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Last year articles began to appear on a regular basis about a shortage of qualified employees.

Some were doubtful, with unemployment rates as high as they were. Even today when you listen to the political debates, once the candidates get past the schoolyard rancor, the topic of jobs often becomes a main focus of discussion — because who could be against helping the unemployed?

I’m sure there are segments of the population that are having job difficulties, and perhaps there is a current or future government program that may bring some help to their situation, but that is not the concern of most employers these days. As the economy evolves, employers want to have a pipeline of employees with the skills that meet their current needs and, hopefully, these people can grow into the future skill base.

The most frequent blogs and a number of webinar notices are about the right way to source a particular type of person or profession. This practice of pitching to employers the know-how to get the “right” employee instead of pitching jobs to employees would seem to indicate employees aren’t readily available, or at least they aren’t making the marketplace aware of their interest in moving to a new job.

When we say “Employees ARE,” we are using a simple way of capturing the three principle areas of action — attracting, retaining and engaging — you need to address to have the right employees to accomplish your business goals. It describes various aspects of talent management to which candidates and employees are likely to respond.

What are you prepared to do?

So what is this process? We thought it might be of value to employers to give them our insight without having to spend an hour on the Internet listening to people share their thoughts — maybe not always free, especially if you count your time. They, of course, want your business and get a connection when you sign up.

We will tell you some of what we know and you can decide if you should take advantage of the information. Deciding what you will do is a very important consideration. If you aren’t prepared to do some things, it is a waste of time and probably money because you are likely to achieve the same level of results as you have in the past.

The process for having good employees stems around the three main ideas of attraction, retention and engagement. Figuring out this process is the foundation of the Strategic Plan for Talent. It is the roadmap for building a “talent pipeline.”

The primary step is about answering some basic questions:

Where are we now?

Where do we aspire to be? (Strategically plan out three to four years.)

What are the gaps that we face?

These are easy questions to ask, but perhaps not so easy to answer, especially if you want to get some specifics that will allow you to make the answers quantifiable rather than subjective and perhaps more fluid, which often results in a moving target.

As you try to pin down your aspirations, you are likely to run into a concept called “employment branding” (AKA: What is your reputation out there?).

The employment brand is the market perception of what it’s like to work at your organization. Keep in mind this is somewhat different than the company branding process, which is typically all about your products and services and how you deliver them.

Why should you pay attention to your employment brand? Whether you know it or not, there is a war for candidates and talent. To attract the best talent, you have to have a strategic advantage. People with skills have options. They can work for you or they can work for your competitor, or — as many do today — they can be independent contractors and work for themselves.

All of these variables undermine your goal to manage the talent and get it focused on your goals.

What are the benefits of a strong employment brand?

A strong employment brand helps you to attract the people you want for your organization. It also allows you to compete on a dimension other than compensation. This is especially important because high pay only works until an opportunity for even higher pay comes along.

A strong employment brand sets expectations and, if done right, improves retention and engagement. It allows employees to align their personal goals with that of the organization because they learn what the environment will be like and how to navigate it to increase their job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction is a complicated integration of many factors, some centered on the social interactions, some regarding job content and the ability to achieve worthwhile contributions, and a whole range of other matters.

A notable aspect of employment branding is that it applies to both existing employees and potential new employees. We will come back to this again, but first let’s talk about getting the new employee in the door.

Get it together

The first part of the acronym ARE stands for attracting employees. This is the collective result of all the interactions you have with candidates in the market and during the hiring process. When you examine and adjust all the elements in the process to create and enhance your image, your positive branding will grow.

Too many folks take various steps with no consideration of what they are expected to do or how they fit together. If you pay attention to the interactions of these elements, they each can be improved and achieve a synergistic result. You must charge someone with this responsibility. In most organizations, this will be the HR department or person.

When this is taken seriously, the sources for finding people also will grow, and this means more and better candidates. There are at least 10 to 15 easily found potential sources.

Once you have addressed the front end of the ARE process, you will be ready to take on the other two elements: retention and engagement. When viewed as an integrated whole, it will become apparent that you are wasting a lot of valuable resources if you do not think through all elements of the Employees ARE process. Stay tuned!

Jane McGrath and Gail Hammontree are principals at P3HR Consulting & Services.