The Game for Talent Has Changed – Have You?

by Gary Covert and Monique Porras

Improvements in the economy have dramatically altered the game for talent. Today, employers have entered a situation where the script has flipped and it is now much more of a candidate-driven market versus the employer’s market of the Great Recession. Organizations need to consider whether they are responding to the new realities or still playing by the old rules. The following are six “new rules” that will help businesses attract and retain the talent they need to drive strategy and effectiveness.

Create a Robust Recruiting Plan

Far too many times, companies have no defined recruiting plan in place. The downside of this is disorganization, lowered overall productivity and employees trying to fill two or more roles. There is probably a business plan in place, so why not a recruiting plan? After all, a recruiting plan is the foundation of who will ultimately be working for a company.

Excellent recruiting plans will have a 12- and 24-month roadmap that includes current filled positions, upcoming needs, critical roles, timetables for those roles, target hire dates, budgets and upcoming needs. This recruiting plan can always be adjusted due to profit, business plan changes, market influences, etc. It is strongly recommended that human resources professionals, division or department leaders, and the executive teams work collaboratively to determine upcoming needs and budgets. The reason establishing a recruiting roadmap is so critical is, it keeps everyone focused on the talent that is necessary to move the organization forward. It also contributes to the overall success of the company business plan.

Define and Communicate an Aspirational Work Culture

Organizations have a choice: They can either consciously define their company culture or have the company culture randomly define the company. Work culture in a business is similar to personality in a person. A person’s values, beliefs, interests, habits and upbringing create that person’s behavior. Likewise, a company’s work culture will drive the behavior of the organization. Work culture is made up of attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors that are shared by a group of people and influenced by the company’s founder and leading executives.

CEOs and senior leaders need to ensure that all managers and employees can communicate the work culture. Will all employees be able to communicate it the same way? Company work culture must be defined, shared and known to all; every employee must define the work culture in the same way. CEOs and senior leaders can do this in a way that is both exploratory and builds the team by asking the teams to define the company’s attitudes, ideologies, values, personality and shared behaviors. This is a great tactic to unify the message and collaboratively involve employees. And having culture established in a unified way will ensure more successful recruiting and attracting the right talent.

Push Consistently Attractive Messages

The messages an organization is putting out into the universe matter. As it relates to talent, businesses need to consider what their posted job descriptions say about the organization. The talent pool in markets around the U.S. is very competitive. How can a company make its job opening stand above the others? Companies ask all the time, “How do we attract talent?” It starts with the message or job description they are putting out there.

Businesses need to change the traditional job description format from typical and basic to coincide more with its work culture. One idea is to tell the story of the organization, its founder or other leadership figure rather than just a list of responsibilities and requirements for a given role. Or businesses could detail the type of work ethic and personality that will be needed. Recruiters need to ask themselves, “Does the talent reading our job description feel our company’s work culture?” With a defined company culture, they can write a job description that will give the talent an idea of the company’s attitude, beliefs and personality.

Retain, Retain, Retain

The game for talent is as much a game of retention as it is attraction. Attraction and retention are different faces of the same coin. In a game of “finders, keepers,” finding is half the story. It’s like a football team that focuses only on offense and leaves defense up to chance. The truism that people leave managers, not companies, is also half the story.

People quit companies every day. Who else do they quit? The truth is that people quit (or stay) in companies for many reasons that include being comfortable where they are, a need for security, compensation, the degree to which they enjoy the job function, social factors and even the commute.

The truth is, people stay in a position as long as their perception that the state of things “here” is better than the state of things “out there.” When the perception that things are better somewhere else and that the move is an option for them, then experience with a poor manager can be like a rocket pack to shoot an employee out the door. Leaders must have a strategy that addresses the individual needs and also addresses the profound impact that a manager can have on retention.

Start Strong

It’s important to do a complete and thorough job of onboarding new hires. Even excellent people cannot be excellent if the right conditions are not met. Imagine recruiting a top basketball player and then not turning on the court lights for them to play. Likewise, businesses should not leave new hires in the dark about what it will take to have a successful first year.

Many leaders take the incomplete view that onboarding is something HR should do and is limited to facilities items (computer, telephone, business cards) and orientation (introductions and “Company 101”). The common result is employees who, perhaps 13 months later, are labeled as “not working out” or “underperforming” or “not fitting in” and have no idea why.

The solution is complete onboarding. This means the key areas that are standard from HR plus a process to describe what success looks like over the next 90, 180 and 360 days. Complete onboarding can be as simple as 1) starting with the question of what success looks like, and 2) having a conversation in which the answer to that question is discussed, agreed upon, documented and followed up with the new hire.

Execute an Interview Process that Attracts and Is Discerning

How is the organization respecting the candidate-driven market environment? What is its leadership doing to create a positive interview process so candidates speak highly of them and the organization? Organizations must recognize this is free advertising and that candidates talk! If a brand is defined by how people feel when they interact with a company, does the interview process enhance or detract from that brand? A poorly orchestrated interview process speaks volumes about the organization.

A colleague recently went through an interview experience with a large healthcare company. He visited the company five times for multiple interviews over several months, with multiple managers in each interview. There were other candidates who endured the same process. The company then decided to look at a whole new slate of candidates. Not only does this show an organization that cannot make decisions, it should also be a sign to senior leaders that the hiring managers are not displaying skills of discernment — they cannot identify what they want nor readily identify if it exists in the pool of candidates. The impact to the organization is lost time, perhaps lost candidates, and lost productivity.

The game for talent has changed. All leaders need to be great students of the game and make smart adjustments to get the talent their organization deserves.

Gary Covert is a coach and consultant to senior leaders and business owners, focusing on improving organizational effectiveness by helping leaders and teams grow and execute for maximum strategic impact.

Monique Porras is the founder of The Kempington Group, a Scottsdale-based executive recruiting firm with a local and national reach.   


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