The war for talent is back, pushing attraction and retention right to the top of the corporate agenda. But what options are businesses left with?
Just a few years ago, complex workplace concepts such as holacracy, a system of self-organisation where hierarchy is non-existent and people are paired with projects based on their skills rather than job titles, was the preserve of academic debate.
Few businesses like Zappos demonstrated it fully; fewer still were able to fully proselytise about its benefits. Fast forward to today and, while CEOs might not use the specific term, it's what many organisations are naturally starting to do.
"We call it 'job-crafting'," says Dolores Castelli, HR director Southern Latin America, at drinks giant Pernod Ricard. "We work with staff to find out what their interests are and then match them to projects and opportunities that come up."
It's the same story at UK mutual The Co-op, whose head of people Sarah Eglin is now embarking on what she calls "igniting people's inner dynamos", where work is rearranged around "problem statements rather than job titles" and staff donate their skills to certain projects, later to disband and rejoin other ones.
So what's driving this? Undoubtedly, it's the need to attract, but most importantly retain, increasingly scarce talent. "We are all chasing the same people as our competitors, and our competitors are not just in the industry, but sometimes in different industries," says Orly Gerbi, founding partner, Ius Laboris Israel.
And don't leaders know it. As a business issue, attraction and retention is fast dominating the world's boardrooms, with 79% of CEOs, according to a recent CEO Confidence Index survey, now saying it's the top management challenge.
Retention has become a battleground. In America alone, where there are twice as many vacancies as unemployed people, 47 million quit their jobs in 2021. Data like this substantiates the view Americans would rather not work at all than work for a business that doesn't chime with their values.
And so work, increasingly an activity rather than a place people go to, has to be made more engaging.
"The immediate future of work will be a constant quest for talent," says Dr Burkard Göpfert, partner at Ius Laboris Germany. As a result, says Sarah Draper, head of people and culture with Rider Levett Bucknall, companies must now relentlessly focus on creating, and verbalising, a proper "growth journey" for staff.
Data from Ius Laboris shows HRDs are uniquely aware of this. Some 54% of those polled ranked establishing a culture around reskilling and upskilling a top-three strategy for attraction and retention. The leading macro priority for now and the future - among 60% of respondents - is seen to be creating a more flexible workforce, closely followed by evolving organisational structures to create better agility.
Organisations clearly have choices about what they deem important. For some, attraction and retention might still be about prioritising pay, cited by 55% of those polled in the Ius Laboris research.
But significantly, more respondents value improving the employee experience, with such an attraction strategy polling top, among 58%. Microsoft vice president of HR Stijn Nauwelaerts says he is now actively trying to identify the point at which people should be promoted. Cultural alignment is key.
"As business leaders, we must all have a very good idea about what is happening around us, so we can communicate this and so employees can connect with the purpose of the company," he says.
Firms leading on this include Coca-Cola which, according to Véronique Vuillod, chief people and culture officer at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, has recently adopted the view "everyone has talent" and "must be seen, and supported, as someone who can grow".
Ultimately it means companies will need to take a much more humanistic approach to talent and talent acquisition, which prioritises hiring for potential - Nauwelaerts calls this "screening-in rather than screening out" - and where leaders also adopt a much more authentic relationship with staff. Amazon, for instance, has just announced bolstering its prepaid college tuition perk for hourly staff.
According to Göpfert, thinking differently might mean accessing hitherto untapped talent pools, such as the disabled, veterans and neuro-diverse. For instance, in 2021, Google partnered with the Stanford Neurodiversity Project to prioritise hiring more people on the autistic spectrum.
Where companies are responding they are getting results. Castelli says she now sees people from finance working on projects to do with diversity, something that would never have happened until the company changed its strategy around talent.
"Not only do people feel more motivated, we're already seeing our staff turnover falling," she says. "We're also mapping for critical skills and making sure people with these are targeted with bonuses."
With attraction and retention only expected to become even more acute in the coming years, it will be those organisations taking decisive decisions that will benefit the most.
"When uncertainty is part of daily life now, the business has to be flexible," says Eduardo Juan Viñales of Ius Laboris Argentina. "It's no more business as usual. Any interventions now need to be creative and innovative."
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