Without the right talent, businesses can struggle to perform – and transform. Maddie Wollerton Blanks looks at how to make your workforce planning more strategic in a tough hiring environment and why shifting focus more to retention can help build resilience.

Attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for many organisations in a volatile market. Hybrid working has broadened the job market for candidates, and with talent scarcity in many industries it's more important than ever to have clearly articulated strategies and approaches on how to attract, nurture and retain talent.

Achieving your people-focused objectives while balancing agility, resilience and cost-base (ARC) requires upfront planning and engagement with the business, and a human resources (HR) function that's skilled and equipped to deliver the needs of the business. Organisations need the agility and resilience to ride unexpected storms and grasp new opportunities – while keeping costs in check. 

Investing in the right skills for the future

In the future, in their workforce. Effective strategic workforce planning can ensure you identify your existing talent and also requirements for future skills. Solutions needn't be complex. They do, however, require a strategic understanding of the organisation’s vision and future objectives, collaboration between a central HR or people function and the business, and a willingness to invest in activity which has a long-term return on investment.

When done well, such planning reduces the cost of acquiring skills and talent into the business, lowers unwanted attrition, and maximises agility and resilience through having access to a broad range of skills across the business.

Apprenticeships offer a great (and almost free) mechanism in growing talent with ARC in mind. Benefits can include: greater social mobility, increased innovation and ideas, supports inclusion and diversity agenda, and creates accessible career pathways. Optimising the apprenticeship levy can also help organisations nurturing talent cost-effectively.

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How to retain a diverse and engaged workforce

The best way to gather the right skills and talent to achieve your goals is to focus first on retention, rather than attraction. This is to make sure that you have the kind of environment that engages your existing diverse high performers – which will in turn attract the same. Lots of organisations focus on attracting fresh talent through slick recruitment processes and personalised onboarding. This is important but ensuring your people want to stay and develop their career should be the key focus.

Talent retention doesn’t always just mean increased salaries or bonuses. Retaining a broader focus will ensure you're bringing further resilience into the business through your people agenda at the best value. Effective retention strategies focus on a variety of elements: 

Embedding an aligned and inclusive culture

Making culture and inclusion measurable strategic focuses is a strong first step. Designing a culture that will support your organisation to achieve its strategic objectives, and ensuring it gives everyone a sense of inclusion and belonging, is not only an effective retention tool but will boost individual and organisational performance.

Benefits packages that support individuals throughout their career

You also need to make sure your people are aware of the benefits available to them, and how they can access and use these. Often the issue isn't that the relevant benefits aren't available to people; it’s just that they're either not aware or don’t know how to access them. Therefore, a relatively straightforward refresh of your employee benefits programme, and the communication around it, can significantly increase its value and impact on employee retention – for little additional, or indeed sometimes lower, cost.

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Investing in skills development and clear career progression pathways

These support your strategic workforce planning as you're able to assess where your talent will be, and as well as supporting you to identify and develop skills critical to the business. This could, for example, include reskilling those people with roles or skills no longer needed by the business to fill critical future skills gaps. Career pathways are also a useful tool to provide structured development for people, helping them envision their career and what they need to do at each stage.

All of these things require a strong focus on your strategic objectives, on engaging your people function early in the conversation and on a clear measure of return on investment for your business.

By focusing on retention and developing a clear strategy around how this will be achieved you can reduce the significant cost to the business associated with employee turnover, as well as ensuring that you're developing the skills and talent necessary to remain resilient and agile.

For more information or advice, contact Maddie Blanks.

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