Axa, NSG, De Beers on Retaining Talent

Last Updated Mar 8, 2010 12:16 PM EST

The recruitment freeze isn't lifting any time soon, but companies are focusing more on keeping their existing key staff happy, so that their elite workers aren't tempted to stray, according to a panel of HR bosses.

NSG Group (formerly Pilkington) human resources VP Luis Henrique Souza, Axa head of global resourcing Samantha Rich and De Beers Goup HR director Phil Volkovski aired their views on talent retention at the launch of a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit called Companies at a Crossroads. The report was sponsored by workforce management software company Stepstone, of which all three panellists are customers.

Issues arising from the report included:

  • Organisations need to focus on talent retention at all levels of the business
  • Talent drift is a becoming an increasing danger to company's talent pools as key workers become disaffected.
  • There is a need to focus on younger workers to shore up any reduction in the talent pool.
  • The flattening of management structures has led to employees with as much as 20 years age difference having the same sort of role in the business.
  • The proportion of staff at the age of 50 or over is increasing and likely to continue to do so.
Nothing really very new in any of this, it has to be said. But, what is more interesting is how the three panellists approached these problems and what other businesses can learn from their approaches.

All the panellists were keen to stress that the recession hadn't had a great impact on how they engaged their workforces, but it was plain that it may have increased the urgency of putting engagement strategies in place and justified some of the decisions they made about how they managed talent retention.

Here's some pieces of advice about talent retention from the event:

  • Training is a valuable substitute for salary benefits in tough times. NSG managed to retain 70 per cent of its training budget. It sent 150 key staff from overseas to its head office in Japan for training and Souza is convinced these trainees appreciated the money that was being spent on them to do this. It demonstrated how much they mattered to the company. Souza said this was effective for junior and mid-level managers who had more to gain by extra training.
  • The recession has been an opportunity to put paid to the notion of a job for life for some companies. De Beers has traditionally had a patrician corporate culture. Volkovski has spent the downturn educating the workforce on how they need skills that make them employable to a wider sphere than just the company they work in now.
  • Communication is key. Axa has invested heavily in making its intranet an internal communication tool, where the C-suite hold Q&A sessions open to anyone in the company to ask questions. It is also used to demystify financial products to staff and clarify the company's financial statement in ways that are meaningful to employees unfamiliar with financial jargon, so that the whole company understands the direction they as a workforce are going in and why.
  • Make sure communication goes all the way down. Souza found internal communication was not an issue until it reached mid-management, where there it appears to stop. NSG invested heavily in improving shop-floor supervisors' communication skills.
  • How easy it is to recruit talent depends very much on what's going on at the coal-face. Volkovski said De Beers had a harder time recruiting in regions like Africa, because the pool of key workers was used by other extraction industries. This affected key worker turnover significantly. Wherever there is market growth, the war for talent is at its most intense.
  • Think about moving talent into areas where there is less competition for their skills. Souza said he is more settled in Europe and Japan than his native Brazil where economic growth gives him more opportunities to find a better job elsewhere.
  • Pay is not the main reason people will stay. Volkovski said the power of the De Beers brand is a useful weapon in retaining the company's talent. Certainly there is caché in saying to friends that you work for a brand they are familiar with, which will make you think twice about moving on to a company with no general profile.
  • Tailor benefits to the workforce demographic. Not all benefits will appeal to an employee at various stages of their working life. Benefits attached to savings may not appeal to younger employees as much as older workers planning for their retirement, for instance. Axa is one of the many companies which allow employees to pick from a range of benefits, depending on what they think will be most useful to them.
  • Be prepared to look for talent in people who previously were being prepared for retirement. There is a high likelihood of a larger proportion of employees staying on after the age of 65. They are an asset to the company in terms of the tailored skills an experience vital to the success of the company, accrued over years of service. Can you really afford to let that go?
  • Not everyone in the organisation will have the same view of where the talent should go. Volkovski said there may be cases where mid-level managers don't agree that talented employees in their team should be transferred to other roles, to help them develop their skills. For these managers, the performance of their team is more important than the company's talent pool, because that is what their performance is measured on. Find ways to reward these managers for nurturing their talent and then giving it up for the greater good of the organisation.
(Pic: tanakawho cc2.0)