It can often be difficult to see a way through difficult times ahead – but it’s not impossible. Andrew Bartlow, HR consultant and advisor, speaks exclusively to UNLEASH about how to look at 2023 through a lens of possibility…
Jon Kennard: By a lot of people’s estimations, it’s going to be quite a difficult year, not just for HR, for business in general. But this offers opportunities as well as certain things we have to be mindful of. So how can we take the lead, how can HR take the lead? They certainly did during the pandemic; do you think it can now take the lead in what could well be a global recession?
Andrew Bartlow: Absolutely, Jon. How can HR take the lead here on the heels of the pandemic and on the doorstep of a financial recession? I’d say be agile. Adapt to market forces. Over the past X number of years, we’ve been in a ten to 12-year bull market run throughout most of the world, and there’s been a focus on worker attraction and retention.
Most HR leaders have been optimizing for the employee, have been advocating for and implementing programs and policies that drive attraction, drive retention – and might be expensive and might be administratively difficult to deliver. And now that the market forces have shifted, now that there are these tremendous headwinds, it’s hard to raise capital; burn is a real issue. Regrettable voluntary turnover is way down.
It’s time for HR to rethink those programs and policies that might have dubious business outcomes, that are wishful thinking, or [rely on] strong hope around driving, attraction retention.
So our focus should be shifting to productivity and efficiency from – what has been for quite a while through many people’s entire careers – optimizing for talent attraction, retention. So it’s it’s time to rethink our management practices and and be agile.
JK: You’ve touched on it there, and my second question, which was more about digging into retention more; we’re looking at a possibly unstable talent market. Attraction is tough. Retention is also quite difficult. What are your other retention tips in this market that we’re going into?
AB: Your best workers will always have alternatives. Don’t forget about re-recruiting your existing team. Voluntary, regrettable turnover will never go down to zero. So continue to share the vision, share the path forward, ensure people are aligned and motivated about your mission.
And importantly, understand what changes may be taking place in your business and how you operate, so that you don’t breed cynicism and skepticism, and lose the faith and trust of your existing workers. So keep up the strong internal communications.
JK: Another thing that can help with this is the idea of broadening people’s skill sets, of investing in the people that you’ve already got, rather than looking elsewhere. Like you say, people with the skills that people want are probably going to be okay, and can freely move around.
I don’t know whether people will want to do this so much [move jobs] in more of an unstable environment, but we know that one way to succeed in quite a tough market is to broaden the skill sets of the people you have. So how could you do this when you also have to think about tightening budgets as well?
AB: This can be shocking for many workers, and for many Human Resources professionals, I think important to keep in mind is that development, and growth is a non-binary topic, meaning it’s not all on or all off. Even if you’re in a environment with a constrained budget – which you probably have now – or at least much more constrained than it has been, good investments are still good investments.
So the onus is on the HR professional or the business to validate what is a good investment, what development expenses will likely bring a return. So the lunch and learns that you may have paid for may not be the best place to spend your time or your resources; Developing additional coding skills? Maybe that would be helpful for your software engineers. So think about it as a scale, as a gradation. Good investments are still good investments, but you probably need to do the math, more so than be directionally correct, which I think we were able to get away with over the past ten years.
JK: Yeah, definitely. It seems like we do want to get more bang for our buck and rightly so in the next few months.
I’ve only got one final question. It’s again about talent. Well, the talent market this time, and attraction. People would surely rather stick with what they know, rather than starting a new role. I think that’s probably going to be the mindset of a lot of people – not everyone, but a lot of people.
So how can you make it easier for businesses who want to attract the right people make their business as attractive as possible to people who are moving around?
AB: Yeah, that’s fair, especially as opportunities tighten; as fewer employers are hiring people become fearful about looking outside or skeptical about when a recruiter might contact them. There is a strong human tendency to be conservative and stick with what you know.
So appealing to those high-performing, high-producing workers that you want and you need, whether that’s for growth or replacement in your organization, I think the most important thing is to have a clear, compelling story. I call that an EVP, an employment value proposition.
Logically, reasonably, what’s in it for you? Or the ‘WIIFM’. What’s in it for me? What’s in it for you, why would you find benefit working for my organization versus the one that you’re at? Is it pay, is it flexibility, is it growth? Is it brand recognition? What makes that compelling story? It certainly shouldn’t be a 20-page McKinsey presentation, this is something that can be expressed quickly and concisely in recruiter outreach or on your career page. So make the pitch, but make it compelling so that folks understand what’s in it for me.
JK: It should be that simple. And I hope it’s that simple. We’re at an interesting time here, I think, where we have predictions about the next few months in 2023, [but] they haven’t come to pass.
We understand the propensity modeling has been done in a lot of cases, and we understand where things could be going. But at this point, Andrew, thanks so much for your insight into this. Maybe we could talk again in a few months time, see if it’s come to pass and if these things have helped as well. But for now, thanks for talking to UNLEASHcast.
AB: Thank you.
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