Four strategies that organisations can leverage to attract and retain top performers.
By Debbie Bolla
Despite the challenges they face, recent research from Harvey Nash shows that a whopping 90 per cent of HR professionals in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region are optimistic. And with good reason. APAC is one of the fastest-developing areas in the world, with multinational organisations setting up in Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Manila, and other regions. This means that competition for talent is fierce, and strategic attraction and retention approaches are no longer just nice to have—they are must-haves.
“National and global organisations in growth mode are putting pressure on the talent market,” says Rachele Focardi, Universum’s senior vice president of employer branding and talent strategy, APAC. “The diversity and complexity across Asian markets call for a highly localised approach and the rise of the millennials, and now Gen Z on the way, has changed the rules of the game.”
A well-designed strategy cannot be overlooked; 65 per cent of HR professionals predict recruitment challenges in the next two years, according to Harvey Nash research. Organisations have begun leveraging different approaches to marketing their cultures and competitive differentiators to leading candidates.
A few notable strategies include:
• Communicating employer branding and employer value proposition (EVP);
• Aligning candidates with cultural fit;
• Introducing career development early; and
• Empowering employees to find passion and purpose in their work.
How are these trends impacting APAC? Here’s a closer look.
Employer Branding and EVP
Through employer branding and EVPs, organisations can communicate to current and future employees what is unique about their culture.
“If organisations have a very clear message around what they offer that others don’t, then this becomes the thing that differentiates them to their competitors, which will drive people wanting to join and wanting to stay with them,” explains Victoria Bethlehem, senior vice president of global talent acquisition, planning and development for The Adecco Group.
Where does this messaging come from? Organisations that align their employer brand with their mission, values, and culture will be able to develop a reputation that is authentic and works in their favour. Seeking feedback from current employees is also key.
“By investing in understanding what motivates people in the workplace, there is massive opportunity for companies in Asia Pacific to shape their employer brand strategy, especially as the demand for top talent increases and retention challenges increase,” says Joy Koh, head of consulting, APAC for Alexander Mann Solutions.
Focardi agrees. “Today, successful companies that are developing or localising their EVP look internally first,” she says. “A thorough look inwards to really understand the organisation through the eyes of its people is the best way to drive engagement both internally and externally.”
Focardi suggests that organisations take a deep dive into their mission and values by asking both senior leadership and the workforce alike:
• What is the “soul” of the organisation?
• What opportunities are offered across all functions, businesses, and generations?
• What is the reality that workers experience on a daily basis?
• What are the “reasons to believe” in all external statements?
Existing employees will benefit from this exercise, Focardi explains, because it will make them feel empowered. It shows organisational commitment and that employee opinions matter. It will also translate into an authentic EVP that resonates with employees and potential candidates.
Employer brand can also have an impact on contingent workers, but many organisations do not have communication efforts targeting this group, explains Rishi Kapoor, managing director of APAC for Pontoon. And this is a missed opportunity, considering that 38 per cent of the world’s workforce is classified as non-employee.
“This workforce will naturally become a more competitive environment, and finding the best worker for the right role will be harder,” says Kapoor. “Smart organisations are those who are redefining their employer value proposition to appeal to both permanent hires and contingent workers.”
Kapoor’s colleague Marisa Kacary, senior vice president and global head of marketing, advises organisations to make a few considerations when communicating their employer brand to temporary workers. She recommends making a connection between contingent workers’ career goals and the brand; finding the right avenues to express it; and educating third-party agencies that place the workers about the brand.
A candidate’s cultural fit within an organisation can be more easily determined when a strong employer brand is in place.
“Recruiting the right talent nowadays is like finding the right partner,” says Focardi. “That is why it is so important for companies to have a strong EVP built on solid foundations.”
In fact, new research from Universum and INSEAD finds that many Asian millennials fear that they won’t find a job that matches their personality. “Aligning candidates with cultural fit during the hiring process is critical,” she says. “It leads to stronger engagement, higher retention, lower cost per hire, happier, more productive employees, and a more positive working environment.”
It’s critical for organisations to train recruiters and hiring managers on the main characteristics to look for in candidates—characteristics that will lead to a strong cultural fit. Some attributes that align with cultural fit include the ability to work well on a team, experience taking accountability, and a strong work ethic.
“When I recruit, I am adamant about one thing: hire for cultural fit, train for technical skill,” says The Adecco Group’s Bethlehem. “You can develop people in the areas known as hard skills where they are not as strong as they might need to be for a role. But you cannot change who they are as a person.”
Kapoor agrees: “Each candidate needs to be screened and interviewed with the core values in mind, identifying whether a candidate’s behavior and values successfully fit the organisation.”
Candidates that hold the same work beliefs are more likely to have better engagement and alignment with their new team, says Kimberely Hubble, global RPO leader for Hudson RPO. She adds that new hires who feel more “at home” when joining a new company have a better sense of belonging, which leads to improved retention.
Better retention also means less attrition. “Assessing for cultural fit during the recruitment process will help reduce turnover,” says Chong Ng, president of Asia Pacific for Futurestep, a Korn Ferry Company.
Leading organisations will benefit if purpose and passion are part of their mission and culture.
“Employees seek purpose in their work, and it is important for organisations to foster that,” says Koh of Alexander Mann Solutions. “People who understand their job’s broader purpose are more contented and more engaged at work. This, in turn, has a positive impact, increasing productivity and retention.”
Purpose has gained a lot of attention lately as the generational shift continues in the workplace. According to Universum Talent Research, the third most important career goal to Asian millennials is being dedicated to a cause or feeling they are serving the greater good. But this is not always achieved: Gallup found that 60 per cent of millennials do not feel connected to their company’s mission. Organisations that can narrow the gap by providing an outlet for pursuing passion will earn a competitive advantage when recruiting younger talent.
How can this done? Hudson RPO’s Hubble recommends showing employees and candidates that the work they do is meaningful and positively impacts the organisation and its customers. This can be conveyed through video testimonials with team members or external customers. Recognition programmes or town hall meetings with senior management are other ways to publically acknowledge good work.
Purpose may just be the next talent grabber. “Without a purpose, it’s just a job. With a purpose, it’s a career,” Bethlehem says
Another growing attraction and retention strategy in APAC is offering career development and progression plans early. Koh says that providing employees with growth opportunities can create a greater sense of loyalty. Futurestep’s Ng suggests that organisations articulate their career development plans during the recruitment process and include them during onboarding.
Once the new hire is part of the team, Hubble recommends having a joint review between the employee and manager six months into the tenure. “Doing it early signals that the company is invested in the new employee and their career development,” she explains. There should be scheduled, subsequent review periods that follow to further develop the programme.
Examples of effective programmes include management trainee opportunities, overseas postings, mentorships, and project teamwork. But forward-thinking organisations can take career development a few steps further.
“Whilst these programmes can be very effective in encouraging retention, some other organisations are thinking out of the box in order to retain individualistic employees who may be seeking more than the usual array of enticing rewards,” says Evelyn Chow, managing director for DecodeHR Pte Ltd. “Some organisations sponsor employees for their post-graduate studies and provide time-off for them to study, and apart from a secure job, these employees can look forward to taking on more responsibilities or taking on a more challenging role when they complete their studies.”
In the current landscape, organisations in APAC may need to take an outside-of-the-box approach in order to get the best talent.