7 Ways to Attract and Retain Talent

(Without having to compete on salaries)

“The attitude around here is that the floggings will continue until morale improves.” laughed my friend Tony. His company, an old-line manufacturer, was facing a number of problems. They had a militant union, managers were being forced to work long hours, burnout was high and turnover was constant. “We are the meat on the sandwich.” he further confessed. “Below us we have staff who could not care less what we have to say and above us we have management who has no idea what we do.” In spite of some of the best wages in their industry, this company was dealing with high sick leave and was struggling to retain good people.

Everybody knows the data. Boomers are retiring, there are four generations in the workplace and there is a shortage of talent. This is becoming critical in all sectors of the economy, especially the public sector, where there are strict limits on what people can be paid. So, what do people want? How can you attract and retain the best talent, especially if you are limited in how much compensation you can offer? Before we answer these questions, take a moment and think about yourself. You are the very person that any organization would want to keep. You have a choice between 2 employers. Organization 1 offers you a great environment. You are respected and are given flex time when you need to handle personal matters. You believe your work has meaning and your opinion counts. Organization 2 is very negative, full of unbending rules and unwritten norms. Nobody really cares or wants your ideas and your peers see you as a threat. The only advantage Organization 2 has over Organization 1 is that they are willing to pay you $10,000 a year more. When you answer that question for yourself, then you will understand from a deeper level how our 7 ways to attract and retain talent works.

1. Understand Your Current Culture

There is the culture you have and the culture you think you have. Does your current culture accept difference in others? Is there flexibility? How does current staff feel about working there? How are people promoted and/or rewarded?

An important element in understanding your current culture is the idea of values versus ethics. Many organizations write wonderful mission statements that have great values in them. However, values are only words. Ethics are actions. You may say that you value innovation, yet when people are promoted for keeping their heads low and not rocking the organization there is a clear message that the organization values conformity.

2. Meaningful Work

Nobody ever goes to work and says to themselves in the morning, "Gee, I want to be really mediocre today." Recognition is an important component to meaningful work. When you recognize people for their accomplishments, they feel that their work has significance.

Replacements Ltd., a company out of Greensboro, N.C. sells replacements for china and silverware set pieces that go missing or get broken. They believe that their efforts are not just about selling old dishes so the company makes a profit. “Our people believe that when we find missing pieces to complete antique china sets we are helping people create links to their past. These pieces represent somebody’s life, their history.” comments C.E.O. Bob Page. “We have seen people cry because this represented the last remaining memory of a loved one.” Replacements Ltd., like many organizations, encourage staff to be involved in the community and give them time off to participate in community projects. This volunteering, in partnership with the organization, gives both their lives and their careers deeper meanings.

3. Build career entrepreneurship

When you provide career entrepreneurship, you are moving from the ' loyalty' to a commitment mindset. In a 'loyalty' mindset, people are rewarded for simply being there a long time. In a commitment culture, Organizations clearly define what the individual is being offered in return for their services and provide internal career coaching to empower people to manage their own careers. How do you build career entrepreneurship? Allow people to set their career goals, provide them with the tools to reach those goals and let them measure their accomplishments. Helping people set their own roadmap and then allowing them to succeed will ensure that people are engaged.

4. Create a flexible work environment

Work-life balance is consistently rated as the one of the most important aspects for attracting and retaining talent. One U.S. federal agency had a turnover rate of close to 20% a year. Many people would work for this agency and after about 3 years leave to go to the private sector where they would earn almost double their salary within the government. Unable to compete in terms of wages offered, this agency started allowing people to work at home, create flexible hours and even introduced subsidized daycare to staff. The result? Turnover fell to slightly less than 5%.

5. Understand and embrace Real Diversity

Real diversity means going beyond issues of gender, ethnicity, or age. It means embracing people who not only look different but THINK differently. Many organizations are looking for people with industry or corporate experience. There are a lot of very talented people who have had their own businesses, work in different industries or have experience outside our borders. The fit that an organization should be most concerned with are whether the person believes in the values of the organization.

6. Streamline the hiring process

The decision making process for most organizations is now taking several months. It seems that everybody has to be part of the interview and decision-making process, even the janitor! People respond positively to the organization when you streamline the process and get back to people quickly, even if they did not get the position. Also, moving quickly gives you a significant competitive advantage over your competition.

7. On boarding

Once you have brought somebody into the organization, you should have a 100 day plan worked out for them even before they start. Some effective techniques are providing them with a mentor/buddy who can help them adjust to the new workplace. A number of studies have shown that the first 100 days are critical for helping people feel 'part of the team' and, when they do, they are both more engaged and committed to the organization and its goals.

Go back to the question we started with about where you would want to work? I can quote numerous studies, but the ultimate test is common sense. When you create a culture where people are recognized, engaged and they believe in what they are doing, people not only stay with the organization but attract others there as well.