Changing Workforce / Career Development

3 steps to recruiting and retaining top talent

Want your company to win an unfair share of talented individuals? Commit to these steps, Des-Case's Tony Espinosa says.

By Tony Espinosa, vice president of human resources and administration, Des-Case Corp.

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With the proliferation of advanced technologies in manufacturing plants over the last several decades, many plant leaders were tempted to believe that the need for highly talented employees would decrease. The reality could not be further from the truth. Today's greatest companies today are staffed with their respective industries' top talent. Accolades for employees as an organization’s “most important asset” still rings true. Apple’s Tim Cook, quoted earlier this year in Fortune magazine, said it well: “(T)he most important data points are people.”

My employer, Des-Case, takes pride in being not only a "great place to work” but also a "place where great people work." Both strategic recruiting processes and thoughtful engagement practices are reasons why. Having said that, one could make a strong argument that if an organization chooses to zero in on executing stellar hiring practices, engagement levels can only increase while attrition declines. Why? Because talent attracts talent. Talented individuals want to be on winning teams. And top performers stay longer on teams when their talents are embraced and leveraged for organizational success.   

Recruiting and retaining your unfair share of top talent is the result work of three critical steps: managers hiring right, leaders leading right and new workplace entrants contributing right. Each of these three is fundamental to attracting and retaining an unfair share of talented individuals capable of driving organizational success. 

Step 1: Managers hiring right
Ensure that hiring managers recognize the significant roles they play as company ambassadors and gatekeepers of the hiring pipeline. 

First and foremost, there is only one opportunity to make a first and lasting impression with a candidate. This special role is typically reserved for the recruiter. It is important to remember that the hiring event is stressful for candidates because an individual is contemplating one of the biggest decisions s/he will make in life: “Where will I work?”  Social psychologists have stated that one’s workplace lands close to the center of the radar as one of the biggest contributors to personal morale.   

Why does this matter to an organization? Clearly, morale is significant because it matters to our people, and this should be enough to warrant care about it. But organizational success is highly reliant upon the “human resource” that brings complementary and/or missing skills needed to fill organizational gaps. A new employee’s performance will be directly correlated to the all-important factor of personal happiness. When we hire wrong, both the business and the candidate pay the price. When we hire right, both the business and one’s morale trend the right way on all performance charts. The gatekeepers, in one sense, are bringing together two parties into a mutually edifying relationship.        

To be clear, this type of morale is not a product of an occasional ice-cream social or annual social gathering. Meaningful morale for top talent is realized only in the event of true job fulfillment, day in and day out. The genesis of such fulfillment typically begins via a hiring manager who is skilled enough to ensure alignment of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) relative to the organizational culture and specific roles. Hiring requires precision when it comes to skills assessments and interpersonal evaluations. Talent acquisition is highly strategic and will forever be the leading value-add that HR activities bring to an organization.

To ensure positive morale among your workforce, gatekeepers managing your talent pipeline should consider the following action items: 

• Don't relegate first interviews to the status of a “not-as-important-as-it-should-be” screen interview. All interactions with top talent count. The first interview may be the only shot an organization has to engage a talented candidate who is testing the market. Unbeknownst to many are the number of candidates testing the market at any given time.  Even more surprising is the number of exceptional candidates lost because of weak recruiter ambassadorship and/or poor interviewing technique.      

• Perform due diligence on your initial interview protocol to ensure the approach makes sense when seeking top talent. Losing a great candidate in hiring often stems from poor technique. For example, do the hiring managers responsible for facilitating first interviews understand that patterned (or structured) interviews allow for some flexibility and a lot of creativity when it comes to speaking with candidates of all experience sets? Yes, an initial interview is mostly scripted, but it still requires a high level of interpersonal finesse, especially for top candidates.     

• Ensure recruiters are hiring with a sense of precision in relationship to KSAs – talented candidates are counting on it! When a position is meticulously aligned with the interests, knowledge, skills and abilities of the right candidate, the role not only contributes positively to one’s work and personal life, but also the organization benefits. This sense of precision must be exercised throughout the entire interview process. 

• Educate hiring managers on the company’s value propositions. Increasingly, top candidates are not drawn solely to an organization based on the merits of a good job description advertised on a hiring website. Strong employees are also genuinely interested in the business itself. What unique value propositions does the business plan offer in relationship to the markets? An organization’s highest-performing employees want to know how they can personally contribute to a winning business plan in their respective role. When an employee engages at such a level, the position becomes much more than “just a job” – it transcends into both meaningful work and personal responsibility. Ultimately, the more knowledge recruiters have about business’ value propositions and core strategy, the better for all parties.              

The 18th-century English poet, essayist, playwright, and politician Joseph Addison once said, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Work that engages employees at all (or some of) these levels increases team member happiness, retention, and performance. Ultimately, the gatekeepers of the hiring pipeline are given the honor of ensuring both the company and position make sense for the candidate. In doing so, top talent will better find its way to your organization. 

Step 2: Leaders leading right 

Be relentless about making managers better leaders – stronger leadership is required to keep “your best” engaged.

Based on personal observation from more than 15 years of interviews with thousands of job applicants, I have seen certain complaints recur with greater frequency than others.  For those in hiring circles, the age-old sentiment of an “employee quitting the boss, not the company” is rooted in a good deal of truth because for the most part, the best managers tend to lose the fewest people. Stronger management seems to make a way for morale to thrive while driving performance to higher levels.                     

This is especially true in organizations where “next-generation leadership” is an important focus. There is no greater fulfillment for management than to witness an employee's rise in leadership, showing signs of possibly one day achieving greater success than his/her superior. Jim Collins said it well in the classic business book "Good to Great":  “Level 5 leaders set up their successors for even greater success in the future.”

To help managers better lead employees so they thrive, grow, and remain loyal to their company, consider the following action items:

• Commit to continuous education as a cultural standard for the life of the plant/company.             

No runner has ever had a coach direct him/her to not run any faster or to not improve in technique. Each of these commands is nonsensical and would negate any progress. Top talent will always be ambitious and desiring opportunities for learning and growth. For next-generation leadership, individual development planning (IDP) is a form of continuous education that provides a framework for ongoing employee development. It is imperative that goals for development, education, and training remain moving targets for all individuals on the team. A common complaint of an exiting employee is that management did not seem to have a plan for his/her career. Exceptional employees thrive in learning cultures, insisting upon ongoing personal and professional development for the duration of their employment with an organization. This factor is non-negotiable. It is important to note that an IDP plan is always organic. It can be formal or informal, but it will change based on the needs of the individual.      

• Commit to continuous improvement as a cultural standard for the life of the plant/company.             

For years, continuous-improvement gurus have emphasized the fact that most problems in organizations are 80%–85% process-based, with the smaller balance being related to actual employee issues. The positive impact of continuous-improvement initiatives on businesses has not changed over the course of the 60-plus years that it has been emphasized throughout industry. Greater productivity and pride are taken in one’s work as a result of improved processes. This value-add cannot be underestimated as it relates to an employee's ongoing morale. Retaining an unfair share of great talent in your plant can be achieved only when there is a high level of job satisfaction.  

When continuous education and continuous improvement become solid organizational values in leadership development, activities that involve innovation and creativity tend to soar: Ideas are multiplied; organizational effectiveness is exponential; and talented people become more talented. If an organization starts to move in this direction, a collaborative culture cannot help but take root.        

Step 3: Employees contributing right
Make “collaboration” a cultural phenomenon within the plant; it is the crux of a great team. 

As a final, important consideration in your efforts to recruit and retain top employees, collaboration is the one cultural phenomenon that seems to set exceptional organizations apart from all others. It's the primary ingredient in the “secret sauce” of exceptional company culture.

In July 2015, Marcus Buckingham shared the following statement with 15,000 attendees at the 2015 SHRM Conference in Las Vegas: “Your job is (to) take what is unique and make it useful.”

This is the role of leadership today: to ensure that new workplace entrants are contributing in the right way. A sense of contribution engages top talent, and fundamental to collaboration is an organization’s willingness to leverage talent. The failure to do so results in lost value for all parties. A driven employee will feel handcuffed in an organization void of contribution and collaboration. When a high-performing employee believes s/he is no longer contributing to the business in a meaningful way, an exit is never more than a few months away. People want to make a difference at work. People want their presence to matter. People need their talents to be leveraged. Anything less is bad for people and bad for business.