By Robert Sher, CEO to CEO
Your company may be suffering from a genuine talent shortage. It may be suffering from a flawed hiring process. It may be one or the other or even both, but the end result will be the same: Companies that can’t find creative ways to find the employees they need can’t grow. Business leaders who can win the talent war (and it is a war) will be able to say yes to new business opportunities while their talent-strapped competition will have to walk away.
One of the most competitive U.S. talent markets is the San Francisco metropolitan region, where unemployment has fallen to a 15-year low of 3.5%, down from 4.8% a year ago, according to preliminary March unemployment data. This is the lowest level since 2000, when unemployment stood at 3.3%. But many other U.S. regions run close behind, with 128 of 387 US metropolitan areas having unemployment rates of 5% or lower as of March 2015, making hiring strategy a critical issue for businesses.
One $400 million San Francisco Bay Area real estate related services company that has had record growth knows it needs seasoned client engagement managers with five to 10 years’ experience to keep growing. Yet the company has lost 20 managers in the past year to mega-customers and local technology giants that can offer higher salaries. And the service company’s HR department can’t find enough qualified candidates to replace the people who’ve left. Right now, the firm is preparing to turn down jobs to ensure it can continue to deliver high-quality work and avoid burning out its remaining workforce.
What’s the answer for a midsized company like this? Throwing money at the problem trashes the bottom line, and big companies have deeper pockets. Big companies can devote resources to brand and community building, shift talent between global locations, and even acquire companies to acquire their talent (as is often the case with Silicon Valley software startup acquisitions). Compared to a startup, a midsized company can’t offer the same lifestyle, perks, or equity opportunities.
You can and should focus on using well-known best practices in recruiting and retention. But as everyone gets smarter about talent, these tactics have a diminishing return. Social media tools such as LinkedIn provide great help with recruiting, but also make your in-demand employees highly visible to competitors. Midsized companies also frequently lose top employees to their own customers, who learn first-hand how valuable those people are.
The talent war is brutal.
Finding New Faces In New Places
These hiring challenges will not ease anytime soon. It’s time to stop complaining about how you can’t find the right people and start expanding the profile of your workforce. Rethink traditional ideas about your employees’ ages, histories and locations. You also should tweak work roles and processes as needed, create a differentiated workplace, and update the mix of non-monetary benefits you provide.
For example, you could start building relationships with potential employees right now – even with youngsters. Consider the experience of Dublin High School, located in a bedroom community outside San Francisco. It started an Engineering Academy and is actively seeking mentors from local businesses. There is plenty of room for companies to connect with tomorrow’s recruits, says Coordinator Eugene Chou.
“Every student in our program knows who the big companies are — Google, Facebook, Twitter, Chevron, IBM, HP — but most students only know them because they are widely advertised with little idea of how their career interests would really align to that company,” Chou says. “Students need to be exposed to more possibilities and understand that other companies can potentially provide them greater experiences for growth.”
Of course, your company also needs to look at age groups that are in or ready to join the workforce. Companies that struggle to find new grads may be able to find success building relationships with slightly older job seekers, offering stability for those who know that the prestige of working for big companies has its downsides, or flexibility for those who seek to avoid a “face time” culture.
Some companies target populations not destined for four-year colleges, such as trade school students. Others recruit post-high school graduates not in college, veterans, and people with learning disabilities. Microsoft launched a 2015 pilot program to hire people with autism who may want to do software development work.
On another front, maybe the way your company structures jobs is making it needlessly difficult to fill those roles. Could you dis-aggregate complex jobs, breaking them apart into several roles that allow for faster learning curves? For example, one manager, unable to recruit an employee with 10 years’ experience, instead hired a recent high school graduate and trained him to do simple tasks for three veteran employees, freeing them up to tackle the work of the unfilled position.
Finally, if you can’t offer the cool factor or equity rewards of a startup, consider the life experiences you can deliver – such as relocation, travel and accelerated career paths.
There are different ways to skin the talent acquisition cat.
Genesys, an $850 million developer of omnichannel customer experience (CX) and contact center solutions, headquartered in Daly City, Calif., and subject to the fierce San Francisco talent wars, was seeing it’s time to hire stretch beyond desired limits. The company’s traditional hiring approach was to recruit senior candidates for most roles and search within the competitive talent pool. Well, that wasn’t working well enough. It proved costly, and the lengthening time-to-hire hampered the company’s ability to move into new sectors.
So Merijn te Booij, Executive Vice President of Product and Solution Strategy at Genesys, worked with his HR partner to take a different approach. “Given the shortage of talent, our expectation that the shortage will persist, and considering our growth trajectory, we’ve invested in a long-term, sustainable solution,” said te Booij. “Now, we are networking to create pools of potential employees who have a connection and relationship with us.“
In the new strategy, Merijn and his team use a proactive approach and generated and maintains a large talent pool with which they stay connected. That allows the recruiting team to quickly fill open positions. Recently, Merijn had an opening for a senior role that required a rare skill and, after looking at candidates he already had a relationship with, he was able to recruit an ideal candidate within one month.
Genesys also created an associate program hiring recent college graduates. The company recruits from many colleges in the U.S. and abroad, selecting for motivation, drive and creativity. It’s a broader definition of talent than GPA alone. While the company prefers students with an engineering or technical focus, it also considers other educational backgrounds that help create a diverse and multi-talented workforce. In addition to recent graduates, Genesys also hires more experienced candidates looking to reboot their career and start fresh in new roles.
Since 2014, nearly 70 associates have emerged across the globe from this relatively untapped talent pool. Each associate works at headquarters for a rigorous three-week training program, followed by an extended period with a mentor. To date, four classes of associates have graduated, including most recently a global group drawn from Africa, Korea, Malaysia, South America and the U.S. In conjunction with this program the company has also welcomed 138 interns globally across various departments that include marketing, R&D, finance, and sales operations.
Knowing that hiring challenges will persist, Genesys also kicked off a high school program in early 2015 to introduce students to the company as a way to provide continued support to young students. During a two-hour event designed as an entertaining experience, students engaged with their customer experience software and provided valuable feedback. Ideally the company’s approach is to connect with participating high school students throughout college, maintaining close relationships, bringing them on as interns and potentially hiring them when they graduate.
In 2014, during a competitive employment market, Genesys was able to substantially fill more positions while significantly cutting the time to hire. Company-wide, the average time to hire has fallen to 50 days in 2014, from 100 days in 2013. On top of a sustainable proactive recruiting process, the company is more successful in hiring simply because they are a great place to work. Genesys won a “Top 50 Best Places to Work in 2015” award by Glassdoor.
If these approaches sound like more work, you’re right. They also involve new costs. But compared to unbridled wage inflation, programs like these are less expensive, sustainable and scalable.
If your company needs to reshape job roles, that will also take elbow grease and smart planning. Find a progressive team in the organization and let them test some new roles and showcase their success. Remember: If a slot for an experienced manager sits empty too long, you risk burning out and losing the remaining managers on that team. That’s double trouble.
Your HR team can’t lead this level of hiring change alone. HR must partner with business unit leaders. You may also need to bring in a more strategic HR leader.
Smart companies know there is no quick win in the talent war. But when a company’s growth slows, it’s like handing cash to the competition. Start building creative mechanisms today to acquire the talent you will need to grow tomorrow.
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