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Recruiting for recovery

Thursday, June 3, 2010   

Quangos aside, recruitment is back on the agenda.  Skills shortages haven't gone away, so whilst some firms will be proactive and take first-mover advantage, others will become a feeding pool. 

This two-part article takes a look at the emerging market and examines which behaviours will serve organisations best - starting with damage limitation.


It's not what you did it's the way that you did it! 

Being a veteran of the previous recession, I am finding it interesting now to follow employer activity this time around and compare their actions with the likely impact on the ability to maintain and then grow their talent pool.

Precious few organisations in the UK managed to navigate through the recession without reducing their workforce, amongst other cut backs, aimed at keeping finances on an even keel.  As any reasonable person recognises, however unpalatable it might be, action sometimes needs to be taken to protect the majority of jobs (as the saying goes).

Some did that well, whilst others panicked.  When survival is the aim it's not surprising that the niceties of protecting the employer brand gets washed aside for a time; but there's little point in getting defensive or crying over the proverbial spilt milk.  

Perhaps the most important message to take from this article is the need to be pragmatic and recognise that your organisation's employer brand is highly likely to have suffered some collateral damage in the eyes of your talent pool and the wider labour market, so steps may need to be taken to repair this.


Headcount reduction

Many readers will be familiar with the 20-70-10 rule, but I'll repeat it to emphasise a point:-

The 20% represents your 'superstar' top performers who you will need to promote or will inevitably lose a percentage of at some point.  For this reason you need to be looking constantly at the 70% - that essential group who represent your 'performers', to identify and support the superstars of the future.  The remaining 10% are those who are not thriving in their role with performance regularly below the accepted standard;  people whom, for their own good as well as that of the organisation, either need to be moved elsewhere or moved out.

I'll revisit this point in the second part of this article to be published soon but, let's face it,  it is common for an employer to take impetus from a market down-turn in order  to cleanse its talent pool of those people who, in all reality, probably should have been moved on long before.


Key issues

1. Did the WORKFORCE perceive that headcount reduction was well communicated and fair?

Your own version of events is irrelevant.  It is highly likely that there are people in your company right now who lost friends / colleagues as a part of any redundancy programme.  If they felt your organisation handled it well, congratulations.  If they felt you didn't then  - whether justified or not - you may well have key people just biding their time ready to jump ship. 

Here comes the crux of the matter: if you haven't  yet independently investigated the perceptions of the workforce, then there's a real danger that you are kidding yourself about how well your organisation handled the recession and you'll be a number of key people down (always the first to go) before you realise something is wrong.

Note: I emphasise the importance of independent, face -to-face investigation over in-house surveys as people seldom tell their paymasters what they really feel - even on exit  - for fear of burning bridges.  And please, whatever you do, don't waste time with a form-based staff survey. All you will do is have a whinge-list, bring all the negatives to front-of-mind for your workforce, and without the opportunity to counterbalance these with believable positives.  Furthermore, if you are not in a position to respond immediately to the issues raised, all you will achieve is to exacerbate any problems.   If you are going to 'engage your workforce', then mean it!

"It is far more cost effective to invest in independent workforce surveys than to pay the price of losing and replacing key talent"


2. Beyond the current workforce, what about those who your organisations let go? 

One of the most extensive projects that we at Schofield Britten have undertaken in recent years was around the impact that people LEAVING the client company had on labour market perceptions; hence its ability to attract new talent moving forward.


3. How deeply did you cut and who is suffering as a result?

Many readers will understand the rationale behind employing people to meet prevailing production needs (for this read any form of organisational output), versus future production capability.  In a recession it's a key balancing act and, now as the recovery gets underway, it is absolutely pivotal and for two reasons

  • Your top 20% superstars may be carrying the workload of those who have been made redundant.  Now the labour market is becoming fluid again, how long will they put up with this?
  • If you are no longer able to meet customer expectations due to understaffing, what impact is this having on performance and morale?

Production versus Production Capability 

What else did your organisation cut that is impacting on workforce morale?

Aside from staff cuts, there are other areas of cost reduction that can have a dramatic impact on your employer brand.  One client we work with had a backlog of orders worth £millions due to savage inventory cuts at both warehouse and supplier level, meaning product can simply not be manufactured quickly enough.  The knock-on effect was in danger of not only damaging market reputation in the eyes of the customers, but had also started to damage the employer brand; thereby making it difficult to attract top talent into an environment of near constant customer pressure.

Again, the solution here has been good, independent communication, combined with management team willingness to heed the feedback and take immediate action with the proposed remedies.

Whilst accepting that this might sound like a plug for my company's services, I can not emphasise enough the importance of one-step-removed independence when evaluating employee, labour market, or customer perceptions; combined with an absolute commitment to act on the feedback.  Whether you ask Schofield Britten to help or not, having seen so many staff engagement initiatives back-fire, I strongly recommend to go independent for at least the investigative aspects.

In part two of this article we will cover the practicalities of recruiting and some of the conventional misconceptions of the labour market that can lead to an employer further compounding their problems by chasing false economies or acting too late.

Many thanks to everyone who has emailed over the past year or so and apologies for the lag in new articles.  Believe it or not, the main reason has been that we have been so busy helping some clients take advantage of the flat market conditions to acquire competitor talent - more on this next time!

As ever, if you recognise any issues that you feel may be relevant to organisations you know or are connected to, please use the 'send story to a friend' link at the top of the page or click the link in the right hand column



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