Winning the war for talent: five top tips

5 min read

We recently held a panel event exploring how companies can ensure they stay competitive in the increasingly challenging ‘war for talent’. Carol Hosey, Mace’s Group HR Director, outlines five top tips for making sure you’re able to attract and retain the best people: 

In 1997, a ground-breaking McKinsey study exposed the "war for talent" as a strategic business challenge and a critical driver of corporate performance. Over 20 years on and one of the biggest issues facing many organisations continues to be attracting and retaining the best people. 

Talent is one of the key assets for almost every single organisation but developing an employee value proposition that attracts the right talent for your company is a challenge in our incredibly competitive market. And, once you’ve found them, keeping top performers requires constant effort. 

At a recent event at Mace’s head office in London we brought together a group of professionals from across a wide variety of industries including defence, hospitality, infrastructure and construction and asked them to share their insight and lessons learned about how to attract and retain the best talent. 

These are the top five tips I took away from the panel debate and Q&A:

1. Start with a vision 

The panel all agreed that having a clear vision is key to retaining the best and the brightest people. Does your organisation have a recognisable vision that has buy-in from your people? 

This vision needs to be something “that everyone in the organisation can get behind and one that you can bring to life,” proposed Lt. Gen. Richard Nugee, Chief of Defence People at the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

Many forward-thinking organisations then go on to align the roles and responsibilities of its workforce to that vision – this not only helps to connect employees to the vision and give them a sense of purpose, but helps people understand that what they do on a day-to-day basis is helping the organisation move towards that goal.

2. Make people feel valued 

People want to know that the work they are doing is contributing to the organisation’s success. Regular recognition and feedback are key in supporting their personal and professional growth. 

That means exploring ways of recognising good performance that go beyond their pay packet – and it means engaging in frank conversations about what your employees think. Those frank conversations produce valuable insight as well as making people feel valued.  

Alex Phillips, Property Director at GLH Hotels encouraged the audience to learn from their employees.  “There are currently seven employees at GLH with over 40 years of service – we need to learn all we can from these team members about what makes them work for the company and use that insight in recruitment and retention plans.”

3. Build a positive team culture 

According to research by Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to a business’ success. The panellists covered many of the different elements that make up a company culture. Values and behaviours stood out as two of the key pillars.

Kate Myers, Head of Skills, Employment & Education from HS2 spoke about how HS2 takes a values-based approach and how the company leadership goes to great lengths to embed their values – from including a ‘values fit’ in the recruitment process to measuring employees against the values in the performance management process. 

At Mace, we recently launched ‘Behaviours for Success’, our new behavioural framework, which outlines what we expect from our leaders and the wider workforce. At the panel event, I explained that by defining those behaviours we hope to further embed our culture across Mace. After all, it is not just what we do that is important; but how we do it. 

Employee empowerment is also key in building a positive team culture and is a key predictor of engagement, something that was reinforced by Lt. Gen. Richard Nugee: 

The MOD is looking at how we move away from a hierarchical culture and create a culture of empowerment. We know that when people feel empowered they show higher levels of engagement and higher levels of performance.” 

4. Diversity 

The panel were unanimous in their support for the benefits of a diverse workforce – and all of the organisations present had strategies in place to keep improving in this space.  

HS2 is leading the charge, becoming the first employer in the country to get the ‘Clear Assured’ Gold Standard. “We embed equality, diversity and inclusion in all our activities” said Kate Myers.

Kate went on to say that “inclusion is not just about personal characteristics, it’s recognising the breadth of thinking and the whole host of different perspectives people bring.” 

The entire panel reinforced Kate’s message, outlining how their organisations are making headway in their approach to inclusion and diversity.

5. Be innovative in your approach to recruitment 

The expectations of potential employees are changing, and our approach to recruitment needs to change with it.

When GLH Hotels needed to hire 175 employees for the new Hard Rock Café Hotel in London they knew they needed to take a different approach to entice so many workers to join them quite quickly. 

They decided to play on the Hard Rock theme: rather than host interviews they hosted ‘auditions’, they brought in Harley Davidson motorbikes and blow up guitars and the interviewers wore leather jackets and shades! They created an experience that would differentiate Hard Rock from other big names in hospitality and gave prospective employees an immediate sense of what they should expect in the role. 

Dean Sporn, Director of National Infrastructure Projects at Highways England encouraged organisations to celebrate what they can offer employees in their recruitment drive:

“As a public sector organisation we can’t always compete with the private sector on a pure salary perspective. We can, however offer large-scale project opportunities, a huge pipeline of work and an opportunity for employees to develop their skillset and capabilities. 

“We also try and think differently about where we search for our talent and look beyond the traditional talent streams to recruit – including proactively targeting people who have had career breaks and ex-service personnel.” 

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