Over the last 12 months, the competition for talent has intensified dramatically — most notably with knowledge-related jobs that can be conducted from anywhere. The playing field has become global, meaning you're no longer competing locally or nationally to hire the best people; you're up against everyone, everywhere.
In theory, the shift means that more talent is within reach. And that's true. But candidates are on the front foot now. They are more selective and demanding of employers, with a mindset that asks: "What are you going to do for my career?"
The default response for companies is to raise salaries. In a January 2022 report, the UK's Office for National Statistics reported an average total pay growth for the private sector of 4.5%, with the finance and business services sector seeing the largest growth rate at 6.8%. Some recruiters have even seen some professionals securing wage increases of 15 to 20% when moving jobs.
But salary inflation isn't sustainable for most enterprises and many roles remain unfilled anyway. The number of job vacancies in the UK, for example, reached a record high of almost 1.25 million in the three months to December 2021 — more than double the year before. This can be devastating for businesses.
Losing great people and failing to backfill roles quickly can send businesses into a downward spiral. Customer service delivery is impacted, and morale can plummet as people feel overwhelmed by rising work volumes. Then they quit. And it goes on.
What's more, a company may struggle to deliver on its strategy. Traditionally, many businesses are organized on the assumption that people may often stay 5-10 years or more. But launching new products and achieving longer-term objectives can be tricky if key people only stay for a year or two.
Companies need to find new ways to create lasting relationships with their people. And those that do this will be the winners of tomorrow. In fact, even small companies that don't have deep pockets can outmaneuver large competitors and attract the best people.
Employers must create an environment where people feel they can thrive, which requires active culture building. This goes beyond mission statements on websites. Here are three steps that companies can take:
1) Listen to people and act in their interests
Individuals want to feel seen and heard. And today, smart tech can help you to engage regularly and consistently with workforces. This is especially important as more business move to remote working, gaining valuable insights. You can then better understand their frustrations, priorities and aspirations — and support them — whether they're aiming for more flexibility, look to develop as thought leaders, or are looking for a better sense of purpose in their role.
It's good to add a layer of extra purpose to people's roles as it enriches the work experience and allows you as a business to differentiate yourself from the rest. For example, at Unit4 we partnered with iamtheCODE and some of our tech team are mentoring girls in refugee camps who want to learn how to code. We pursue ideas like this. Ultimately, this is about people seeing their career journey happening within the company rather than outside of it — and as something more meaningful than money alone.
2) Show you trust people
Don't underestimate the power of quick wins when it comes to creating cultural change. It's possible to make powerful, symbolic changes that don't harm the bottom line, such as allowing people to work remotely to build trust. These changes resonate with people, and they'll begin to behave slightly differently, which starts to change the culture.
At Unit4 we've focused on trust in several areas. We've introduced an unlimited leave policy where we trust people to be professional. If people need time off, they take it — and we don't track it. We've also swept away the bureaucracy around business travel – you just book your trip and managers get notified without any sign-offs being required.
3) Celebrate people's success
Having defined and shared your company values, it's essential to recognize people who "live them out" in their projects, approach, and teamwork. Rewards add some extra excitement to life, whether it's a celebration dinner, winning a gift, or time off with family.
It's also important for companies to share their people's projects and successes more widely — to showcase a shift in culture. But recognition from the outside world is more important, whether it's positive media coverage or reviews on websites such as Glassdoor, which your next job candidates could be using for their research.
What does 'winning' at talent look like?
If you keep listening to employees, acting on insights, and introducing fresh ideas, then your workplace will become extraordinary as your company culture and "people experience" evolves in remarkable ways.
You'll attract people that are a better fit for your culture as well as for your business. You can expect longer tenure and start to build up a workforce where people enjoy being with each other, trust each other, and have a greater hunger to succeed. After all, everyone wants to be part of a winning team.
While other organizations struggle with workforce stability, you'll enjoy greater business agility, gain momentum, and be better able to deliver on your strategic goals. Instead of endless boardroom discussions about salary inflation, your leadership team can focus on fresh, culture-building ideas that will attract and retain even more top talent.