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08 May 2009 8:24am

Employers should stop thinking about recruitment and retention with a “war” mentality, and approach talent mobility with a new mindset, according to Melbourne Business School’s Dr Ian Williamson.

“The war for talent is over,” he told the Australasian Talent Conference in Sydney yesterday, “but it’s not because of the economic recession; it’s because talent won”.

“From the [employer] perspective, there’s no coming back from this defeat.”

Even while voluntary turnover has decreased as a result of the global economic downturn, the mobility of top talent has continued. “That hasn’t stopped at all, and if you talk to business leaders what they’ll tell you is the time to really get somebody of top talent is when you’re having a difficult business period.

“I don’t think that a recession has any impact on those individuals who are truly skilled in their position. Those individuals are always going to be in demand. So while we may have had some cooling off with voluntary turnover rate, for those truly valuable individuals this hasn’t been a big impact.”

Employers must work out how to deal with employee mobility, he says, because it will only increase.

“War” mentality unhelpful
The “war for talent” mentality of the last 10 years has not enhanced employers’ understanding of how to deal with mobility, says Williamson, an associate professor of management at the Melbourne Business School. The common thinking has been that when an employer lures talent from a competitor, it has “won” (and the competitor has “lost”), but he questions whether the issue is really that cut and dry.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs, he points out, pioneered a different way of thinking when it recognised that the hedge funds started up by former top talent became some of its most lucrative clients – “they lost talent, but it wasn’t as if they didn’t get something out of this”.

Employee mobility is not “win or lose”, he says. Employers must see every employee as a potential source of “social capital” and potential goodwill ambassador for the organisation – someone who will say good things about the business and help generate revenue.

So employers should think: “While I may no longer have access to your human capital – your knowledge skills and abilities – and while I may no longer have you as an employee, that does not mean that the organisation cannot still derive value from the relationships that we have developed over time.”

Develop alumni, manage exits
There are two broad ways to manage talent mobility, Williamson says. The first is to develop formal ties with ex-employees through alumni programs.

In most organisations now, “at best we might give them a pat on the back and say ‘good luck’; at worst we might think of them as traitors.

“But very rarely in organisations do we think and strategically plan to have an ongoing relationship with them.”

He points out: “We spend millions and millions of dollars on recruitment, trying to get people who have no relationship with us to talk to us – people who have no reason to pick up the phone – we call them all the time and plead ‘please, please, please pick up the phone to have a conversation with us’.

“How much time and energy do we spend trying to call people who used to work for us, who like us, who know us and who would gladly give us 30 minutes to talk about what’s going on in our organisation? Seems as if there might be a potential for a higher level return in terms of our time and our energy.”

The second way is to strategically manage employee exits. This is particularly important right now when many organisations are having a lot of involuntary turnover, Williamson says.

“What are we doing with those relationships? How are we managing that? We’re generating a whole population of former employees that are going to go off; some are going to work for our competitors, that might be a bad thing for us; some of them are going to work for co-operator firms – suppliers, potential clients, existing clients. How are we managing that process? What are we doing as they go through that exit process to ensure that we still maintain some type of positive relationship with them? Are we considering the potential social capital benefits as they exit?

“They’re going to have an immediate impact on shaping the brand and the image of that organisation, and no matter how much you might spend on a marketing plan or a branding strategy, it won’t overcome word of mouth.

“This has the potential to be a great thing. If we’ve done it right, they can be great ambassadors. They can recommend company products, they can refer new talent, they can be sources of new knowledge. But it can be very difficult to overcome if we do it wrong.

“It really is important to clearly communicate why we’re doing this. It’s important because it creates a sense of fairness. While things may have been unfortunate, you don’t want your employees saying it was an unfair situation, because that’s not going to generate goodwill.”

Outplacement services might seem expensive, he says, but employers will often recoup the cost if just one employee generates a new client.

Alumni recruitment often “hit or miss”
Alumni recruitment is often “hit or miss”, Williamson says, because few organisations have a formal strategy in place.

“It tends to be that a manager has an opening – they’re desperate to get somebody in, they want somebody good – and because they have a relationship with a former employee they call that person up [and] go outside of the HR process.

“What I would recommend is if you have the database of individuals who used to work for you, there’s nothing to stop you from sending out announcements of positions. You have their [CVs]; you know what they were doing in your organisation; you can screen before you even send out the messages, and so you can say ‘we think you would be an excellent candidate for this. I know you left – we have your information from your exit interviews as to why you left – we think we can address those concerns, would you mind having a conversation?’

“That’s an email you can’t send to a cold candidate.”

http://www.hrdaily.com.au/nl06_news_selected.php?act=2&nav=1&selkey=1148

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