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Executive Spotlights

Talent Trends: How to Find and Attract Great Talent in a Post Lockdown Market

Identifying, hiring, acknowledging and inspiring great talent in tough times

What a complicated web of decisions the pandemic has visited upon us, not least of which are in the workplace.

Most company executives now admit that, even when the coronavirus is brought under control, they will be facing a different dynamic in terms of workplace attendance. They are going to have to allow – even benefit from – employees working remotely, at least part of the time.

Gartner, the world’s leading research and advisory firm, surveyed 127 HR, legal and compliance professionals, and found that 82% of company leaders are going to permit remote work part-time, and 47% will allow employees to work remotely full-time. Flex days and flex hours will also be part of the new norm. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Company leader intentions regarding flexible working after COVID-19

So what does this change for the companies employing these workers, and for the workers themselves? HR Executive reports that 61% of employees say they’re uncomfortable returning to work, based on a survey by Qualtrics of 2,000 American, British and Australian workers. So safety measures are a must: limiting face-to-face meetings, providing masks and hand sanitizers, limiting attendance at the office. Interestingly, employers do not express a lot of concern over productivity. But they do want to keep a company culture going. “It is critical that employers get their corporate culture and employee experience right during this period of uncertainty,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice. “Both facets help ensure organizations achieve the financial, reputation and talent outcomes that will drive business outcomes and competitive advantage.” Another part of attracting and keeping a high-quality workforce is incentive, which is not based merely on compensation and perks. HR Executive found that recognition is very meaningful to most employees. This might be in the form of special acknowledgment, rewards for special efforts, conferring “superstar” status or other ways of signaling their value to corporate goals. (Figure 2)

Figure 2


In a recent Harvard Business Review report, it was noted that companies are concerned about how to bring in the best talent in this new atmosphere. Global search firms are benefiting from this focus, and have brought in significantly more business in the last year. One major change is that globalization is shifting, partly due to workers’ desire to tend to family priorities and worries about international travel.

How have industries handled huge changes in the past? In the late 1940s, Hewlett-Packard was undergoing financial difficulties. But instead of tightening their belt, as some companies did, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started bringing in top-level engineers recently out of the military. Their philosophy: “How could we afford not to?” Harvard Business School’s Ranjay Gulati, Nitin Nohria, and Franz Wohlgezogen analyzed 4,700 companies across the last three recessions. About 9% emerged better off because of their “progressive” focus. “Rather than thinking in ‘either/or’ terms — you’re either hiring or you’re downsizing — they, like HP following the war, embraced the ‘and,’ understanding they could do both things if they were smart about it.” Most companies, however, take the opposite approach. During the 2008 global financial crisis, a survey of 3,400 executives in more than 30 countries showed a tendency to cut back on recruiting. Nevertheless, it also showed “selective hiring of high-performing employees from competitors as one of the three most effective responses to the previous crisis and the one with the best impact on employee commitment.” HBR recommends asking company leaders and HR people to identify great talent they’ve interviewed in the past few years, and contacting them again. In this time of change, they may be available and interested. People with the right skill sets who didn’t want to relocate may now be open to a remote-work position. They also point to the value of “soft skills, including inspirational leadership, change management, collaboration, and influencing, as well as the potential to keep growing, learning, and adapting to new circumstances.” Echoing the findings of HR Executive, HBR lists the menu of incentives that may give you leverage. “Pay can be important but research shows that what truly motivates knowledge workers is a high level of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Finally, they encourage a closer look at internal talent.


Deloitte recently examined the qualities of leaders that tend to make your company a place talent is attracted to, in both good times and bad. Here are some of their tips:

  1. Lead with purpose to create hope and resilience. It unifies people towards a common motivation, and is tied to strong values which builds trust that is needed to navigate continuous change. It also maintains direction and positivity to create a human ideal for a better place.

  2. Consider how you and your team can make a difference. Can you lend capacity and leadership to another part of the business or community that is in high demand? Can your workforce’s skills be adapted to support in other ways that may not be so obvious? Think differently about the workforce capabilities you have.

  3. Put on your internal radar. The reality of virtual work is upon us—anticipating and adapting to new business demands remains a priority. Sensing, adaptability, and foresight are needed to adjust; the crisis will evolve day to day and over time. Day 1 will be hands on, emergency rapid response. You need to anticipate and plan for the future and post recovery scenarios. Build a specific plan on how you will ramp up your workforce again.

  4. Remember your people seek connection, humanity, and compassion. Take the time to ask people how they are doing. People have different reactions to grief, stress, and loss; some want to connect, others want compassion. Allow people to process how they are feeling; book a video call to connect and see people.

  5. Create the circle of safety. Our current environment has broken our sense of safety. How are you adapting your business, making tough decisions to not only expand the circle of safety but also build a dynamic where your people feel protected? 6 Don’t forget about you. As the leader, you are expected to look after everyone else but how are you looking after your needs? Seek out support through your connections, mentors, coaches, and advisors so that you have the support you need to remain refreshed, focused, and leading the charge.


In addition, you need to prepare the workforce for the changing times. In Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends study of nearly 9,000 business leaders, 53% said that between half and all of their workforce will need to change their skills and capabilities in the next three years. Asking nearly 1,600 global webcast attendees how their role is changing due to the health crisis, they found that 26% expect to have additional duties and another 12% expect to do more than one role as a result of Covid-19. Deloitte has identified five shifts that will help prepare all of us for the future. 1 A shift from focusing on building skills to a commitment to cultivating capabilities first and skills second. The capabilities they refer to are curiosity, collaboration, creativity, and empathy, which provide workers and organizations with greater flexibility to meet both today’s and tomorrow’s needs, and can help people reskill and reinvent faster and with more sustainability. 2 A shift from developing specific workforce skills to meet short-term needs to tapping into workers’ passions to help solve unseen and future problems. This supports workers’ desire to make an impact, encouraging them to take on challenges to improve their own performance, or promoting a collaborative environment in which workers team up and build relationships with others to gain new insights. 3 A shift from a focus on formal training to an emphasis on learning in the flow of work, meeting workers in their place and time of need. Learning through experience yields better learning gains and retention than traditional classroom instruction. The integration of learning into the flow of work makes it more personal, allowing workers to better receive, digest and leverage the content. 4 Changing how the organization rewards individuals. Once again, this repeats the lessons above about incentives, particularly rewarding workers based on capability development, rather than solely on work output. One Deloitte study found that only 45% of organizations reward workers for developing new skills and capabilities, and even fewer, 39%, reward leaders for developing the skills and capabilities of their teams. 5 The rise of ecosystems. “As the world becomes more connected than ever before, traditional boundaries are blurring and giving rise to different models of work. At the organizational level, we have seen the rise of the social enterprise – an organization whose mission combines revenue growth and profit-making with the need to respect and support its environment and stakeholder network. A key competency of the social enterprise is its ability to listen to and invest in its broader stakeholder network. That means employing a workforce development approach that extends beyond the organization itself. Doing so could mean helping prepare your existing workers for high demand occupations in their local areas or in making investments in capability building outside of the walls of your organization to better support the community at large.”


Finally, here are two valuable documents from AstraZeneca that present numerous findings and techniques for the emerging workplace atmosphere. The first is How to Fuel a Positive Culture for Remote Workers, which covers the concerns about telecommuting, maintaining company culture, keeping in touch, and using digital tools more effectively. The second is Effectively Leading Through COVID-19: Leader Toolkit, which examines a leadership mindset and behaviors to navigate uncertainty, and help achieve the desired corporate outcomes. We hope all of this gives you the wisdom, the strategies, and the confidence to grow and improve your workforce in the most challenging era of our lives.


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