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Fix Your Talent Cycle or Lose Your Talent.

Businessman outside a building walking down the stairs.

Remote, On-site, Hybrid, Oh My! The future work experience is under fire, and leaders are stuck in the middle trying to figure out how to retain their staff. And whether or not you buy into the concept of the Great Resignation, there’s no arguing that turnover is real and fixing what’s broken is urgent. In fact, the recent Microsoft Work Trend Index estimates that 41% of employees are considering leaving their jobs this year.

41% of employees are considering leaving their jobs this year.

— Microsoft Work Trend Index

Not only does turnover impact productivity and morale, it creates more work for leaders in today’s highly competitive job market, where job seekers are in the driver’s seat. Worse still, in the midst of all the uncertainty about the next phase of work, every step in the talent cycle is disrupted. From hiring to onboarding to collaboration to staff engagement, it’s more challenging than ever to uncover employee needs and skills, and to craft plans that match both, in a rapidly evolving workforce and business climate.

Because of the unique situations of each company and team, there’s no single way to solve all these issues. However, below are real concerns expressed by senior leaders during recent InsideOut design leader roundtable discussions, followed by a few ideas on how to start mending the talent cycle at your organization. Use these insights to calibrate your team’s experience and open conversations that drive change.

Let’s take a deeper look at these four key phases of the talent cycle:

Hiring, Onboarding, Collaboration, and Engagement.

HIRING

Though companies have had over a year to rebuild hiring best practices for a remote world, most are still figuring out how to assess skills, work ethic, and team dynamics without in-person connections. Add to that the fact that over 70% of companies plan a hybrid work arrangement, and even the best virtual processes now need an overhaul.

Our InsideOut community leaders cited these as major challenges in the hiring process:

  • Talent are in command (where to live, work/life balance, multiple job offers), requiring hiring managers to move quickly and get creative
  • Companies are making big bets with compensation to acquire the talent they need to rebound quickly
  • The cost of consultants and freelancers has doubled, but budgets have not
  • Companies who require onsite work are limited to their local metro area and may not have access to the best talent or in-demand skills
  • Lack of clarity on work arrangements makes attracting the best talent more difficult

Imagine trying to entice the top talent on the market to join your team and being unable to answer simple questions about work schedule, flexibility, and location — much less compete with rising salaries and signing bonuses. As a result, the hiring process is broken.

70% of companies plan a hybrid work arrangement.

 Forrester

ONBOARDING

After a thorough (but hopefully fast!) hiring process, let’s say you land that amazing talent you desperately needed. Now comes the daunting task of getting them integrated into a current team that’s likely overworked, anxious about their own futures, and feeling disconnected from one another — all while trying to figure out your company’s plans for the future of work.

Here are some concerns InsideOut leaders identified for onboarding today:

  • Lack of real human connection in a remote or hybrid model hurts relationship building and slows ramp-up
  • Many hires made during the pandemic feel permanently left behind and never truly “onboarded”
  • Staff feel disconnected because they — and their managers — are not equipped with the skills to be effective remote communicators
  • Lack of clarity on work arrangements makes integrating new people and building networks complicated

Onboarding new hires in today’s constantly shifting environment requires advanced skills in making human connections quickly and building networks that support change.

COLLABORATION

Every company is trying to figure out exactly when and how to bring teams together to collaborate, build relationships, and fuel innovation. Though most teams have adopted technology for virtual cooperation, determining how to connect on- and off-site talent in meaningful ways is a new hurdle to pass.

Senior leaders in our InsideOut community noted these concerns for collaboration:

  • A hybrid work arrangement will simply feel like remote, since virtual collaboration will be required to get work done
  • Coordinating schedules to make collaboration happen in a hybrid model is time consuming
  • Commute time could reduce productivity for hybrid or on-site workers
  • Lack of clarity on work arrangements makes finding time and space for collaboration complex

Simply managing work schedules, while providing the flexibility today’s talent requires, could end up being a full-time job. Add high turnover to the mix, and keeping track of your team seems impossible.

ENGAGEMENT

Pandemic fatigue alone has decimated staff engagement, leading many employees to withdraw from work activities or look for a change. In a talent-led job market, regaining the attention and passion of the team could mean the difference between retaining or replacing them.

Leaders in our InsideOut community shared these serious problems to solve:

  • Loss or perceived loss of a flexible work schedule, even with the promise of some remote days, is causing concern for work/life balance
  • Returning to a commute may be undesirable, costly, or even considered unsafe by some staff, putting them at risk for departure
  • Safety concerns around being on-site (and/or not requiring vaccination) are important to many
  • Lack of clarity on work arrangements makes building culture a major challenge

The absence of a distinct and compelling work culture, no matter what work schedules are offered, could result in a long-term shift in how employees engage with their teams and what they expect from employers.

Lack of clarity on work arrangements makes building culture a real challenge.

 InsideOut Community

That’s a lot. Now here’s the good news: No matter which phase of the talent cycle is broken at your organization, there are three steps you can take today to get ahead.

  • Know what you need. At the end of the day, every job was created to support the healthy growth of a business. Start there. With clarity on what needs to be done, you can hire better, develop the skills of your team, improve ramp-up times, and determine pivotal collaboration points that make the most of everyone’s time.
  • Get and give clarity on work arrangements. If your company has not outlined a clear corporate policy, don’t wait for that. Gather from your team what they need (remember, you want to KEEP them) and present a business case to anyone who will listen about what’s needed to deliver on your goals and retain your staff.
  • Learn and teach virtual communication skills. Starting with the interview process, if your team isn’t skilled at making connections remotely, you will be unable to land the best talent. Equally important, train everyone involved in the onboarding process on how to build relationships virtually, which will lead to better collaboration, and real human connections that drive long-term engagement.

The biggest tip: Get Help. Most leaders are, by necessity, focused on their primary goal of delivering great work. Whether it’s leveraging your internal People team (HR/Talent), tapping into external training resources, or asking partners to help in different ways, you’ll need support to stay ahead of change. Here at Aquent, I just hosted a company-wide brainstorming session on how to best help our customers navigate the obstacles above. With over 35 years of solving talent problems for companies around the globe, we’ve seen a lot, and constructing unique solutions is our specialty. Shameless plug, complete.

The talent cycle is broken, and fixing it absolutely must be a top priority for leaders. Otherwise, get ready to replace 40% of your staff in a white-hot, talent-led market and hope you can retain the next round of hires. Chances are, if you don’t change, your team will find change elsewhere.

As for me, I connect leaders to find solutions. If you’re a senior design, experience, or operations leader of an in-house team and want to connect to others who share your unique challenges, let’s talk. Our InsideOut community hosts virtual roundtables to support the learning, growth, and sanity of our members, and I’m honored to facilitate those discussions. You can find more learnings from our group on our InsideOut blog. Let’s keep learning together!

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