Five ways to succeed in the second ‘war for talent’

16 Jan
January 16, 2017

Susy Roberts, 16th January 2017

The Government has renewed its commitment to restricting immigration, following news that net migration from the EU has reached the highest levels on record.

Although London Mayor Sadiq Khan, has called for a ‘London-specific solution’ to allow immigrants to continue to live and work in the English capital, post-Brexit, Angela Merkel’s decision not to guarantee the residency rights of UK workers abroad means there’s currently no assurance that EU nationals will be able to stay in the UK.

As a result, the already acute skills shortage is set to become even worse, making it even more important to increase your ability to attract and retain the top talent that is available. To help, here’s our Five Ways to Succeed in the Second ‘War for Talent’.

Five ways to succeed in the second ‘war for talent’

1. Create a positive culture

Some of the most attractive employers around attribute their ability to attract the best people as being down to the positive culture they’ve created. Facebook, for example, has managed to rapidly grow from 1,700 people to just under 12,000 in less than five years, with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying it’s connecting employees to the company’s overarching goals and its ability to get all its employees to own those goals that keeps the culture alive: “Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. As long as we stay focused on that mission, we’re going to keep attracting talented people who share the same goal and want to make it reality.”

The key to creating a positive culture is to start by clarifying your organisation’s ‘vision and mission’. What is it that you ultimately want to be known for and what are the behaviours that are needed to bring this to life? Do you need your people to be bold and innovative – ‘to move fast’ in Facebook parlance – or to always put safety first, never let a customer down or problem-solve to stay agile?

Whatever the business wants to achieve, there will be key people behaviors that are needed to create the right culture to get it there. By clearly defining these behaviours and placing them at the heart of all people processes and systems, the business has a far greater chance of success than if it focuses on the financial goals alone.  Employees will also feel more excited and keen to work for an employer that’s empowering them to achieve a shared mission, than one that only values them for their ability to hit a commercial result.

2. Mould roles around people

With an already small talent pool set to get even smaller, an increasing number of employers are moulding roles around people. Sometimes this involves promoting people based on their potential, rather than their experience, giving someone untested a break or moving people around the organisation to help them find the place where they can do their very best work.

The idea is to open up a new talent pipeline by placing less emphasis on experience, and more emphasis on the character, behaviours and fundamental strengths of the individual. The beneficiaries include bright graduates who haven’t yet had the opportunity to build up a body of experience, or older workers, such as mothers who took long career breaks and are ready to return to work, but don’t have any recent experience.

By hiring people with the right attitude and behaviours and creating a role that works for them, you can continue to bring talented people into the business despite the skills shortage and benefit by helping them develop and reach their potential.

3. Focus on the employee experience

Once you know what sort of culture you want to create, a key part of this is to bring it to life by getting the right people, processes, systems and environment in place.

Just as you want your customers to have a good experience of interacting with your brand, it’s important to also think about the employee experience: from the ease with which individuals can get parked in the morning, to the sorts of ‘perks’ supplied by the company. Even the physical environment has a vital role to play, facilitating everything from team working to innovation, depending on the breakout areas, technology and desk layout options provided.

When it comes to the perks, as well as providing good benefits and wellbeing packages, it’s also important to think about other ways of enhancing the employee experience. Most of the employers listed in the Sunday Times Best Places to Work offer a myriad of flexible working options, ranging from compressed hours to flexi time to term-to-term working and homeworking. By taking into account their needs, both inside and outside of work, you will not only make your brand more attractive to employees, but also reduce stress and absence levels.

4. Build collaborative teams

Important as it is for employees to feel like they’re a meaningful part of the business, it’s also essential that they feel connected to other people on a personal level. Humans are social creatures. It’s when we feel disconnected and isolated that we start to feel disengaged and keen to find something ‘more’.

Even when someone has been promoted into the role of managing or leading others, it’s all too easy for individuals to remain focused on their individual activities and individual accountabilities, instead of thinking about how their team is performing as a whole. A key way of boosting engagement is therefore to look at ways of increasing collaborative working, from bringing people together from across the business to work on shared projects, to providing a physical space for people to eat together. Companies that are particularly committed to promoting a positive brand often use food as a way of bringing people together, from Pizza Fridays to offering free fruit – not to be eaten at a desk in isolation but with a colleague to encourage proper breaks and social interaction.

At the same time as focusing on the team they’re leading, leaders also need to be encouraged to focus on the team that they’re a part of, to make sure that they’re aligned and making decisions together. This is particularly important at the top of the organisation because if people can see their leaders working as one team and being mutually, as well as individually accountable, this will filter down through the organisation, making positive teamwork part of the culture.

5. Allow people to succeed

Most people come to work wanting to succeed and wanting to do something they’re good at, to be stretched in ways that excite their desire to be developed and to be rewarded well for their success.

Instead of facilitating this by allowing them to play to their strengths and natural abilities, with strengths-based performance measures, far too many businesses have become pre-occupied with ‘fixing’ people’s weaknesses. Even though research shows that an emphasis on strengths in appraisals is linked to a 36 per cent improvement in performance, whereas an emphasis on weaknesses is linked to a 27 per cent decline.

By putting the focus back on allowing people to play to their strengths, you can not only motivate people to succeed, releasing more of their discretionary effort and desire to go the extra mile, but you can also increase their enjoyment of their work.

If you would like to discuss enhancing the employee experience at your organisation, by clarifying your mission, moulding roles around people or adopting strengths-based performance measures, please call us on +44(0)1270 750232 or email


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