Attracting and Retaining Talent: how much is too much?

Posted on 5th February, 20244 min read

Our recent experience of the changes in the world of work have been accelerated during and since the pandemic. COVID is blamed for many things. However, what appear to be seismic and enduring changes in the world of work were coming anyway and COVID simply gave them a push. Attracting and retaining talent has never been more important and isn’t confined just to tactical activities but will need a far more strategic and bespoke approach if organisations are to be successful.


Retention v work ethic v ambition v business as a force for good

These are not zero-sum games and mutually exclusive. In a current relatively low unemployment Australian environment (3.6% @ Sept 2023, ABS), organisations in the main are seeing increased attrition and fear losing strong talent more than ever before despite taking actions to retain. The gene pool of available talent is smaller than ever, not to mention the adverse impact from less immigration. However, there is a pincer move going on. Less talent available, yet those we have are now more likely to display the modern attributes of “quiet quitting”, “putting work into perspective,” and “work to live not live to work.” Meanwhile, many employers are seeing an increase in demands of their employment value proposition from 4-day weeks to flexible working to home working to remuneration benefits to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) credentials. Sure, there are plenty of examples of successful employee value proposition (EVP) measures that help retain staff.


However, when is too much too much? This balance is a tricky one given the individual nature of the employee – employer relationship. Broad sweeping tactics might sound equitable but will be right for some, and a waste of resources for other employees. The trick here is to better understand all colleagues individually whilst have generic EVP policies, and then plan a tailor-made approach by individual. Essentially, we have to strategically approach colleagues in this regard as we would their personal development and training plans. The nature of this bespoke approach requires more effort than in the past.


In addition to the more individualized EVP plan, organisations must face the brutal fact that for some colleagues, there will never be enough -that their work ethic and ambition will never be ignited regardless of the best of EVP benefits. So similarly, the EVP can be tailor made to reflect this, not to unfairly reduce equity v the generic policies, but to reflect ultimately the return on investment that the employer will get. I am reminded of listening to the formidable former PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, speaking at the World Business Forum in Sydney recently. Her mantra of “business with a purpose” still resonates now and was a very successful management doctrine within PepsiCo. We have to show the organisations’ purpose and galvanise around it, but also understand the purpose of individuals, their key motivators and ambitions, and then clearly invest accordingly, or not accordingly. When someone says to me “everyone can sing, we all have an inner voice,” and they really do believe, we can all sing, I reckon we all know this is not right. The proof is out there in plenty of “singing in the shower” renditions on a daily basis! Plus, some people just don’t want to sing, they may have wanted to before or never, but now certainly don’t! So, whilst business/performance with a purpose could be around ESG topics for organizations to galvanise around, it can equally be about results, dare I say it, profit/earnings. And the individual is a microcosm of that, some will have ESG concerns, some will be more about the return on their investment (ROI) in your organization. This might sound like a worryingly slippery slope to all “asking not what I can do for my company but what it can do for me” approach, to badly coin the JFK phrase. But rather, we need to tap into what is the ROI per person, from their perspective and tailor our retention plans accordingly. This makes for a mutual approach to ROI.


Managers and leaders are going to need to be even more skilled in getting under the skin of their staff and their potential staff. And importantly, will have to be even better at making individualized decisions that are defensible not only to senior management but to other staff who may consider bespoke EVP approaches inequitable. This approach is merely an extension to pay reviews/annual performance reviews which if done well, won’t have a one size fits all approach, unless of course, the manager lacks backbone. Some might argue that over above national employment standards (NES), all incremental EVP style measures should be individualized – -in other words, throw out any generic approaches, but this would have to be managed carefully to ensure equity and avoid claims of disadvantage/preferential treatment.  Furthermore, managers and leaders will need to do all of this, whilst accepting that currently, they won’t be with their staff in person as much as perhaps they were pre COVID! Home and remote working will challenge even the most perceptive of leaders.