Attract Them, Keep Them - part one

We invited Ali Wallace, a specialist headhunter, and founder DNA Recruit to lend his thoughts. He was in no doubt of the scale of the problem organisations face.

For years this maxim has neatly summarised the two essential tenets of any HR professionals’ role. At times, one or the other of these tasks can feel hard. Seldom, however, doing both seem impossible at once. Yet this is exactly what’s happening now. The ‘Great Resignation’ [which is not-so great] is real – Britons are quitting their jobs at a rate not seen for more than a decade. But job vacancies are also rising, hitting 20-year highs. And so simultaneously, it seems, firms have to be both offensive and defensive about talent. HRDs can be forgiven for thinking it feels like a zero-sum activity.

So, what’s the solution? Ali Wallace and I debated the attraction conundrum.

Attracting the best

There is no doubt, argued Wallace, that a “res-set” has already occurred in the minds of many potential employees. [Gartner recently found 65%of people say the pandemic has permanently shifted their attitude about the place work has in their life, while 52% question the very purpose of their day-to-day job].

But – and this is the problem, he argues – companies appear to be struggling with defining what their new post-pandemic purpose is and how this translates to their employee proposition in a way that will draw talent in. “Businesses are having to review what the new working world is, and it isn’t always straightforward,” he says.

“Opportunities to work remotely – an attraction for some – jar with trying to create a diverse and welcoming environment. But before organisations can even set out what their hiring culture is, they now have to first set their stall – in everything from reducing hiring bias to identifying what your barriers to your intended culture are.” And, as Wallace admitted: “It’s hard to do all this when you’re trying to run a business at 100 mph.”  

Culture is under the microscope

The simple-sounding solution (one which is, of course, less easy in practice), was neatly summed up by Wallace. He argued companies need to have a plan where “where people can see what a company’s values are.”

We agree wholeheartedly. We work with organisations where, dare we say it, business gets in the way of real, human relationships. But if the talent landscape we see is telling us anything right now, it’s that human-to-human relationships need to be better, where decision-making is shorter, and internal mechanisms work better.  

Controversially, perhaps, Wallace suggested that, to some extent, short-term loyalty might have to be accepted more, with businesses needing to be more willing to attract people and extract the value they bring for the [shorter] time they are with a company.

We know however, that it takes time to bring people up to speed, so that they get into their stride. “Part of being progressive is understanding the value a person can bring,” suggest Wallace. “This means helping them develop them into being whatever they want to be – either inside or outside the organisation.”

But is constantly having to attract talent short-term a sustainable solution? We would argue not. But understanding what the candidate wants out of their time with you and aligning with that makes good business sense. Whether this is supporting them with a longer-term career ambition, side hustle or entrepreneurial ambition is worth considering.

Ultimately it was agreed that the challenge must be how organisations invest in their people in a way that stablises headcount loss and prepares them for growth.

“People who are attracted by organisations are often attracted by the robust options schemes in place,” said Wallace. “It’s where the company has a plan that works and is understood by all that an attraction occurs. This is what enables people to see where their value is – or will be –further down the line.” He concluded: “These are things people will invest in. This is when good HR practice almost becomes part of that company’s DNA.”

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