The Winning Formula

F(h)iring in recession times – Who has brought you here won't bring you there (1/3)

April 3, 2021

Whether as a leader at your company you’re thinking about hiring or firing talent in the midst of the pandemic, chances are that you are feeling pressure and an overall sense of urgency that is leaving little time for strategic considerations and in-depth assessment.

I’ve personally experienced a lay-off during 2016 when, due to poor performances, the company had to fire 50% of its employees. I remember the painful feeling of seeing some of my dear friends and colleagues leave. Today, they are driving other organizations forward and I still regard them among the best talent I’ve met, letting them go was surely a big loss for the company, a loss that outweighed the costs saved many times over.

As I still recall that moment strongly, I decided to over the next three weeks a series of 3 articles condensing some of the lessons learned by experience and while talking to our members and various clients across Europe. I’ll share some reflection pills on (I) what to think about when taking firing and hiring decisions in a moment of crisis, (II) how to handle talent relationships when some of the best talents are suddenly looking for new opportunities, and (III) what the best talent is looking for in their ideal employer based on Nova’s proprietary data from our annual survey.

I/III Who has brought you here won't bring you there

One of the most common mistakes I hear when talking to HR Directors is to approach urgent lay-offs with a “Last-in, First-out” approach, the last ones who arrived will be the first to leave. Often, this is coupled with a hiring freeze that prevents talent with fresh perspectives to join the company. Especially during this COVID-19 crisis, which is accelerating the digitalization of both internal processes and business models, cutting new talent out of the company could be the biggest mistake you make as a leader.

Firing and hiring: get your talent mix right

A few years ago, I got inspired by this Ted talk explaining how trees in a forest interact. The oldest and wisest, make sure that the genetic knowledge flows to the youngest so they can grow and build upon it as they mature. This is why, during deforestation, it’s important to identify who are the “teachers” passing the information, so as to leave a good mix of young and old trees and ensure the stability of the forest.

This metaphor strongly applies to organizations, especially in a crucial cross-road where the “traditional businesses” are gradually fading out while “new business” lines are growing and demanding a new type of talent. The Covid-19 has accelerated this transition leaving many companies who did not invest in building relationships with the “new type” of talent, with a big threat: facing a new market reality without the right skills on board.

Make sure you have a clear 3 to 5 years horizon of what your business is going to look like and start attracting those talent profiles needed to sustain it…

Now that you are making tough decisions, keep these things in mind:

What’s your business going to look like during the next 3-5 years?

Make sure to map out which areas of your business will be driving the most revenues and delivering the most value to the market. Some of our most important clients are shifting towards new business models requiring new talent profiles. Their current business lines accounting on average for 90% of the business will in 5 years account for approximately 15%, while new business lines will take over. This shift has deep implications for the talent you want to keep on board and start attracting.

Identify your future leaders, support them and plan for their growth

I bet your business will be quite different too and it will demand skills you currently do not have enough of. So when making firing/hiring decisions today, do not leave out the future leaders of your company, rather identify the best ones, identify more senior people whom they can acquire knowledge from, and start planning for their growth. This talent mix and knowledge exchange will make sure you will both handle the present times while future-proofing your company.

If you don’t have already a clear map and want some guidance, fill in this short talent assessment and I’ll be happy to share some more tailored best practices from your industry.

I think this is enough food for thoughts for this article, during the next 2 articles we will explore together:

  • Why “Wartime” is a great moment to build talent relationships with the best passive candidates and how to best do it;
  • What our members, representing the top talent of Europe, care the most when looking for their next employer (salary expectations, most sought after employer traits, etc.) so you’ll be able to fine-tune your employer value proposition based on exclusive data from the Nova Talent Survey 2019.

I leave here at the bottom a client success case about how a global and traditional telecommunication company has worked proactively on talent attraction to secure the talent needed to support their business growth.

A traditional telecommunication company securing its future talent pipeline

Last year, we started to work with a traditional Telecommunication company about to become fully digital to appeal to the millennials generation and expanding its presence in the data and predictive analytics space. Their current business line, contributing for 90% of total revenues, is projected to account for only 15% in 5 years. The need was clear: attracting a new type of talent to support an emerging and fast-growing business line which will account for 85% of the business.

The targeted talent fell in the broad spectrum of STEM background and with a strong focus on skills such as Data Analytics, User Acquisition, and in general what they refer to as digital talent. The company realized, just on time, that the talent needed was not in the company and it was very hard to attract due to intense competition from pure digital and tech companies with stronger brands.

Nova came in and supported the company with:

1. Understanding the target talent career preferences and aspirations

We’ve helped the client understating the need and priorities of their desired talent based on the proprietary data collected in the Nova annual survey which goes deep into career expectations, most valued employer’s traits, salary expectation, etc. Based on these insights, the clients fine-tuned its EVP including a stronger aspirational element that could speak to both current and desired talent.

2. Implement an attraction plan

The knowledge was translated into an action plan of both large events, where to benefit from the brand power of other well-known clients in the Digital/Tech space, and smaller events where the client could meet with pre-matched members of the network and build more intimate and personal relations. The in-person dimension was complemented by a digital communication plan toward the Nova members so to guarantee an extended reach to members living in various cities and countries across Europe.

3. Hired for the short-term and started to build an exclusive talent pool for the future

The investment was harvested via direct hires in the short-term (3 hires on average within 3 months) and via building their exclusive talent pool within Nova and secure a solid pipeline of fitting talent for the medium-long term. All in a GDPR compliant and user-friendly talent pool, now hosting 37 members whom they can invite to events, for coffee to the office, or simply keep them up to date with insider news from the company.

Today we can name this company among our happiest clients thanks to the quality of hires made via Nova, nonetheless, I was still afraid that the COVID-19 might change their talent priorities.

When we talked right after the crisis manifested in full, they confirmed their intention to keep investing in building those relationships and keep attracting high potentials to their talent pools within the Nova network, not via the in-person events as priorly planned for the year, but digitally, via webinars and more personal introductions over virtual coffees.

When I see employers keeping talent as the first priority even in “wartime”, I also understand why they became talent magnets and are attracting some of our best members every year. It’s because they truly put talent as the highest priority regardless of the situation.

If you also put talent first and want to know more about how we support selected employers and fast-growing companies to understand, attract and hire top talent, just reach out, we want to talk and listen to you.

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