It’s a Jungle Out There: Mapping a Talent Strategy for the Era of Worker Empowerment

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A few years ago, during a conversation with my colleague, HR visionary Dr. Ernesto Marinelli, I asked for his perspective on the global talent market. Not only do the observations he offered then still hold today, but they also resonate louder than ever.

“This isn’t a war for talent,” he told me in so many words. “It’s a talent jungle” where organizations and their HR departments often find themselves at a loss for finding people with the right skills and sometimes may not even know who they should be seeking in terms of skills, qualifications, background, etc.

Dr. Marinelli’s Talent Jungle has only gotten more tangled and difficult to navigate due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its role in shifting the mindset of workers around the world.

Indeed, the health crisis has accelerated the pace of change in talent markets, giving rise to a new set of realities for organizations and their HR departments to recognize and confront to meet the perennial challenge of putting the right people, with the right skills, in the right places at the right time. Let’s look at a handful of those new realities, with suggested steps for how organizations and their HR teams can rise to meet the challenges they present.

Reality: Peoples’ priorities and perspectives on work have shifted significantly.

According to recent research from the Boston Consulting Group, 92% of employees want more flexibility when they work, and 76% want more flexibility in where they work.

When considering potential employers, more than half would exclude companies they feel don’t align with their beliefs about environmental responsibility and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). For the talent you’re trying to recruit, particularly Gen Z, issues related to work-life balance, organizational culture, personal growth opportunities, and values alignment weigh nearly as heavily as compensation.

Response:  Adapt the organization’s recruiting, retention, and development strategies to reflect these new realities.

In its role as custodian of the people within an organization, HR has an opportunity to elevate its organization in the eyes of current and potential employees alike by giving people more autonomy and more significant opportunity to grow, take on new challenges and move multi-directionally within the organization.

The workplace experience also must cater to workers’ desire for greater flexibility, safety, and employer trust. The onus is on employers to provide all that within a strategy that intelligently blends onsite and remote work.

Reality: The Great Resignation is a Great Realization that work has been suboptimal.

Today’s talent is highly experience-driven and outcome-oriented. They approach work as consumers rather than as adopters, with a desire to curate their own work experiences. And because of a phenomenon I call “itchy feet syndrome,” they’re more likely to walk when an employer doesn’t offer what they seek.

That’s happening at an increasing rate these days, as more workers realize that they have been enduring a suboptimal workplace experience and have other choices.

Response: Re-evaluate and update the organization’s employee value proposition (EVP), focusing on designing experiences and processes that elevate candidate and employee engagement with the organization.

 Many of the organizations I interact with are taking a hard look at their EVP and their organizational purpose, ensuring they align with peoples’ expectations and values. To create that alignment, HR needs to focus on providing its EVP resonates with the right people, both externally with the talent they seek to attract and internally with the talent they want to retain.

As an HR contact at a large manufacturing company told me, the EVP should be an organization’s “North Star,” guiding it in designing and facilitating high-quality, friction-free candidate and employee experiences and processes.

It’s also vital that their EVP be evident across every touchpoint, from recruitment forward. Companies shouldn’t be shy about marketing their EVP to build peoples’ emotional connection with the organization. The manufacturing mentioned above company has gone so far as to install a marketing specialist inside its HR department to see that EVP messaging is well-articulated to both external and internal talent.

The bottom line is to design everything with the talent’s point-of-view top of mind.

Reality: Many organizations don’t adequately measure or analyze how their people-related experiences and processes perform. 

An organization will struggle to provide the consumer-grade processes and experiences that employees and candidates expect unless it makes a concerted effort to gauge its effectiveness in executing them.

Those that can meet or surpass those experiential expectations are likely to see benefits in terms of spending/effort, more promotions from within (rather than external hires), reduced attrition, and the like. 

Response: Baselining and benchmarking your organization relative to itself, competitors, and the broader market.

Doing this in terms of the effectiveness of recruiting, retention, leadership, and other KPIs is vital to navigating the Talent Jungle successfully. Organizations must have a strong listening strategy and feedback culture to understand how well their processes are working, the extent to which their EVP is translating, and the emotional responses their candidate and work experiences elicit.

Reality: Technology can help navigate the Talent Jungle. 

Digitizing HR data and applying machine learning and artificial intelligence-drive analytic tools to that data can do wonders for an organization to assess their current skills and future skill needs, identify gaps and develop strategies for filling those needs and gaps.

Response: Embrace technology through a human lens. 

In talking recently with top HR decision-makers at the aforementioned manufacturing company, their explanation for how they approach technology stuck with me: “Remember, at the end of every process is a human being.”

Every decision about whether to automate a process or eliminate a position should be viewed through that lens, and with the knowledge that machine learning and AI have an essential role to play in helping organizations uncover talent in unlikely places, match talent to the proper position and streamline the candidate experience.

Reality: Business networks/ecosystems, and a focus on relationship management, can help an organization surface talent.

Response: Look outside your own four walls to creatively leverage relationships to find talent.

More organizations are finding ways to strategically maintain relationships with former job candidates, ex-employees, and alumni, realizing these connections can help talent acquisition. And as more multi-company, cross-industry business ecosystems emerge worldwide, these constructs provide a new pool from which to identify, attract, develop, cross-pollenate, share, and exchange talent.

In a world, and a talent market, turned upside-down by a pandemic and other forces, the challenge for organizations and their HR departments is clear: Adapt to these and other new realities and learn to navigate the Talent Jungle or doesn’t exist. For many organizations, evolution is already underway.

 

Michael Esau is the Global HR Advisor at SAP.

 

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Based in Great Britain, Michael Esau serves as Global HR Advisor at SAP and has been with the company for almost 10 years. Michael brings over 20 years of experience in delivering organizational development solutions, cultural transformation and employee engagement strategies that contribute to business performance. His career has spanned several industries and sectors. He also co-hosts The Human Factor podcast.