Employer Branding – Lessons from London 2012

shutterstock_292583771In the run up to London 2012, I attended a breakfast seminar put on by MDH recruitment.

The focus was talent attraction and retention. The speakers were Paul Modley, then Head of Recruitment at the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Anna Herko, Head of Learning, Leadership & Talent at Shop Direct and Steve Hasson, Global Head of Recruitment for PZ Cussons.

The context quoted by all three speakers was the current global recession. All three shared how they utilised their brand to attract potential candidates in a difficult market.

Paul spoke of the power of the Olympic brand. The Olympic rings were proving very valuable in attracting the talent they needed, despite the need for many to relocate and the fact that the job had a very obvious end-date. 

Anna and Steve had a different story as they explained how they had to work hard to share their relatively unknown brands. I had to agree that Paul had the advantage in the so-called ‘war for talent’. 

A few things started to brew in my mind during these discussions.

Short vs long-tenure mindsets

The Olympic story shows how open-minded individuals enter into a contract with an employer fully aware of the limited time span their roles will entail. I assume they were balancing the obvious risk of not finding alternative employment after the games with the CV-enhancing Olympic experience, the personal meaning they would derive from contributing to the events and the chance to learn and grow in a fairly unique environment. 

I also assume that despite the uncertainty and because of the above motivators, they were highly engaged and committed to their work.

With most surveys indicating average tenure for employees is now less than four years, it strikes me that the actual experience of an average employee, in terms of tenure and the risk of being out of work, is not much different to those experienced by the Olympic committee employees.

If that is the case, maybe ordinary, in-it-for-the-long-haul organisations can start to rethink their attraction and engagement strategies?

I have always personally worked on the assumption that I am self-employed, even when I am employed in permanent roles. This has helped me proactively and positively deal with the inevitable change that occurs and has allowed me the psychological freedom to seek interesting work that is meaningful for me and not be concerned about tenure. I recruit with this mindset as well. I’ve always said, give me two to three years with someone who is in stretch and hungry for personal growth, rather than ten years with someone who is on auto-pilot.

Generation Y is said to be less loyal and is asking much more of their employers. They aren’t necessarily expecting to be with their employer long either. It’s as if both parties know the reality of the situation but neither are making the first move to open up a more honest dialogue. 

Maybe organisations should work with candidates to openly share the concept of a more-than-likely short tenure, the personal meaning and experiential benefits to be gained whilst they are with the organisation, and the support that will be offered, not if, but when the employee departs the organisation? Should a longer tenure result, then great, but the evidence says this is not the case for many.

How different might attraction and retention strategies be with this alternative mindset?

Re-engaging the lost generation

Later in the session, a question from the audience sparked another thought. 

The question was aimed at Anna and Steve and was asking what each was doing to attract those who choose not to fully engage with corporate life; those that feel they have done their time as full-time employees; those that have had their fill of playing organisation politics and expending more energy on competing with colleagues and rival functions, than on offering the customer a better deal; those that want to lead a less stressful, more balanced life.

These people are not completely out of the game. They want to contribute and they have so much to offer. The loss of experience and talent in modern organisations is huge with so many professionals with twenty or so years experience choosing to leave employment for a less stressful lifestyle.

How does business retain access to this talent? On hearing Paul relate his Olympic story, I was reminded of other industries where discrete projects, with clear concept-to-delivery-to-closure phases, are a way of life. The movie industry is one. Here, huge teams of people with a very wide range of skills and responsibilities, come together for perhaps a year or two to create and deliver a product. I’m sure you’ve sat through the credits to a movie and marveled at the many and varied individuals and companies involved.

What I’m left wondering, is whether there are lessons to be learned from the Olympic story and from other project-based industries that can be utilised to make more ‘traditional’, in-it-for-the-long-haul brands, more attractive to the opted out talent pool?

Interim and fixed-term contracts are widespread, but these tend to be for temporarily filling gaps for which permanent talent can’t be found or that permanent talent will take up once business as usual has been established (whatever that is). Consultants and other suppliers are common-place but tend to be for more strategic advice or delivery of specialist services. Flexible working within permanent roles is also now more common place. However, despite more widespread use of these variations on a theme, the basic underlying in-it-for-the-long-haul mindset persists.

How might organisations arrange their affairs such that more use can be made of the talent that is not interested in interim, consultancy or associate work; talent that wants to be available when it suits them, on an adhoc basis? Surely with all the technology we have there has to be a way of ‘projectising’ the work and utilising virtual teams that come together, create, deliver, then disperse?

The rise of social networking is set to revolutionise the way we do business. We simply wont have the ‘linear’ design-manufacture-distribute-service business models. Complexity, emergence and distributed responsibilities between supplier, outsourced provider and consumer will be the norm. Perhaps these new models will offer the opportunity for more of the opted out talent pool to get more involved, more often, on their terms, but for the benefit of all parties?

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