Many companies today are struggling to hire and retain talent, but more often than not the problem is self-inflicted: They’re simply not using a broad enough array of tools, sometimes because they don’t even know the tools exist. In this article, the authors list 40 tools — some familiar but underutilized, others unfamiliar and innovative — that can help companies find and keep the people they need to succeed in both the short-term and the long-term.
Despite challenging economic conditions, companies are still finding it difficult to attract and retain the right talent. That’s one of the takeaways from the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, which showed that job vacancies still remain above 10 million as of November 2022. We’ve confirmed that trend in our own work: Last August, when we surveyed 800 senior business leaders, more than 95% of them told us that hiring and retaining talent was one of their top three priorities as they strive to deliver on their strategies. However, those needs are not constrained to the short-term: More than two-thirds of the leaders we surveyed reported that filling positions for lower and higher wage workers is critical for their organization’s ability to compete, both in the next 12 to 18 months and in the next three to five years.
But business leaders are doing very little that’s innovative to tackle the talent challenge. When it comes to higher-wage workers, they’re relying primarily on two basic strategies: increasing compensation (a fairly obvious approach) and implementing remote/hybrid work models (an unsurprising approach, given the effects of Covid-19). They’re doing even less for lower-wage workers: In our survey, fewer than half of respondents reported using even basic levers, such as health care benefits and compensation increases, to attract and retain lower-wage workers.
Much of this is due to a lack of awareness of innovative talent practices. Many of the leaders we surveyed simply did not know what other options were available to them. This, they recognized, was a problem: Less than 20% of them reported their organizations had very mature talent strategies.
So how can you enable more talent innovation and measure its impact? Based on our survey findings, organizations need to use a more expansive portfolio of practices to strengthen their ability to recruit and retain talent. To help, we’ve identified nearly 40 strategies, which we’ve organized into seven categories that either strengthen the hiring process or help enhance a company’s offer. Some of these practices are familiar but underutilized, and others are newer and more innovative.
Strengthening the Hiring Process
Hiring campaign and selection
Many companies rely on traditional recruiting strategies to identify candidates who fulfill a long list of requirements. Finding candidates who tick off every box on the list is not easy — and those few who do are often actually not the right people for the job. By embracing more expansive hiring and selection processes, companies can do a better job of finding the talent that’s right for them. Here are some innovative practices to consider:
- Figure out what work really needs to get done, and rewrite job descriptions to focus on the skills and specs that matter the most for that work, instead of relying on generic education or experience requirements.
- Seek candidates who match 70% to 80% of the most critical skills for the role — and develop learning curricula to equip them with the remainder.
- Offer “micro-internships” (short-term paid projects) or apprenticeships that reach new candidate pools and allow employers and candidates to assess fit before committing to a full-time hire.
- Host open hackathons to assess talent and facilitate the hiring of candidates in batches.
- Consider candidates simultaneously for multiple open roles if they have a high degree of overlapping skills.
- Leverage tech-based and AI-based talent assessments to screen for technical or interpersonal skills.
- Employ inclusive, gender-neutral language in job descriptions to attract more diverse candidates.
When competition for top talent is fierce, as it is today, you need to broaden your methods of sourcing candidates. Here are some practices to consider:
- Expand internal talent mobility (e.g., lateral job transfers, internal gig work) by drawing on a foundation of skills and aspirations as a basis for mobility and supporting retention.
- Embrace on-demand and gig platforms to increase labor-force flexibility (even for higher-wage workers), accelerate time-to-market, and enable innovation.
- Work to attract alumni with valuable institutional knowledge back to your organization.
- Build an internal list of previously high-performing employees who might be candidates to re-engage for future roles.
- Tap into “hidden” populations, including retired, neurodiverse, and previously incarcerated workers.
- Acquire companies with top talent — or enter into agreements to borrow and share talent with other companies.
Companies that integrate new and innovative channels into their talent strategy can better recruit critical, in-demand talent for years to come. Consider expanding your repertoire to include the following techniques:
- Deploy talent from Hire-Train-Deploy (HTD) partners who source high-potential candidates and equip them with the relevant skills for your needs.
- Use digital platforms to do more programmatic and personalized recruiting (including leveraging QR codes, text messaging).
- Partner with educational and community institutions, including job centers and community colleges, to offer tailored curriculum and term-time work experiences to build a talent pipeline with relevant skills.
- Embrace new ways of identifying talent on social-media platforms (such as layoff lists and LinkedIn posts).
- Develop and market a more effective referral program, particularly for in-demand roles.
Enhancing the Offer
Compensation and Benefits
Are you one of the many employers raising salaries to compete for talent? Half of the 800+ respondents in our survey reported increasing compensation for their employees, and nearly 75% of employers cite the talent shortage as the main driver for salary budget increases. But there are other ways to strengthen your compensation and benefits package beyond increasing compensation. Try some of these practices to get started:
- Provide creative benefits, such as caregiver support programs, childcare services, and wellness perks.
- Segment and develop tailored benefits for hard-to-fill talent populations.
- Provide incentives, such as higher bonuses during peak hours and step-ups on promotion, especially for lower-wage workers.
- Guarantee health care benefits and appropriate sick time for your full workforce.
- Reduce volatility by ensuring stable and predictable pay, particularly for lower-wage workers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how we think about work. Job flexibility has skyrocketed in importance since the pandemic, with some employees valuing flexibility even more than a 10% pay raise. Rethinking work design can not only better attract and retain workers but also can increase productivity and focus worker capacity on the highest-value tasks. Get started redesigning work with the following strategies:
- Break work into its components to assign responsibilities more clearly across a team or to freelance workers, and improve your approach to sourcing.
- Deploy talent more dynamically, by creating skills-based pools of talent that can be assigned to the most critical priorities on-demand.
- Use creative scheduling and shift redesign to allow lower-wage workers to move or switch shifts more flexibly while still providing adequate coverage.
- Experiment with different flex models, including compressed work weeks, sharing jobs among multiple part-time employees, and/or scheduling split shifts to cover “rush hours.”
- Redesign work by eliminating, re-assigning, or automating less-critical responsibilities.
- Embed technology that improves ease of work, including language assistance and tools to accommodate older workers.
Providing opportunities for your employees to take on stretch assignments can help you not only develop but also retain your employees. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60% of US employees cited a lack of career-advancement opportunities as a leading reason for leaving their jobs. To expand your organization’s portfolio of career-advancement opportunities, consider adding some of these innovative practices:
- Provide education benefits linked to individualized skill-development plans (for example, tuition reimbursement).
- Build targeted learning and development programs to support onboarding, upskilling, and reskilling across both hard and soft skills.
- Design mentorship and sponsorship programs, and peer-to-peer coaching systems.
- Upskill managers to be better people leaders and increase manager accountability for team development.
Companies need a compelling culture to maximize the engagement, productivity, and retention of their existing workforces. In recent years, company culture has become the most important driver of job satisfaction, with culture being 10x more predictive of employee retention than compensation. Here are some innovative practices to help build a meaningful culture:
- Embed company purpose, strategy, and values in your operating and performance practices and feedback process, and train your leaders to become culture champions.
- Set up robust onboarding programs that build affiliation and mentorship into the process.
- Create opportunities and free up as much as 10% to 20% of capacity for passion projects.
- Boost affiliation by developing interest groups and communities of practice.
- Take pulse checks on employee sentiment to highlight opportunities for improvement in near real-time.
- Develop clear two-way communication channels for employee input and engagement.
. . .
The best talent strategy for your organization involves finding the right portfolio of practices that meet your needs and investing appropriately in their implementation, even during uncertain economic conditions. Many companies across industries have recognized how critical talent is to business success and have kickstarted their innovation journeys based on their target employee needs. For example, IBM removed degree requirements from 50% of their U.S. job postings to widen their talent pools, Walmart provides frontline associates with fully funded college tuition and accelerated career paths after graduation, and some law firms have introduced concierge services to support aging family members.
While you don’t have to do everything on our list to have a successful talent strategy, you should identify where you can do more off to better compete for talent. Take stock of what your organization is already doing, then thoughtfully assess where there are gaps in your talent strategy and how our suggestions can be helpful. Keep in mind that you may need to tailor your talent strategies to different employee segments within your company. By experimenting with new innovations and putting the right feedback systems in place, you can develop a sustainable strategy that can help you create lasting talent advantage.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Colleen McDonald, Partner, and Christina Li, Consultant, both with Boston Consulting Group, for their contributions to this piece.
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