Directors’ role in the war for talent


5 key considerations to discuss with management


Directors can play a key role in overseeing management’s approach in attracting and retaining talent, especially at a time that has been come to known as the war for talent. We highlight five focus areas for winning the war.


Everywhere you turn in the U.S. these days you see the familiar “Help Wanted” signs or a LinkedIn post searching for talent — several of the acute signs of the 22 million Americans who have quit their jobs in the last 12 months, according to a Grant Thornton analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In April 2020, there were 4.6 million open positions; this number jumped up to 9.2 million open positions in April 2021.


Grant Thornton also surveyed 1,584 full-time U.S. workers in July 2021, asking a broad range of questions covering hybrid work, healthcare, total rewards, culture and work-life balance. The overarching themes we found are that 33% are planning to switch jobs immediately and that 79% want flexibility in where and when they work. These numbers should awaken any directors who aren’t already sticking their nose into their businesses’ talent strategy. Here are five key points for directors to consider.




1. Does management have a talent strategy to adapt post-COVID?


The way companies manage people and career development has to change when people are working remotely. More trust and accountability are needed, because many managers still believe that employees aren’t as productive if they’re working remotely and can’t be seen.


The fault could be with the managers themselves, with the Grant Thornton survey showing that one-third of employees feel their manager is the most stressful aspect of their work. The reality is that not everybody is qualified to manage people, and a career path doesn’t always have to include people management.


This is where metrics and measurement are so important. Companies need to decide how they’re going to manage productivity and performance in the future in a virtual environment, and not just by having workers in office seats.




2. Employees want flexibility.


But flexibility does not mean working from home 100% of the time, and physically returning to work does not mean being in the office five days a week. Flexibility also includes the hours and days they work. Workers may need to work around eldercare or childcare issues. One spouse may want to work traditional hours while the other spouse wants to work a more tailored schedule.


The challenge that companies face is creating an engaging experience for all employees, whether they are working in an office or remotely. Most have become used to engaging with teammates or clients when everyone is virtual. However, when returning to a hybrid environment where only some of the workforce is back in the office, companies need to create an in-office experience that goes beyond sitting in front of a computer on virtual calls all day.


Bring employees into the office for a specific purpose — perhaps in-person working sessions, an important meeting or an activity that fosters team building. Organizations need to make sure they are providing meaningful opportunities and reasons to come into the office.




3. Benefits are critical.


Our survey found that about 30% of workers are not satisfied with their benefits, that they feel the amount they pay for healthcare is not transparent, and that they are not confident that they have chosen the best medical plan. The benefits landscape has changed over the past year and a half regarding what employees really value. Traditional benefits are not as valued as ancillary or voluntary-type benefits with no traditional dollar value associated.


By creating benchmarks with external industry segments and internal performance metrics, employers can gain additional insights to guide benefits program decisions. The key to solid, accurate benchmarking is to analyze internal metrics and surveys so that HR leaders can identify inefficiencies and determine where employee experience has deteriorated.


Too many organizations state that their goal is to be at the 50th percentile of benefits, meaning they want to be” average” in their market. But doing that does not differentiate your business from competitors. In a war for talent, you’re missing this opportunity to provide employees an incentive to stay.




4. Helping to manage employee stress is vital.


The Grant Thornton survey found five distinct attributes standing out as causing individuals the most stress — personal debt, medical issues, the ability to retire, work/life balance and mental health. To confront these issues requires a fresh approach to the HR function.


This requires thinking like a marketing professional. You need to understand employee pain points, then brainstorm potential solutions to address them. If you can fix that pain point, you’ve made a big difference in the eyes of employees — ideally, in a way that is difficult for competitors to replicate, at least in the short term.


If organizations can identify these pain points and brainstorm potential solutions, they can differentiate the employee experience or value proposition in an incredibly meaningful way. But you can’t do this with just 50th percentile benefits, 50th percentile total rewards and a lackluster employee experience. Organizations have to stand out for something. For example, GE built a reputation for being a “leadership” company; if you worked at GE, they turned you into a leader.




5. Measure corporate culture.


Measuring culture requires company leaders to ask themselves two key questions. Are we who we think we are? And if not, why not? It’s not unusual to uncover a gap between leadership’s perception of how it is to work in their business and what’s actually happening in the company.


Employees’ understanding of how they fit into the overall strategy and how they advance firm goals is an important driver of culture and employee satisfaction. Leadership might not be as in touch as they should be, or not listening as well as they could be. This is not surprising, given that such a large percentage of employees don’t feel that their voice is heard. Companies may not have an outlet for employees to voice their opinions, give suggestions or have any input into decisions across the organization.


The internal culture influences and is influenced by your external brand. When you say you have a customer-centric culture, and if that’s actually true, it should be projected. At Amazon, all of their employee-facing processes — including their training and their policies — are designed to incentivize and cultivate employees to provide an exceptional customer experience.



These points provide a place to start and key concepts for directors to begin the dialog or deepen the discussion with management about talent attraction and retention strategies in current times. For further information and insights, read “Assessing the state of American workers.”



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