What does it take to acquire and keep hold of good talent?

26/07/2023 Following the pandemic and the big quit, it has become harder for businesses to recruit, retain and inspire their workforce. Laurent Choain, Chief Leadership & Culture Officer at Mazars and CEO of Mazars University, takes us through the concerns voiced in our latest C-suite survey and suggests solutions.

Recruiting and keeping skilled people has become a challenge for most businesses. Our latest C-suite barometer, Bold leadership for a sustainable future suggests senior executives are worried about a lack of talent impeding their company’s growth, and believe a revised strategy is needed.

Key insights from our study include:

  1. Difficulty recruiting a skilled workforce ranks fourth (out of 11) globally on the list of factors senior executives say are likely to hold back their company’s growth.
  2. Globally, a quarter of respondents say a new or revised talent attraction and/or retention strategy is a strategic priority for the coming three to five years. In Germany it is the top strategic priority (along with a revised sustainability strategy). Talent strategy ranks highly in other countries including France (2nd), Netherlands and USA (3rd).
  3. Atmosphere among colleagues / a sense of teamwork and camaraderie is considered the most essential factor in attracting top talent. This is particularly true in Latin America where 57% (vs global average of 38%) say it is essential.

So, how can businesses build a skilled workforce and create a culture in which top talent will thrive?

First, you could recruit people who think they wouldn’t normally work for a firm like yours. Setting aside prejudices about investment banking, advertising, accounting, chemical engineering or tax inspection, there are ways to address this.

You can hire from a wider background than is normal: the majority of engineers can learn to be accountants, but not so much the other way round. Building a team of experts in required fields, such as employment law, is more important than any passion or loyalty a legal candidate might display for your business, whether it be a football club or a luxury brand.

Second, offering flexibility is a great positive, too. Younger staff tend to like working from home, most of the time. A whole week might be too much for your business. But as well as having a rule where they can spend two or three days working from home, you could also let them do other jobs, like working for a charity or their family firm (as long as it’s not the competition). And let them decide how much time to allocate to that activity.

Third, now you’ve got good people on board, how do you keep them? Offering lobster thermidor with white wine sauce at the staff canteen, or free Pilates, discounted groceries, medical insurance for your dog, a private pension fund, and cycle-to-work schemes will always be welcome. Benefits like these, however, won’t be enough to hold on to your performing teams.

Because supporting your colleagues means caring about them in a more meaningful way. This is where the tricky question of friendship comes in. They say close friends and family give you unconditional love; with colleagues it’s conditional, based on results. But there are in fact five levels of work-based relationships (according to Rachel Morrison):

  • No friends
  • Informational peers
  • Collegial peers, though you wouldn’t go on holiday with them
  • Special friends, with whom you could go on holiday
  • Work ‘spouses’, where you are a permanent, professional, platonic couple

Most of these are informal alliances, as opposed to friendships; loyalty is to individuals and relationships, rather than to an organisation. To enhance this behaviour, for example, in an annual performance review, questions such as ‘what would you like to do?’ and ‘what are you proud of having done?’ are always helpful.

More important questions, though, could be: what is your individual impact versus the collective contribution? is there anyone you’d like to endorse? The number of endorsements is usually – and surprisingly – high. That’s why many management gurus believe everybody’s a coach, and everybody must have a coach. Your organisation is now encouraging relationship building, treating a colleague not so much as a drone or a best friend forever, but as a helpful co-worker.

It can go further: when you’re sharing a train journey with a junior colleague, for example, do you talk about her or his life partner, the kids, holidays and hobbies? Instead, try starting the conversation with 20 minutes asking these questions (derived by Marshall Goldsmith):

  • Where do you think we are we going as a firm?
  • Where are you placed and heading?
  • What is going well at the moment?
  • What would you change, in the company environment? in yourself?
  • How can I help you get to where you want to be?
  • Finally, please give me some advice.

In so doing, you are creating a culture and an environment for success that will help your business enrol – and hold on to – top talent. The answer lies in using imagination and flexibility in recruiting, offering care and wellbeing, and encouraging relationship-building of the productive sort.