Winning the war for talent by becoming an employer of choice

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Becoming an employer of choice helps you attract and retain talent. Discover the 4 steps to building a great company that great people want to work for.

Today’s employers are waking up to a war for talent, a situation highlighted by today’s guest blogger. Alexandra Copos de Prada, CEO of and Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation award winner, shares the 4 steps to building a great company that attracts and retains great people.

Over the last year employers found themselves waking up to a war for talent. The pandemic, a global workforce shortage and remote working meant that employees have reconsidered their priorities. They have become more demanding about the companies and types of jobs they’re signing up for.

Add to this that the UK is experiencing its lowest unemployment rate in about 50 years at 3.6% and one can easily understand that it’s not just about finding new talent.  It’s also about retaining the talent one has.

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The war for talent is a fierce competition

People realised that the workplace is less about compensation. Now they care more about meaningful work, work-life balance and opportunities for growth.

They are also doing their ‘homework’ on potential employers, looking for referrals and first-hand accounts on review websites. According to Glassdoor:

  • 77% of employees consider a company’s culture before applying for a job
  • 56% say a company’s culture is more important to job satisfaction than salary
  • 63% of UK employees report that their company culture is 1 of the main reasons for staying in their job

It’s not just about a positive and engaging culture, but also one that allows employees to develop their skills and advance in their careers. A McKinsey study shows 94% of the UK workforce lacks the skills they will need by 2030 to embrace new responsibilities and perform well in their jobs.

Upskilling and reskilling make a solid business case for employers who require new and advanced skills to keep their competitive edge, therefore investing in your workers should be a no-brainer.

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Know how much you stand to lose so you can fire up the right people behind your initiatives

In my experience, soon after I took over as CEO of a hospitality company with 1,500 staff, I realised that the culture and leadership style we would develop as a management team will affect how our employees behave. In particular, the amount of effort they’d put in at work, their length of stay with us and their level of engagement with our initiatives and support for our growth plan.

One way to get your management team behind you is to show them how much they have to lose from having a disengaged workforce. You can also show them how much they stand to gain by investing in their teams.

In our company, we calculated that early churn cost us £450,000 each year. The total churn exceeded £1 million, including recruiting and training but not including lower productivity or absenteeism.  We knew that there was a massive opportunity for us to do better for our people and the company.

Becoming an employer of choice allows you to attract great workers more easily, but also to retain the talent you have

There are many nuances to how one defines an employer of choice. If I were to sum up the 5 most important company traits, I believe they relate to those in which employees:

  • feel engaged in meaningful work
  • feel respected and are enabled to share ideas and best practices, knowing that the company will listen
  • are compelled by the company’s values and culture and act in alignment with these
  • are encouraged to develop their skills and advance through the ranks
  • are recognized for the great work they do every day

Building a strong employer brand, a positive workplace culture and generating great reviews from current staff enables you to attract great candidates, but also to reduce your recruitment costs.

A study by LinkedIn (PDF, 2.3MB) shows that having a strong employer brand can bring up to a 28% reduction in employee turnover and up to 50% reduction in cost-per-hire. It also helps you retain your talent for longer, unlocking significant business benefits.

Research by Gallup and Korn Ferry shows that a company scoring in the top quartile in employee engagement sees on average a:

  • 17% increase in productivity
  • 21% increase in profitability
  • 89% increase in customer satisfaction
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80% of success is getting the right people on board

A few early initiatives I took on as CEO proved to offer us the highest return on our effort and investment. We started by clearly defining the type of people we want to have on our team, their roles, ideal skill sets and most importantly their attitude.

We then drafted interview guides and put together a diverse recruiting ‘team’ of colleagues from several departments to ensure we do not just hire people because we’re desperate to fill roles. I instilled a ‘war mindset’ among HR colleagues and managers in order to work hard to find the best candidates, redefining our recruiting processes to mirror a consumer like experience.

‘A’ players attract other ‘A’ players. People with a great attitude boost the morale and productivity of the entire team, so we became more patient in finding the right people to join our company.

All managers were trained on how to provide an engaging, supportive and effective onboarding experience to new hires. That know-how we eventually transitioned into Moonstar, our employee retention and engagement mobile platform for frontline workers.

Finally, we became more intentional about the culture we wanted to build. We wrote it down and broke every value into a set of principles and behaviours we wanted everyone to abide by. All these early initiatives and more, unlocked close to £2 million per year (PDF, 768KB). We invested this money back into upskilling programs, recruitment and engagement initiatives, and more attractive compensation for our staff.

The steps to becoming an employer of choice

In my experience of working with our clients at Moonstar, building a truly exciting company that people want to work for entails 4 areas to focus on.

1. Become intentional about the culture you want to have in your company

Management teams spend countless hours in culture workshops defining what they believe to be the values of high-performing and competitive companies. But there’s more to building culture than mentioning “innovation” or “excellent customer experience” among your values, pinned to your office walls.

Accelerating transformation and driving growth rely heavily on translating those values into desired behaviours and then embedding those behaviours in the day-to-day actions carried out across the company. Start by asking yourself:

  • how do I want my employees to interact with clients, suppliers and colleagues?
  • how do I want them to respond when we encounter challenges?
  • how do my top performers behave day in and day out?

Once you get a clear idea of how your values translate into very specific and actionable behaviours, promote these across the company via targeted training and role-modeling. You can elevate those employees that already display desired behaviours to the role of ambassadors.

This is what Italian consulting company BIP did, after years of trying to push top-down change management approaches. They instead chose a viral approach, whereby selected managers and peers would model desired behaviours. The desired behaviours, which aligned with company values, were demonstrated to their colleagues daily, in order to inspire them to adopt new practices via social contagion.

Actionable to-do: gather a small, but diverse group of dedicated high-performers and start working on translating your company values into behaviours. Reflect on how you live these values in your everyday life. Then come up with a list of very specific behaviours that you want to have carried out at all levels of your organisation and over communicate these to all staff.

2. Build effective leadership capabilities throughout the organisation

As CEO, I invested heavily in training all our managers on how to craft their teams’ experience in an engaging, supportive and meaningful way. This is important since the middle managers on the ground shape the everyday experiences of our people.

We aimed to touch on the ’moments of truth‘ that define the employee experience. First, for onboarding, we focused on teaching managers how to connect with new hires from the first day and week. Train them on role-specific responsibilities and have recurring check-ins on progress and challenges, while keeping them excited about their career path.

Second, we enabled managers to build psychological safety within their teams and a work environment in which employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions without the risk of judgement.

Third, for performance management, we helped managers set clear expectations and embed values-driven behaviours for working and interacting with internal and external clients. Moreover, we instilled the habit of providing effective and constructive feedback, aimed at building new skills and leveraging employees’ own strengths

Actionable to-do: revisit your manager skill matrix and carry out a skills-assessment for your management team. Identify crucial gaps in their knowledge and devise a plan to address them. It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged training program; sometimes all it takes is a quick refresher to set your managers on the right track.

3. Enable your team’s growth and development

According to a recent report from the Top Employers Institute, 58% of employees are looking for an employer that allows them to do what they do best. Coupled with that, they also wish to grow as the company grows, take on new responsibilities and advance in their careers.

The challenges of upskilling employees, particularly in the retail sector, relate to the lack of bandwidth and resources of small HR teams. But even in established enterprises, employees do not always know how their career can progress or how to access these opportunities.

One of the key ways to keep your A-players engaged is to set them up on clear career progression paths. Set increasingly ambitious goals and provide them with the necessary know-how and support to achieve them.

In my company, we opted for a comprehensive approach. We didn’t just provide formal training programs and assessments. We leveraged on-the-job assignments, where employees got to work on projects similar to what their new role would entail. Regular feedback and mentorship were embedded to ensure top performers stayed on track, understood how they needed to evolve to reach their career goal, and celebrate their accomplishments.

Actionable to-do: based on your company’s strategic plan, define where you must start to create opportunities for development so you can upskill your top performers. Analyse where you are losing money (either because of high turnover, lower productivity or motivation) then invest to improve the processes that unlock resources to invest back in your talent.

4. Invest in employee engagement and honest, transparent communication across the company

Employee engagement is the buzzword that has picked up steam in recent years, but most companies still struggle with piecemeal initiatives that do not drive impact. I’ve tested 3 ways to actively impact employee engagement.

First, over, rather than under-communicate. Every department in your organisation works on exciting and ambitious projects every day, but most likely people do not have visibility into the work that goes on behind the scenes. Make a point of communicating in real time the amazing projects and initiatives to all your staff.

Second, ask for candid feedback and communicate how you act on it. The best suggestions for improvement start from your people on the ground who can identify what is working well and what can be improved to make their work more efficient. Gather feedback often, decide what you can act on and what cannot be implemented right away, then communicate back your feedback and action points. This makes your employees feel heard and proves to them that you offer a seat at the table to anyone who can improve the way things are done.

Third, do not be scarce with your praise. A simple ‘thank you’ or ‘great job’ goes a long way in making people feel seen and appreciated. Often, top management doesn’t see the great work that happens every day. Middle managers and peers, however, do. Encourage real-time recognition of employees who go above and beyond their role, launch incentivised initiatives and competitions to reward hard work and leverage every opportunity for celebration.

Actionable to-do: create or revive regular company-wide newsletters to keep your teams updated on the great things the company does. Embed a recurring kudos section to praise your top-performing employees. Even better, launch a stand-alone praise campaign targeting a business objective, incentivise high performance and provide regular leaderboards to tap into that healthy competitive spirit.

Winning the war for talent is not so much about hiring an employer branding department and offering cool perks. It’s more about becoming intentional about the type of company you want to build.  The company that will make your employees proud and excited to work for, the company that will drive meaningful impact through engaging and rewarding work.

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