Almost every piece of research covering the priorities of business leaders and senior HR professionals will conclude that recruiting and retaining the people they need is the top priority and main challenge. Research covering aspirations of employees and jobseekers will usually find opportunities for personal growth and professional development as the main drivers behind the decisions on whether to join a company and if to stay.
Over the last two years – whilst researching the book Exceptional Talent, and collaborating with HR and recruitment technology businesses and suppliers on a range of qualitative and quantitative research projects – myself and co-collaborator Matt Alder have seen how many of the traditional ways we approach hiring, development and retention are being overhauled.
Not by every business, obviously. The lived work and job hunting experiences of most employees can still leave a lot to be desired. However with more jobseekers now basing their application and joining decisions on what they perceive a company is like to work for, how they are treated during the hiring process, and what opportunities they have for growth, it will become increasingly important for every business to look at the way they approach hiring and development.
There are 8 areas that we particularly need to transform:
Workforce planning and skills forecasting
Businesses must know the skills and capabilities they will need. HR and recruitment teams should think like curators of skills, not just acquirers and developers of skills, and to do that they must understand what skills are likely to be needed and when. This calls for a more integrated approach to forecasting and planning with each area of the business encouraged to look at what they will need over future business periods. Without this it will be hard to break away from a reactive, transactional approach to hiring. This will involve looking at potential contingent solutions too — a common observation we hear from procurement and strategic workforce professionals is that HR show little or no interest in this area.
Define what you mean by talent
What makes for a successful person within the business? Forget job descriptions that are no more than lists of skills and duties that someone thought necessary years ago. Find the answers to questions like, what is the job? What will someone do? What support will they have? Is there another way for the role to be covered within the organisation? What is the growth potential?
And then look at what ‘potential’ means within the organisation. Attraction and assessment approaches need to reflect the type of business you are, and be able to identify the people who can grow within the business.
Be a place where people want to work
One thing that recent research has shown us is that over 90% jobseekers look for some form online validation of what you are like to work for. This mainly comes from looking at what employees have said on sites like Glassdoor or more general searching through Google and Facebook. Over half said the main factor in deciding if to apply for role is how the business treats its staff, which ranked higher than any other factor.
This means looking at your employee experience. Are you a place where people want to be? This is more important than engagement initiatives and having an active social scene, it’s how people feel about working for you. Do they feel supported and valued? No employee demographic is hardwired to change jobs on a regular basis. Increasingly though they do want be in organisations that are good companies to work for, and that treat them well.
Improve your recruitment process
Whether the design of your application and interview process was based on the Labours of Hercules or a less violent version of Game of Thrones, it should be a way of identifying potential rather than finding the last person standing.
Lack of feedback, too many steps, and under-prepared or disinterested interviewers all registered highly in recent research on jobseekers’ biggest frustrations. As did a feeling of being undervalued and not having their experience recognised. Three quarters drop out of application processes either because of the way they are treated, or it is too long. How a business hires is the first key component in its approach to employee experience, so design an approach that really reflects the values and culture that the business does.
Probably the most important part of the employee cycle is the on-boarding phase. Some find the expression clunky, but whatever you call it, the journey from interested applicant to successful and productive employee is one that businesses are increasingly investing in.
The main reasons why people leave jobs within first 6 to 12 months can all be traced back to how they are on-boarded or integrated. Some of it is quite simple, and again should be the outcome of treating people well rather than trying to test them. Start early, make sure that everyone has all the information they need so they don’t feel either overwhelmed or uninformed when they start, give them clear goals and milestones in their first few months, and make sure managers spend time talking to them and talking through how they are settling in.
The period between accepting a role and starting is often the time when a new hire feels they get the least information, yet it’s also the time when they need most reassurance.
Enable people to grow and develop
Increasingly becoming the most important part of employee experience, 70% of employees say that learning opportunities are essential when choosing where to work and 98% that they’re key in deciding if to stay. Many also say they need more learning to help them do their jobs. And a third don’t think they skills they already have are being utilised properly! Business leaders are regularly worried about the skills base and knowledge in their organisation, in fact two-thirds say learning is key for business performance, so it stands to reason that supporting employee growth should be a major priority.
One way to help people develop is through internal mobility. The best new hire that one of your teams may make is likely to be someone already in the business. Help the people you already have to find new roles within the business. Futurestep found 87% of companies believing that having a strong internal mobility programme helps with attraction and retention, and OC Tanner’s research showed 3 out of 4 employees who work on special projects, outside their core role and teams, feel they grow in ways that their day to day jobs cannot offer.
Create a learning culture
A learning culture is essential. Employees expect to be able to access information and knowledge as and when they need it, to help them do their jobs well, and reach performance expectations. Make learning available across platforms and at all times – only 1 in 6 favour face to face learning with a tutor. 60% want to learn in company time, at their own direction, and 24% in their own time. Different approaches to performance management are well documented, though its apparent that outside of the case studies, conference presentations and business magazine articles, many organisations still struggle to do this effectively, leaving employees feeling that their employers don’t value employee development. 25% of employees see no value in performance reviews in the format their employers conduct them.
There are several reasons why retaining relationships with ex-employees makes good sense for the business, but none of them will happen unless we get better at exiting people from the business. If it’s a performance issue then address performance and don’t make it about the person. If we don’t want to lose them then we need to leave the door open rather than sour the relationship.
Ex-employees are validators and ambassadors of the employee experience, advocates for the business itself and part of our extended knowledge network. Alumni networks play a key role in sharing product information and company news, referring and recommending prospective employees and future customers, and may well return to work for us in some capacity again.
Many companies now look to formalise these relationships through what is increasingly known as off-boarding* with tech solutions to support managing the relationship and sharing information.
More than three quarters of employees say the reputation of the company where they work impacts their job satisfaction, and 85% that how they were treated during the application and interview process determines if they decide to accept an offer.
The way you attract, hire and develop people will go a long way to determining if you retain them. Workers believe they need more learning to help them perform their jobs better. This boost to performance will help improve rewards, satisfaction and engagement. Which means they are more likely to stay, and their managers better placed to achieve successful commercial results
(Our two most recent research projects, which provided many of the statistics quoted, were with Kelly Services – involving 14,100 job seekers across 10 European countries – and with Bridge, with whom we researched a population of both HR and Learning & Development professionals, and employees)
*(and yes, I know, if you don’t like the term on-boarding you won’t like this one either)