Winning the Battle for Talent

Whether companies are trying to seek and hold onto the vanguard or the old-guard, the fundamentals of hiring stars and keeping them on board are as relevant as ever. But identifying the hot buttons in today’s recruitment stakes has forced employers to migrate away from vanilla approach to individual-based solutions.
Employee retention is now the current red-hot issue. Consulting firms have swung into intense-study mode, in an attempt to figure out -‘what it takes to win the talent war’. They’ve learned that great benefits of conventional kind (salary and bolt-on goodies) are no longer point of difference – they are only ticket into the game.
Today’s mantra for top talent is career building. To prevent stars from wandering, employers must provide clear path to career progression. This means offering interesting work that leads to new challenges, like special projects and one-off engagements that further individual advancement.
In other words, says John Butters, principal with organisational performance company The Empower Group, employers now realise that they must get the retention-factor right to secure the recruitment. In years past they were seen as two different functions.
The fundamentals of retention swing on relationships with supervisors and mapping out career development.
“The key to retention is for managers to understand where their direct reports wish to be in the future, even if it’s outside the organisation. If they have this level of openness, their productivity is enhanced,” says Butters.

Walk the talk
But simply providing personalised career development won’t attract talent if these messages fall on deaf ears. Part of the recruitment and retention programme run by Empower is designed to teach managers how to sell and promote what the organisation can offer. “More employers now realise that when it comes to competing for top talent, it’s not so much the candidate being interviewed for their job worthiness as the organisation being interviewed by the future employee,” says Butters.
Kiwi companies struggle in the retention-stakes because they fail to transfer information gathered (about the candidate) during the recruitment phase into the on-the-job role. But the more companies discover the true cost of replacing key talent (four times general manager’s annual salary) – the more likely they are to approach recruitment and retention as seamless continuum.
“Many organisations are stuck at the tactical level and expect to retain staff through financial remuneration. But staff losses are hitting them in the pocket. Good people are always likely to move unless their bosses address fundamental questions about individual career development,” says Butters.
The risk of losing key talent is reduced if employers integrate the knowledge gained about an individual before they start new job. Here’s why. There is, according to Butters, direct link between employee dissatisfaction and sales, productivity and profitability. Culture surveys also aid in staff retention. The trouble is, less than 50 percent of Kiwi companies bother to conduct them.

HR is sales job
What the top five consulting firms are discovering, says Christian Dahmen, who leads the human capital practice of Andersen New Zealand, is that winning and retaining top talent today is as much sales job as selling the services company offers. He expects to see more large corporates adopt career branding and engage staff in selling that proposition to job candidates.
“Local companies are realising that winning key talent is sales job. It’s become best practice worldwide to train recruiters in sales and marketing techniques and that’s starting to happen here too,” says Dahmen, former HR director with Procter & Gamble in Europe.
But the sales job isn’t limited to the HR department. Line managers also have responsibility to ensure that promises made to attract key people are kept. Dahmen estimates that up to 90 percent of local companies still have recruiting separate from personal development. But there is changing mindset where HR managers, together with line managers, are becoming business partners in the retention stakes.

Closing the perception gap
This partnership approach is especially relevant when it comes to hiring graduates that will ultimately up and leave on their big OE, according to Kevin McKenna, senior HR manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). “Paradoxically, we don’t try and stop graduates from going overseas. We try to break out of that three-year career horizon, post-graduation. Having the ability to send recruits to any one of our offices in 158 countries worldwide gives us huge opportunity to keep those people under the firm’s umbrella. Once someone leaves the firm [for overseas] the chances of getting them back are slim. But if they go with the firm, the chances of getting them back improve to around 70 percent,” says McKenna who’s firm last year picked up the EEO Trust’s Work Life Award for Large Organisations.
Research driven by McKenna unearthed major gulf between what graduates wanted and what they perceived PWC was offering. In other words the message that PWC provided the opportunity to get experienced and qualified with one of the best companies in New Zealand – simply wasn’t getting through to the people that mattered.
“Historically we didn’t heighten the educational opportunities and suite of other things (training, client-base etc) that we offer graduates. So we had to change the messages we were sending this talent pool and rethink how those messages were communicated,” says McKenna.
A generic approach to career development has given way to highly individual approach. Instrumental in attracting talented graduates is PWC’s adoption of the career development deal (CDD) concept. Practised widely in the US and Europe, the CDD concept is all about employers collaborating with graduates to develop personalised career paths. CDD includes, among other things: travel, training, remuneration, and work experience through to work and lifestyle considerations.
“The biggest difference from the past is that career development was more protracted. Some of our graduate intakes are ambitious to be the best within the shortest time possible. Had we been unable to fast-track career development in this manner, we would not have been able to attract this talent to our company,” says McKenna.

Culture is king
With the top five consulting firms all offering career opportunities, counselling and mentoring schemes, access to technology, plush offices plus good client bases to work with, how do students differentiate between them? They can’t, says Ross Buckley, partner with KPMG. To the uninitiated, the big five firms look very similar. So when faced with choosing between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee, the people and the culture become, by default, the only meaningful point of difference.
“When you scratch below the surface of the culture issue, you get down to people and how they interact. The mood of these relationships affects the whole organisation. And when you’re graduate, you’re at the butt end of it,” says Buckley.
In other words, graduates look at the work environment and ask themselves – can I work here? Results from McKenna’s research into graduate recruitment also showed that students ask lot about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of company. They also wanted regular contact with individuals within the firm so they could see the type of people they’d be working alongside.
“We realise that retention is about relationships with superiors and mapping out career development. To illustrate both, we decided to make individuals from the firm available to graduates over the course of an evening at Sky City. We introduced graduates to the company using buddy system. We also provided access to the organisation at any time as long as they were with their assigned buddy,” says McKenna.

The hiring process
So how does top t

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