes to comparative remuneration. “Present government policy combined with the drop in the dollar pose serious risk for the future,” says Taylor.
Simon Monks, partner at TMP Worldwide Executive Search, specialises at the top end of the market. “The reality is that in global industry sectors, [which includes financial services, consumer products, IT & telecommunications and healthcare,] appointments at senior level are often of secondment nature. This means that global rates usually apply and those senior executives will move back offshore within three years.
“In other than global industries it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit top performing individuals. New Zealand, in particular, suffers from the fact that it is at the end of the ?exchange rate food chain’. Where pay differentials at chief executive level between Australia and New Zealand can be up to 40 percent, then the ability to recruit from the US or UK is severely restricted. The tragedy facing our country is that we may only see these people again when they have decided to retire.”
It is easy to brush these worries aside under the media “doom and gloom” banner, but surely the responsible reaction for management is to focus on retention strategies. The pressure on companies to keep hold of good people is one of the key issues of the day. This used to be concern for the HR department, but now people at top levels are being shown how expensive and disruptive it is to lose valuable employee and retention is taken much more seriously. Too many companies focus on the vacant opportunities only and don’t put enough back into making the most of their existing employees.

Retention strategies
According to DBM’s latest retention survey, (conducted in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore) employees listed the four most common reasons for leaving an organisation: 1) Lack of career path 2) Lack of advancement opportunities 3) Long working hours, and 4) Remuneration issues. Organisations are not powerless against employee turnover. “The key to retention is to address negative factors before they become an issue for employees and to have flexible approach,” says DBM’s Notton.
A company is only as good as the people it hires. The strongest dynamic driving executive search growth is the realisation among corporates that the quality of management is major factor adding shareholder value. There are plenty of consultants on offer to help employees make the most of their potential.
An apt analogy is to think of dam – you can’t keep the water in but you can manage the flow. If series of retention strategies are in place and they keep an employee for even one more year, then that goal will be both realistic and useful.
Shaun Bowler leads the recruitment business at KPMG and is registered psychologist by training. He believes that talent is the critical edge, not what the dollar or the government is doing. Bowler uses his background to run workshops helping clients focus on career transition and career management strategies. “My role is to help employees feel in control. I use the behavioural strategies in Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism.
There is definite trend towards re-recruitment – developing staff but letting them go to seek new opportunities and then hiring them back at later stage. In the US the focus is on re-recruiting people to other parts of an organisation – rather than losing them altogether.
Savvy managers are the ones that keep in touch with talented ex-employees. Bowler cites an example of key marketing person who left his job here and moved to the US. His old boss gives him small retainer to provide information on the market in the US but the sub-text is clear – his old boss wants to keep tabs on him with view to lure him back.
“There are lot of drawcards to New Zealand,” says Bowler. “The kind of person who comes here chooses to do so for many reasons, like family commitments, the environment and the lifestyle. It is easy to overstate the dollar but this argument doesn’t take into account the lower cost of living here compared to Australia, UK or the US.” Many voices in the search business support this view, with numerous anecdotes confirming that New Zealand has positive brand from an international perspective.
Employers need to take stock of their attitude if they want to keep top talent, and employees take responsibility for themselves. Richard Manthel, at Robert Walters, says it is becoming more acceptable in New Zealand to structure packages around the needs of an individual. “Employers are becoming more flexibl

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