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How Do You Attract and Retain the Best People?

Anne Riches

"At the end of the day, we bet on people, not strategies."

That's what Allied Signal CEO Larry Bossidy says and it's as true for Small Agencies as it is for any other employer - public sector or corporate.

So how do we attract and retain the right people to bet on? Arguably this is the highest priority for employers right now. The current work environment is characterised by constant change, increasing pressure, cost-cutting, restructuring and tougher performance measures. Without the best people, we know it is even harder to deliver the demanded outcomes.

Getting and keeping the best is becoming harder than ever. Increased competition
amongst employers for the talent, growing job mobility, better career development opportunities, the attractiveness of small business options, lifestyle choices, a spouse's career decision, the impact of stress - these are just some of the factors playing a role in the decision to join or leave an employer.

How can your Agency become the employer of choice?

The answer does not lie in strong recruitment practices and appropriate reward strategies alone - though these are vital. The real response is holistic or systemic. Getting every part of your organization in sync with this goal.

At the employee level it covers the "cradle to grave" of employment. How do we:

recruit them - including how we treat the unsuccessful applicants
induct them
manage them, daily, monthly, yearly
motivate them
educate, coach and mentor them
develop their careers
pay them
promote them
recognize and value their contribution
find out and deal with their professional concerns
encourage a healthy working lifestyle
assist them develop professional networks
support them in times of personal challenges
handle the way they leave - for whatever reason?

At the organizational level, it includes looking at all of our HR, HRD and OD systems and strategies to make sure they are working together to create an environment in which our best people not only survive, but thrive.

We also need to ensure that these strategies are tightly aligned and linked to the overall corporate plan and strategic priorities of the Agency. Apart from the obvious reasons for this, it enables us to show our people how what they do impacts and affects the work of the Agency and its success.

It also includes stepping back and looking at the less obvious organizational "messages". Is there congruence between what it says (the values posted on the wall) and what it actually does? Is the real culture different from the espoused one? Does management walk that talk? Does it deliver on its promises? Is there a high level of trust in the organization?

This looks like a huge agenda. It is and much more has to be done at the organizational level than has been mentioned here. But there are tremendous opportunities to tackle many of these issues as new demands and changes are imposed on us.

Here are some ideas to start implementing today:

Create strategic awareness - make sure that managers and supervisors understand that becoming an employer of choice is a key success factor for your Agency. Build a measurement of attraction and retention of key people into their performance criteria.

Identify your Agency's `attractiveness' - do this through `entry' interviews and 3 month follow up discussions; use existing staff climate surveys; emphasise these advantages in all recruitment activities.

Identify why people choose to leave - be rigorous about exit interviews and use the information obtained. Feed it back to management and into the preparation of your strategy to attract and keep talent. Address the issues causing good people to leave.

Develop your talent - today most talented employees are increasingly more loyal to their own careers, not to their employer. They will go where the best job opportunities are and the best potential for training and development. Don't give them these reasons to leave -develop them continuously. Help them manage their careers; coach them, mentor them.

Motivate them - everyone is motivated by different things. Many are primarily motivated by the opportunity to do a good job and be recognized for it. Are your best people in the best jobs for them? Are you sure? Are they being stretched? Do they have the necessary resources to do what is expected of them? Are they recognized and rewarded for their successes? Are they being managed through their difficult times?

Use what you know - employers usually gather a wealth of information about new
employees through the psychological testing component of the recruitment process. About what is their workstyle preference, what are their personal motivators etc.

But what happens to this information when the recruitment phase ends? It often goes into a personnel file and filed away. Imagine instead that the new recruit and their manager use it to talk about what strategies they can both use to maximize performance and satisfaction. Do your managers do that?

Recruit for `fit' - Technical competence is only part of the story when it comes to recruitment and retention. Cultural fit is most of it. Identify the strong performers in your Agency. Find out what makes them so effective from their peers, their customers, and their managers. Build a profile and recruit new people with that profile in mind.

The costs of not attracting and retaining the best people are not simply financial. Loss of intellectual capital, decreased productivity and performance, and lower morale are all likely if turnover is high.

But don't leave this to the HR people alone. This is a major line management
responsibility. It is a strategic organizational challenge - to be taken on by everyone.


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