Thursday, May 21, 2009

The war for talent is over - or is it?

A year ago the talk of the town was Gen Y was taking over, potential employees were interviewing employers when applying for a job and the general consensus was that talent had won. Businesses were investing in employee value proposition schemes and competing with each other to win, keep and develop talent. However also in play was an economic boom, take that away and the balance changes or does it?

Is there still is a lack of talent in the market place? Some of my clients have been recruiting for property managers, businesses development managers, receptionists and they are finding that the pool of talent applying for these roles isn’t great. A colleague of mine in Sydney is now expanding his search to Melbourne for a Department Manager.

It seems that in the current economic climate talent is deciding to stay put. It’s better the devil they know. The general feedback from potential employees is that there isn't a lot of work available and most companies are downsizing rather than recruiting.

So what are businesses doing to retain or attract new talent?

Downsizing should not be the first option; your people are your best competitive advantage. There are many employees in organisations across the country watching their backs waiting for the axe to fall. If employees are feeling insecure about their current environment they may make the move to your competitor. What we can probably guarantee is that if you are not spending time on employee engagement, business transparency and providing regular feedback on the long term security of roles your competitors will poach your best talent.

Are the leadership and management skills of your organisation good enough to guide your business through these uncertain times? It’s not just about the bottom line profits as without good people you won’t have any profits anyway.

In times of recession the leadership skills required are very different and many managers today have never worked in an economic climate such as what we are currently experiencing; mergers, acquisitions, downsizing and closure.

Leadership in uncertain times

Some of the areas leadership and management should focus on are

Effective business planning and structure
Managers and directors must invest time in developing a business plan taking into account the impact the market will have on areas such as sales, managements and growth. You may need to reassess the structure, efficiencies and spending to ensure viability. Everyone in the business must understand the long and short term impact the market has had on your business and how you intend to come out on the other side intact.

Talent management
As a management team you must identify who the key talent is in your business and what will you do to retain them; now is a good time to offer shareholdings. If your competitors are downsizing is there anyone within their business you can attract to yours. More importantly invest in employee engagement as retaining talent in this market is critical to your success.

Effective workforce planning
Instead of downsizing some options to consider before you let talent go are pay cuts at management level, re-packaging of salaries, job share options, flexi time; you may need to get creative on what options are available to hold onto good people.
Training spend tends to decrease when times get tough but now is the time to invest in training programs for your team. Look at alternatives such as on-line programs, webinars, getting internal team members to step up to conduct sessions or team up with other offices within a network or outside of your core market area to share knowledge and improve skills.

Performance management systems & rewards
Developing and implementing performance measures or KPI’s linked to your business plan is critical, ensure they are transparent, celebrate success and assess improvement areas. One on one meetings with your team is a great way to “check in”; some managers will conduct these on a weekly basis others monthly. Discuss how they are going, provide feedback and be honest with how the company is performing and the impact – positive or negative – they are having.

Rewarding teams when times are tough can be challenging. Most employees will prefer cash incentives as it enables them to pay their own bills and mortgages. However it is still important to recognise your entire team. So instead of going out to a restaurant a BBQ in the directors back yard could be a lot of fun, get the team to contribute ideas on how to celebrate, your people would rather have a job and regular income to fancy celebrations. Be aware it is more important now than ever to ensure that moral is kept up and performance recognised.

Open communication & stress management
If you are having to consider redundancies be open with the team on why, how many and what outplacement support you will provide. With those who are retained ensure that you have a level of transparency within the business so they know how it is performing at all times.

Be aware that employees will be under stress and consider building or creating resilience programs designed for them to handle stress more effectively.

Survival or strategic mode
We have come off a 10 year boom, real estate has never been as good and yet today there are many businesses who simply did not set themselves up to go through a down turn. It was almost as if they expected the boom to last forever. I see many business operating in survival mode - cutting back on training, laying off staff, reducing marketing budgets, not taking pay cuts at management level, no performance measures; they are either waiting for a quick fix or have taken on the behaviours of an ostrich – if I bury my head long enough it will all be fine when I come back up for air. It’s important to remember that you need to cut costs not assets.
Very few have invested in strategic plans for their business; many still do not have business plans in place for each department and employee, no vision or values, poor culture that simply deteriorates in this environment, no transparency or performance measure for the business or employees, talent management or engagement programs and no succession planning.

Businesses today need to be flexible and forward thinking; it’s what you do now that will set the tone in regards to your success when the market does change.
You need to be more aware of what your competitors are doing and take advantage of their mistakes.

In these times of rapid change it is important to remember that talent is your competitive advantage and if you continue to loose or lay them off you will not have the capability to compete when the market does turn. Spend time on identifying who the key talent is in your businesses and then take care of them.

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