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Winning the War for Talent

As one year comes to a close and we stare down the barrel of 2024, many companies will be assessing their teams and their skill needs. 

In the current employment market, there isn’t enough talent to go around, and employers are fighting to attract and retain good people.  A March 2023 EMA survey found that 9 out of 10 New Zealand companies are struggling.   

Job seekers know they are now in control. Many are approaching job interviews with a clear idea of the kind of place they want to work in, and they are giving their productive hours to whichever business ticks the right boxes. 

Someone who knows all about this dynamic is Senga Allen, Director of Everest People.  

“Right now, there is a distinct shortage of talent, which means businesses are in a war to win good people,” she says. “For businesses to compete well for talent, they need a clear understanding of who their ideal candidate is. They also need to know how their ideal candidate defines their employer of choice. I can tell you now, money is almost never at the top of their list.” 

Culture and Values  

Employees are increasingly drawn to organisations that align with their personal values. Purpose is another big factor.  Companies that promote a strong social or environmental mission tend to attract people who want to make a positive impact on the world.  Successful organisations integrate this bigger sense of purpose into their daily operations and culture, creating a sense of shared purpose among employees. 

From an employer perspective, Senga advises businesses to do a critique of what they offer. 

“If a company is going to attract and retain good people, a bit of self-assessment is required,” she says. “If you know that people want flexibility in their work, and that they value companies with a social heart, you need to ask yourself if you are satisfying that desire. If you can, are you promoting that aspect to candidates? If you can’t offer work-life balance and purpose, what can you do to bring this into your company culture?”  

Catfishing vs Authentic  

In the online dating world, catfishing is the term for luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.  

Businesses sometimes do the same thing when they misrepresent their culture and values. Although the temptation to idealise is understandable, Senga believes it has long-term repercussions. 

“There is no point putting out a flashy brand that says you stand for all sorts of marvelous things if there’s little reality behind it,” she says. “I have known candidates who took jobs then felt duped. The employer they encountered in the interview bore little resemblance to the one they experienced in the job.  

“Once the truth is discovered, many leave. Not only is that company back looking for talent, but word also gets out that that what’s written on the tin isn’t what’s inside. That reputational damage comes back to bite.” 

Being vulnerable & transparent 

Perrin Ag is one of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness firms. Michael Matthews is the Business Manager, and he outlines an approach to interviewing candidates that gives people a sneak peek behind the curtains. 

“We’re as keen to attract the best talent as anyone, but our approach to securing a person is to let some of our newer people interview them,” he says. “Staff who have been with Perrin Ag for less than two years and have experienced what it’s really like to work here and are able to tell the unvarnished truth about that.  

“We don’t have senior managers in the room to oversee the exchange. We want the candidate to know that the people across the table were in their shoes 12 months ago and are free to say whatever they want. Does that make us vulnerable? A little, but vulnerability and transparency are key values at Perrin Ag. We want to be open with our people, and open with those who are looking to join us. 

“Values are not a tick box exercise. You genuinely have to live your values and display them, on a good day and a bad day! It’s about the authenticity of the business and being willing to put ourselves out there to be scrutinized. There is strength in that vulnerability.” 

Creating a culture worth promoting 

In her role as Senior Account Manager for PR agency HMC, Kate Webber has worked with companies to communicate what matters most to new recruits. Kate explains. 

“We’ve helped businesses from a diverse range of sectors tell their story and showcase what makes them tick. One thing they have in common is not only creating a great culture but telling the industry what they are doing. There’s no point doing great work if you’re not telling people about it! 

“Potential candidates will do their homework. Make sure you showcase what you’re doing on your web site, on social media and in the media, but keep it real and true to your values. Profile your people and their expertise. Share the great stuff you’re doing in your communities. Have an opinion on topical industry issues to demonstrate you are a leader in your field. It all counts.  

“Perrin Ag is well down the track on this journey. They have been purposeful about becoming a great place to work and telling that story in a transparent and authentic way, which not only attracts good staff but also strengthens relationships and trust with clients and stakeholders.  

“That’s why their graduate recruitment programme, Empower, has been successful. Graduates get hands-on farm consultancy experience with real clients and take ownership of projects, with full support and trust from Perrin Ag’s mentors. The firm has then shared that story and celebrated the success of those they employ at university events, through media, social media and their own team’s networks. Over time, it’s paid off.”  

Where do you start? 

It’s all well and good talking about businesses that already possess attractive work environments, but what about companies that may be lacking in this respect? What can they do? For Senga, the starting point is having open and honest conversations with staff. 

“Your existing people hold the keys to understanding where your company culture is at, and what needs to improve,” she says.  

“In our experience at Everest, the biggest barrier to becoming an employer of choice is the business owner’s reluctance to engage in open conversations with employees. I can understand that. It may feel like you’re opening Pandora’s Box. But I can tell you that if there’s genuine goodwill from leaders, and if you can create a safe environment for people to share, you’ll get the gold you need.” 

Senga also offers a word of warning. 

“If leaders have the humility to listen and the will to act on reasonable needs, your business will grow and attract more talent. But if you ask for feedback from your people and are overly defensive or do nothing in response, you’ll be worse off than you were before.  

“It takes humility and courage to be a good leader, but good leaders build good companies, and those are the places talented people are drawn to.”