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8 strategies to attract key talent

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Attracting key talent to your organisation is getting harder. By that I mean finding people with the skills, knowledge, behaviours and attitudes it needs to thrive. As business strategy has become talent-critical, having the ability to attract the right people should be considered a risk at board-level.

As the world changes, so do talent markets. Changes in career thinking have turned the tables on who’s the supplier and who’s the customer. Talent consumerism means people with the right attributes hold all the cards. And shifts in the way people interact with work have globalised elements of the talent market and tested our assumptions of employment and the workplace. These changes have exposed the fact that many of our approaches to talent are based on out-moded assumptions. That’s why organisations need to move with the times and re-evaluate their approach to sourcing the talent they need.

Here are 8 strategies to consider:

1. Use strategic workforce planning to understand which talent you need most.

The most common issue I see is a lack of clarity around talent priorities and risks to business outcomes. Some talent IS more critical than others. Talent priorities need to be based less on current vacancies or historical roles, and more on your organisation’s needs going forwards. By using proper, business-focused, top-level strategic workforce planning, you can identify where the biggest gaps are between the talent you have, and the talent you need.

2. Move from reactive to proactive for key talent segments.

Once you can see where the greatest risks are from a talent perspective, you can develop realistic strategies to mitigate them. Be honest with yourself – how many of your approaches to attracting talent are truly thoughtful and evidence-led, and how many are relatively short-term and tactical?

3. Look at attraction as PART of the strategy and not THE strategy.

I don’t believe there’s an ideal ratio of internal versus external recruitment. What matters is that the strategy you choose is the optimum one for the job. The best talent sourcing strategies are often hybridised, featuring a combination of external and internal sourcing mechanisms. You need to develop more than one leg to your stool over time.

4. Base your strategies on data and insights.

If you were trying to sell shampoo, you would research your audience to find out what matters to them. You need to apply the same approach to talent. Understanding supply and demand, what talent is looking for, and what they think of your brand. Too often, our ‘Employer Value Proposition’ is based on the views of current employees. Yet the talent we need might want something different - especially if you’re looking to move further into the digital space. Talk to talent, talk to recruitment partners, commission talent intelligence research … do the work and act on what it tells you.

5. Challenge “plug and play” mentality.

Another way of shooting yourselves in the foot is to make a small talent pool even smaller. You can do this by being
over-focused on “zero risk” outcomes. Looking for extremely specific capabilities, particular employers and lengthy previous sector-relevant experience. Open your mind to transferrable skills, adjacent sectors and new target organisations. They can offer the best return when it comes to increasing the size of your talent pools and bolstering your competitive brand. Don’t fixate on attracting individuals from organisations you cannot compete with, or individuals whose offers you cannot match.

6. Be open to new kinds of working relationships.

The talent you seek already thinks about careers in a different way to your organisation. Are you looking to attract someone and retain them for the next 30 years, or do you just need them to get over a capability ‘hump’? Could you use short term assignments? Or a contingent model? Are you okay with someone working a three day week and running a ‘side hustle’ for the remainder? Could you share talent with another organisation? Is your ‘in office’ policy at odds with the preferences of this talent? Being stuck in one kind of model limits the size of the talent pool and your attractiveness in it.

7. Solve the reward dilemma, but play to your strengths.

Key talent is typically available at a premium. That means you may need to reconcile your perspective on compensation and benefits. It can be difficult to match reward requirements, so make a principle-based decision. If you need this talent, are you prepared to pay what is needed and deal with the consequences? If not, then fall back on your data insights and broader talent strategy thinking. Can you meet a preference the talent has in ways the competition can’t? Could you trade absolute reward for wider benefits (flexible working, friendly work environment and career progression, for example)? If the answer is no, you may need to rethink your talent strategy, or bring in and upskill less experienced individuals, or even opt for an internal career pathing option.

8. Align the wider talent ‘system’ to talent’s needs.

Once you’ve thought through your strategy for attracting key talent, you’ll need to align various elements of the value chain. Such as reviewing your recruitment partners, or talking differently about your organisation to key talent. Even checking your career architecture caters, for example, for specialists versus generalists. Will your culture be a turn on or a turn off for this talent? And how will you know what progress you’re making?

The most effective thing anyone involved in talent sourcing can do is think broadly and systemically. Blending internal and external strategies based upon a combination of relevant data insight and strategic workforce planning dialogue. Otherwise you’ll continue to wrestle in the mud looking for gold nuggets alongside countless others.

Published 5 March 2024

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