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A guide to hiring and retaining high-performing talent

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High-performing talent is up to eight times more productive, and it’s remarkable how much of an effect hiring the right people can have on an organisation. The late Steve Jobs is thought to have advised business owners that a small team of A+ players can run circles round a giant team of B and C players, and that’s likely why an organisation’s success can depend on its ability to get, and hang on to, the right people.

Given the covid-19 pandemic, the war for talent has only been further intensified – many economies are in financial crisis, unemployment levels are high, and the majority of job vacancies aren’t reaching the right applicants. But how can you be sure that you’re bringing the right people onboard, and how can you get them to stay with you?

Dissatisfied workers are more likely to job hop

It’s thought that, on average, today’s workers stay at the same job for just under 4.5 years, especially when they’re being headhunted or cherry picked by companies who have the hiring and retention process nailed down.

The fact is that many organisations often underestimate the cost of turnover – if the roles being replaced are interaction-intensive, then the effects of good people leaving will be widely-felt – ultimately leading to more money needing to be invested in searching for and onboarding replacements.

Talented employees are both scarce and of high value, and so the difficulty of replacing them won’t be unnoticed. But, there are huge opportunities for organisations who do this well – so let’s look at how it can be done.

Resilient organisations will always do better

Candidates who can adapt under pressure and who are more likely to ‘bend’ than ‘break’ in stressful or negative situations are the holy grail for employers. However, it’s just as important for an organisation to be resilient and open to change and progress – and these companies tend to be the ones which attract the best talent.

While it’s difficult to succinctly describe how an organisation can be resilient, there tends to be two different approaches that can be followed:

  • They achieve consistent growth and perform strongly, by reducing waste, streamlining operations and making the most of short-term efforts
  • They can adapt to changing situations by maintaining a long-term focus, approaching challenges creatively, experimenting and improvising, and by anticipating and preparing for shifts in the market


Hire for the talent potential, not the job title

While the focus on work/life balance was already starting to shift, the pandemic of late has accelerated this change in a way that nobody could have predicted. The old mantra of ‘I am what I do’ no longer fits, with many organisations trying to navigate their work from home policy, whilst still providing a learning environment. Employees throughout the ranks are noting and acting upon the need for a better balance between professional and personal, all while promoting a healthy company culture that’s balanced between office working and working from home.

With that in mind, the key to effective hiring is to hire people for the talent they bring to the table and the solutions they can offer, as opposed to simply hiring them based on their job title. Ultimately, it’s essential that new (and long-standing) talent in an organisation feels empowered to regard themselves holistically – meaning they’re able to and encouraged to separate their work and personal lives.

Those who are empowered are more likely to be a good match – resulting in longer employability, consistent job satisfaction, and healthier professional relationships – which is the real end goal.

The challenges to overcome are numerous

Pre-pandemic, there was already a war for the best talent. Today, recruiters are dealing with a talent-short sector, and a market which is rapidly growing – even more than it was 18 months ago, meaning recruitment and retention practices need to be looked at and adapted.

Traditional forms of recruitment are not working, advertisements aren’t getting the desired results, engaging with non-specialist contingent recruitment companies are not delivering results, and it’s now reaching the point where steps must be taken to really stand out.

When it comes to ensuring the candidates being interviewed are of the right calibre, it’s crucial that a detailed job description is provided, and that any assessment stages do not drag on unnecessarily at high level. Most applicants are extremely busy running organisations and do not want to entertain an unorganised or disjointed recruitment process.

This is essentially a business’ first impression to display to a candidate what their company is like, and you want this to work in your favour. Similarly, not providing good feedback for weeks and "ghosting" candidates who have interviewed and applied, sends a bad message to the market, as people talk in these small high-level circles – ultimately putting your reputation at risk.

Developing a recruitment strategy is key

There’s no getting away from the fact that covid-19 has had an impact on businesses everywhere, and has left many people overworked and understaffed at times. A recurring issue that crops up during the recruitment process is that hiring managers simply don’t have the time to search for high-performing talent, keep in constant communication with any candidates, run the interviews, all while carrying out their ‘normal’ job too.

In these situations, it’s vital to have a robust recruitment strategy, or to work with an internal talent team or trusted partner, that allows for daily work alongside hiring new talent. Assign roles within hiring managers – who will keep in contact with potential candidates? Who will communicate interview feedback to candidates who have come in for an interview? What will your process be if you decided to make an offer to a candidate? Bearing in mind it can take up to 6 months to secure a high-performing individual, especially when they’ve got a long notice period to work out.

Furthermore, it’s important that any new hires ‘feel the love’ so to speak – businesses should be going above and beyond to build on their employer brand and really emphasise what it would be like to work there; and this should start the minute a candidate makes an application to the business. It’s important that any new hire is kept in the loop, even if they’re not working for the business yet – don’t hibernate or keep quiet once a new hire has been secured.

Focus on the 5% who deliver 95% of the value

Companies go through cycles of initiatives to improve their talent processes, but reap only incremental improvements, and the vast majority of leaders report that their companies neither recruit enough highly talented people nor believe that their current strategies will work.

The truth is that some employees disproportionately create or protect value, and it’s not always obvious. In a world of constrained resources, business leaders are best focusing their efforts on the few critical areas that are likely to have the biggest impacts.

Start with roles, not processes (as these create generic solutions that don’t always meaningfully improve results) or specific people (who might help you in particular situations but don’t necessarily build business ‘muscle’).

Picking the right battles isn’t easy – as understanding the true economics of value creation in specific roles is key, in addition to understanding the true value in having a process that allows you to select the best individual available to you in the market at this moment in time. Understanding the value of working with a strategic partner to deliver your high-level talent can be the difference between underachieving or overachieving your business goals. That’s precisely why this can be one of the secret weapons in the war for talent, helping you to attract and retain the right people for your business.


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