• Anna Purchas, Author |
4 min read

As we emerge from COVID-19 and businesses begin to focus again on growth, one key factor is looming as a stumbling block: people. Suddenly, it seems, there aren’t enough of them. We read of shortages across multiple sectors. HGV drivers, carers, nurses and hospitality staff dominate the headlines, but the truth is that shortages are everywhere. From engineers to software developers, from consultants to customer advisors, talent is in demand and competition is fierce. Job vacancies are at a record high.

For private enterprises of sizes, this means that recruitment and retention are absolutely at the top of the agenda. All organisations need to keep an inflow of new talent to remain healthy. And they need to minimise exits because those simply undo the benefits of attracting new people in.

Invest to retain

So how should businesses approach this? I’ll start with retention, because retaining the talent you already have is a first-base requirement for any successful business. What’s more if you begin haemorrhaging people, word can get around in the market and recruitment then becomes harder too.

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways of retaining people is to invest in them. Employees feel more loyal and more motivated when they receive training, development and career support. So, think about what training and development you have in place for your staff and especially those in key roles. This doesn’t have to mean big expensive external courses. There’s been a shift in recent years towards more ‘bite-size’ learning often delivered online in a self-serve model. It’s a question of collating resources for learning and making them available to staff, perhaps allowing a certain amount of time each month for the purpose.

Another way you can spread knowledge without it costing the earth is by focusing on what I call tradecraft. For example, holding internal sessions – which could be over Teams/Zoom – in which teams catch up and share learnings and insights about the job they all do. These could be big things or small things. It may just be a practical tip on how to do something more quickly. Informal forums like this bring people together, build a sense of community and can be highly effective.

The end goal of these activities should be that staff feel they are developing, learning and improving – supported by the business. Ideally, every employee should have a career development plan that they have agreed with their manager. This gives them a target to aim for and a sense of orientation: where they are now, and where they’re trying to get to. For most people, this significantly boosts engagement and motivation.

Manager role

Managers within the business have a crucial role to play. After all, they are closest to the individuals in their teams. Make managers in the business your front line in minimising staff attrition through four key steps:

  1. Talk about it with them. Make sure they know it’s a priority.

  2. Give managers time to manage. It sounds obvious, but all too often actually managing the team and supporting people on an individual basis is an ‘extra’ on top of the manager’s own day job.

  3. Make sure senior leaders in your business are role-modelling this themselves with their own direct reports. Only then will managers further down the structure believe it and do it themselves.

  4. Embed it through your policies and procedures. Make retention a KPI. Make 360 degree feedback (ie from both more senior and more junior staff) an element of how managers are assessed.

Recruitment strategy

Then there’s recruitment. This is a whole subject in itself but obviously having a sufficiently resourced HR team is crucial. Make use of all advertising and recruitment channels, including LinkedIn. Find a recruitment agency that understands your business and fits well with how you work. Make sure you are promoting the right messages about your business. Are your values and purpose clear? How is this being communicated on your website, in your job adverts, in your annual report or other key collateral?

Speed has also become critical. In such a competitive environment where your rivals are also trying to recruit the best, candidates will often receive multiple offers very fast. So, ensure that you aren’t putting unnecessary steps in the process that slow things down. At the same time, though, make sure candidates have the opportunity to meet and talk to key people in your team and those they’ll be working with, even if that’s on Teams or Zoom.

Adapting to hybrid

Across both retention and recruitment, another key issue to think about is how you’re setting yourselves up to work in a hybrid model. It seems clear that most people want to work in a hybrid way. That being the case, think about how you use your office space. When people come in to the office, what are they gaining that they don’t get working from home? Think about ways you can maximise the value and the experience when people come together.

Certainly, the remote working model reduces ‘stickiness’ – even if it does tend to increase productivity. People generally feel less engaged with their employer when they’re spending large amounts of time in their own space at home. This may make them less loyal – and more likely to look at offers from elsewhere.

These are challenges for all businesses, big or small. Spend time thinking about it and discussing it with your management team. They are not fringe issues. They go to the heart of who you are as a business and how you operate. The businesses that get it right will have a huge advantage over their peers.

Sign up to receive insights tailored to the subjects important to you.