CIPD Podcast 24 - Strategies for attracting and retaining talent

Date: 02/10/08 Duration: 00:16:12

In this podcast Emily Lawson, global leader of McKinsey's talent management and HR service line, Claire McCartney, CIPD Adviser, Organisation and Resourcing, Scott Hobbs, Head of Talent at Amey, Matthew Guthridge, a leader in McKinsey’s Talent Management initiative and European Organisational Behaviour service line and Richard Roberts, head of the People Team at Virgin Mobile discuss issues in talent management, a top challenge for HR professionals.


Philippa Lamb: Hello and welcome to the programme. In this podcast we’ll be focusing on strategies for attracting and retaining talent. 
Talent management consistently tops the list of business challenges that CEOs and HR professionals are wrestling with. To find out why and what they’re doing about it I caught up with some of the impressive array of speakers at the recent CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition - speakers from McKinsey, Virgin Mobile and Amey.
As usual you can find more information about the people featured in the programme and on the subjects discussed by taking a look at the show notes that accompany this podcast. You’ll find them at 

To start with I talked to Emily Lawson, a partner at McKinsey. It’s been ten years since McKinsey published their seminal report The War for Talent and I asked Emily whether it’s still the case that talent remains a key issue for organisations. 

Emily Lawson: And that’s absolutely still the case and you’ve seen the data that we’ve shared. Every time we survey CEOs it is the number one or number two issue, finding the right people, and that has particular challenges in cases where companies are expanding into new markets that they’re not aware of, expanding into new businessws where they may not have the core skills. What we’ve done ten years on from The War for Talent is to try and get a bit more specific about where are the real talent segments where there’s a challenge for companies, because it’s not everybody. It’s not just the top 200 people. Depending on your business strategy, it will be a specific (or more than one specific) group of people that you really need to think about where are you getting them from? What skills do you need? How are you going to deploy? them both within a business but also globally.

PL: It’s clear then, talent is still a priority. However, how have things moved on since that first report? Where should the focus be today?

EL: It’s about identifying for you as a business where’s the challenge for you? Both what’s your critical talent segment in terms of delivering strategy (your segments) and also what does that mean in terms of the external world? Are they scarce in the external world or are they actually relatively plentiful and you’re just not attracting them? So really understanding the nature of that gap. But the opportunity for making substantial improvements in business value and what you can deliver as a business through finding the right people and then deploying them against the right jobs is going to stay the same, and in fact may be even more acute in a downturn where you’ve got to keep a real eye on wastage and which opportunities you’re deploying your best people against. 

PL: Okay, so if securing the right talent for the business is such a critical issue, how do we set about developing the right strategies? I asked CIPD’s Talent Advisor, Claire McCartney, for her thoughts.
Claire McCartney: You do need to have a really strong vision and picture of what your talent looks like, your existing talent. I think only from then you can go on to say how you need to compliment that internal talent pipeline. You need to know who you need to attract to make maximum impact in your business.
PL: You mean to audit who you’ve already got.
CMcC: I think definitely, yes. Some of the ways of attracting talent into organisations, it might be looking at some of those untapped talent pools. Unemployed groups, single parents, older workers; creative ways of bringing people into the organisation.
PL: Next I caught up with Scott Hobbs, Head of Talent at Amey, the support services organisation. I wondered how the current economic climate was affecting his search talent.
Scott Hobbs: Most of the recruitment I do is in the graduate market. I guess if anything though, and quite an interesting message for us I think is that at the moment with the downturn in the construction market and you’re hearing about all the construction organisations that are having problems at the moment, it’s really been beneficial for us because actually some of the areas that we’ve really struggled to hire in the past are now struggling to get jobs in organisations they did in the past so now are turning to us and looking for roles. It’s actually slightly easier for us in areas like quantity surveying, civil engineers etc. It’s actually quite useful for us at the moment.
PL: An interesting example of how tough economic times can present opportunities, but I wanted to know more of Amey’s strategies for attracting graduates. Which approaches do they use to engage them?
SH: A lot of it’s online, although we advertise in trade publications. We’re now looking at expanding the size of my team, getting an additional person in to look at what’s the pipeline of people coming through to the point at which we hire them within the business. So, how do we support people who are maybe wanting to opt into engineering at A levels or after their GCSEs and how do we support them and sponsor them through different programmes so that they actually come out with the right kind of skills for us an employer?

PL: So far we’ve focused on identifying and attracting the talents the business needs but what about the challenge of developing and retaining talent within the organisation? I asked McKinsey associate principal, Matthew Guthridge, for his views on the balance to be struck here. 

Matthew Guthridge: I think without exception our clients are investing very heavily in the search for talent. Some might say they invest potentially too heavily in the search for external talent at the expense of their own internal development practices. In fact our recent research on global talent management showed that in fact where companies can deliver the most value is often through the right developmental experiences being provided to talent internally, both through deployment and also through learning and development type of experiences. However, when you look at where the budget tends to go in terms of talent management, it’s typically around recruitment and selection practices and the actual sourcing of talent on a global basis and so some might say the balance itself needs to be a little bit redressed. 

PL: Knowing when to look outside the organisation for talent and when to develop existing talent appears to be an important part of getting talent management strategies right, but Matthew gives the impression he thinks recruitment comes ahead of development too often. 

MG: Yeah I think that’s definitely true, and it’s not to say that recruitment doesn’t have a key place in today’s marketplace. In fact a number of our clients are growing extremely rapidly and, quite frankly, internal development with it’s long lag times will not actually deliver the sort of talent that people need to fill those pivotal roles. In those sorts of situations where there’s huge business growth or technological change the sort of capabilities, the numbers that you need to fill your key gaps aren’t going to be delivered in the space of time that you need. But for the most part we’d have to say that development is neglected relative to recruitment. There needs to be much more investment internally from organisations, in existing talent, in order to more rapidly develop them, accelerate the development through the organisation in order to fill your key roles because ultimately you save a lot in terms of on-boarding, you save a lot in terms of recruitment costs by working with those people.
PL: Over the longer term there may be savings to be made through effective development through existing talent, but when you do need to look outside how do you keep costs down? Virgin Mobile has made significant savings through some of their innovative approaches to recruitment. Their head of people, Richard Roberts, explains.

Richard Roberts: Basically if people are recommended by employees they get a financial reward for doing it but actually my view is that you will recommend people anyway regardless of the award and we actually market that internally as our great back scratching extravaganza because rather than calling it recommend a friend we’ve put a brand spin on it. Twenty five percent of our people are recruited through that route and it saves us an enormous amount of money and cost effort and all that but also you find that people don’t recommend people who they think won’t be any good so it has its natural filtering process.
PL: Creating an employer brand that not just attracts people to work for the organisation but gets them to recommend friends too is certainly working for Virgin Mobile. I asked the CIPD’s Claire McCartney to expand on this point.
Claire McCartney: I think the issue of employer brand is really important. There are three factors which impact on how to attract talent into an organisation and that is the image of the industry, the reputation of the organisation as a good place to work and also how far individual values actually link up to organisational values. In terms of employer brand, organisations need to develop a strong brand which is going to appeal to not only their current employees but potential future employees and I think around, in terms of values, things such as corporate social responsibility and trying to get those messages out there are things that people are probably looking for.
PL: Interesting points there about the role that more intangible factors such as values are playing in attracting, engaging and retaining talent. I chatted further with Richard Roberts about the way these factors play a part in Virgin Mobile’s efforts to recruit and retain talent.
Richard Roberts: I think it’s all about the way people, when they work for us, is the reputation of the organisation and peoples’ perception. We would put a lot of effort on some of the key people things such as career development, such as making sure people are recognised and are rewarded properly. My thing is around employee engagement and making sure that when people go through their life with us that each of the different touch points, so through induction, through career development, through normal performance management that that reflects our brand and our values and that people do work hard but actually come home at the end of the day saying, “You know what? I worked really hard today but this happened and that happened” and they’re very positive about the whole experience. 

PL: You don’t pay higher than the industry average.
RR: No, we pay less.
PL: You pay less?
RR: Yeah, I’d say.
PL: So why do people still come to you?
RR: People join companies for different reasons and it’s a very individual thing, but if you look across the board generally it’s around ‘Can I develop my career? What job am I going to be doing and will that be interesting, exciting? Will it allow me to be empowered to make decisions and to put my ideas into practice? Do I get recognised for what I do? Is it a good company to work for?’ and obviously there’s a huge social side to Virgin, as you would imagine. We do put a lot of effort into making it a great place to work, a very human place to work so it’s all those different elements that add up to people saying actually I want to stay.
PL: So some clear ideas there of what works with Virgin Mobile. Next, I talked again to Scott Hobbs from support services organisation Amey. He told me how their graduate recruitment programmes are looked at very closely from a talent management perspective.
Scott Hobbs: We have two main types of graduates who come in. We have graduates who come into our leadership programme who are coming from any degree discipline. Those people are on a set programme for two years, they get very structured development and at the end of that period we decide right okay you’re ready to go into our fast track programme or you need a little bit more work and these are the areas where you need to that work. People who come in as say an engineering grad or a quantity surveyor grad, in that kind of arena, we would just advertise them to the opportunity to go onto talent tracker straight away if they’re interested. There are programmes set up that look at them taking a longer term view of their relationship with us as a graduate and talent team rather than just thinking right two years, we cut you off and you go off into the organisation and we don’t see you again. We want to look at how we can maintain that relationship. But very much for me I think it’s about not only doing the typical graduate thing of training them in the things they need to know, the skills they need to develop, but actually what are we doing in supporting their own career development skills? Often people don’t train in that. They often say to you ‘You can develop your career in this organisation’ but don’t actually tell you how you can do that.
PL: What kind of an impact has this talent management approach had on the success of the graduate recruitment programme? 

SH: The retention has been fantastic on them. We’ve been running them now for around three years and I think year on year the retention levels are getting better and better as we’re really understanding what is it that makes people want to stay inside the organisation? How do you connect them with the reason that they joined you to start with? At the graduate level I think there’s a lot of people really interested in our CSR Agenda, so the corporate social responsibility is a really big issue for them and I think also the development thing is a really critical reason as to why people join us. 

PL: The career development.
SH: Well career development and personal development. Obviously we’re always looking at pay and how do we keep up with the industry levels and all that stuff as well, but I think development, probably for me anyway, is the critical issue to resolve.
PL: The last ten years have undoubtedly seen a greatly increased focus on talent management, for the kinds of reasons we’ve heard in this programme. But what of the economic context? How does or should that influence strategies for attracting and retaining talent? I asked Claire McCartney for her thoughts.
Claire McCartney: I think, despite the economic downturn, up until recently the labour market has been quite buoyant actually. I think what I’d warn against is taking a short-term approach to talent management because a long-term approach is really important for sustainability of the organisation and it pays not to be short sighted. I think HR have probably got a really important role to play in making sure that organisations not only survive market downturns but actually bounce back faster than their competitors. Really careful consideration needs to be given to cutting margins, whether organisations have to downsize but preserve key talent or whether there are opportunities out there for picking up talent which has been discarded by competitors so I think those are all things to consider. 

PL: Some timely advise there on how to balance the realities of the downturn with the ongoing need to keep bringing through the talent that the organisation needs. 

I finished by asking McKinsey’s Emily Lawson for one final pointer about how to deliver effective talent strategies. 

EL: You can get this down to a relatively straightforward set of actions but at the heart of it is tailoring this for your situation. We see too much time spent on identifying the gold standard recruiting process and the gold standard deployment process and they’re helpful, it’s great to do recruitment really really well but not if you’re spending your time and your money on recruitment which isn’t actually at the heart of what drives value for the business. It’s about linking the HR and talent strategy to the business strategy and that’s what makes all the difference.
PL: And that brings us to the end of today’s programme. I hope you found it an interesting look at the way different organisations are going about attracting, retaining and developing the talent their organisations need.
Remember, you can find out more information about the issues raised in this programme at

Next time we’ll be looking at performance management when we’ll hear from more experts who spoke at the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition. Until then, goodbye.


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