The ravages of the recession are likely to have taken their toll on your team, but it’s vital that you have the right people in place to make the most of the upturn. Growing Business looks at how you can retain and attract key talent
You’ll need the right people on board, particularly in key management positions, to make the most of the recovery. So, as the economy starts to warm up, recruitment and retention will be more important than ever. The problem is, it will be harder to find those with the necessary skills, as demand for staff will rise rapidly, while the increased opportunities will make it tougher to hold on to your high flyers. “As the economy improves, employers will start to see increasing numbers of ‘natural churn’,” says James Callander, managing director of recruitment agency FreshMinds Talent. “People who have held tight throughout a tough recession will suddenly be looking for that next big challenge.”
Worse still, it’s likely to be your top performers who decide to move on, according to Rosaleen Blair, chief executive at recruitment specialists Alexander Mann Solutions. “This is particularly the case for organisations that have been forced to make redundancies during the recession,” she says. “In these circumstances, it’s common for up to 10% of the workforce to leave their employer voluntarily.”
So, before you start trying to attract the best, how can you keep hold of what you’ve got? “An economic downturn will often limit the financial rewards that are on offer. So it’s important during trying times that employee engagement activity is ramped up to compensate,” says Blair. Basic steps include encouraging line managers and executive-level staff to communicate more with employees, rolling out further in-house training, or introducing flexible working schemes.
For Callander, it’s all about “over-communicating” the vision for the future, because the present may not be so fulfilling. “Managers need to identify those people who are crucial to future success, and ensure they are bought into the recovery plan and told the key part that they can play in it,” he says. “Remembering the little things and giving people clear career goals for the next six months will make a big difference to your retention plans. Tell your potential leaders you have high hopes for them, so they know their value. This will also help you to train and prepare them for their future role.” Callander’s growing business has been flourishing during the recession and is practicing what it’s preaching, having developed a retention strategy that will help it “thrive in the boom”.
“We’re communicating strategy and vision more frequently and in more ways,” explains FreshMinds’ head of people Ben Collis. “We’ve also launched our Group Leadership Programme. It’s open to all our team leaders (the management layer that sits below our senior management team), and they’ve all taken it up. We’ve found a top executive coach to enhance their development. This has proved very powerful and is popular with everyone. There are also Inspirational Leadership Sessions, where industry experts share their experiences with the team, and we discuss how they apply to FreshMinds.”
There’s an academic element to the programme, with each member receiving three core texts from the top MBA schools in Europe and America. There are also scheduled get-togethers with FreshMind’s chief executives, where group strategy is discussed, along with issues common to the group as a whole. “All of our team leaders have progressed up the business,” says Collis, “testament to the efficiency of our retention strategy.”
For engineering firm Stanza, like many small businesses, losing one of its eight-strong team could have a destabilising effect on the company and derail its plans to capitalise on the recovery. That’s why, despite its size, it has a clear recruitment and retention strategy. “Retention is vital for a close knit team like ours,” says communications director Sheran Edward. “Creating an environment where people want to work is crucial. It’s also important to keep people challenged, but not stressed out, and ensure they know their efforts are appreciated.”
Attracting the best
In the past, Stanza found it was being held back because it couldn’t attract people with the right skills. Edward has addressed this during the downturn, so the company is poised for growth once the economic skies brighten. “Initially it was about raising our profile,” she explains. “It was time to make ourselves known, even though we are small.”
The company set about building recruitment into its overall marketing strategy, so that its staff were primed to spot people who would make a positive addition to the team. “We promote the image of our company as a preferred employer among local professionals,” says Edward. “We are using a marketing skills approach to train our senior engineers to go out and sell the aspects that differentiate our business – for example, in the areas of personal development and the working environment.
“We’ve also honed our networking ability, even bringing in architects for role play. This has proved invaluable at industry events. We follow up this activity by inviting potential candidates to meet the team and gain an insight into the way we work. Although not actively recruiting currently, this is a powerful way of promoting ourselves for the future.”
It also means Stanza has recruitment options when the time is right for growth. Edward also maintains good relationships with recruitment agencies, “as the best people could well be registered with them, so it’s good to keep your options open”.
The success of prospecting from recruits in this way relies on you knowing the key skills you’re looking for. Unsurprisingly, Stanza’s key people are its engineers. But simply being a good engineer is not enough for the business.
“Our people need to have good client skills, be strong communicators, understand how important it is to promote the image of the company and act as an ambassador,” explains Edward. “They also need a commercial brain.”
All systems go
Crucially, Stanza has also worked hard to create a good platform within the business for when new recruits join. “We have the necessary admin systems and processes in place, so that we can accommodate new people without changing our cost base – and can, importantly, hit the ground running,” explains Edward.
Cutting staff has been a reality for many companies during the downturn, while the recovery is likely to sound the starting pistol for the race for new employment opportunities. Now’s the time to start plugging any gaps you have, carefully considering the kind of people you’ll need to compete as the economy picks up, and making sure you have measures in place to convince your key staff that your company is the place to be.
Support these actions with an administrative system that has the necessary induction processes in place to get new people contributing to the business as quickly as possible, and you should be well positioned to reap the rewards that the upturn brings.
The cornerstones of FreshMind’s recruitment and retention strategy:
- Quick progression to sector head and management positions
- Working with intelligent, ambitious and conscientious people. When candidates are undecided about joining, one-to-ones with team members can help
- Giving real responsibility early
- Working directly with key clients
- An open and honest workplace
- Developing a range of professional skills, from deep sector expertise and technical excellence to general leadership and management
- Key social events, such as annual ski trips, monthly get-togethers, unforgettable Christmas parties and regular Friday drinks