Summary: Now Is An Unprecedented Opportunity to Hire Great Talent

A summary from an interesting article from HBR – Now Is An Unprecedented Opportunity to Hire Great Talent by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, May 01 2020

While the Covid-19 pandemic hits and reshapes companies, industries, national economies, and our society in previously unthinkable ways, business leaders need to think beyond survival to the opportunities this crisis might create, including the chance to hire talented people at a time when they might have trouble finding or keeping jobs elsewhere.

Now, many companies are faced with decisions around restructuring and downsizing. At the same time, a major force that had been fuelling the intensity of the war for talent — globalisation — might recede. As companies revisit their international expansion strategies and cross-border business practices, workers are recalculating their personal purpose and individual and family priorities, with serious implications for their geographic and work preferences and travel habits.

The pool of available talent is suddenly both changing and expanding, and visionary leaders can make the most of it, preparing the ground for post-crisis recovery and growth. As management guru Jim Collins has shown us, making the leap from good to great starts with getting the right people on the bus.

History Lessons

Throughout history, economic hardships have created windows in which exceptional employees and leaders are widely available for a limited time. In the late 1940’s, for example, many organisations were struggling. At Hewlett-Packard, the fledgling electronic equipment maker that would eventually become one of America’s best-known technology companies, business was slow and finances strained. But as legions of great engineers streamed out of closing or soon-to-close U.S. military labs, HP’s legendary founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard realised they couldn’t let such an amazing hiring opportunity pass them by. When asked how they could afford to keep taking on new people in those difficult years, their answer was simple: “How could we afford not to!” Years later, when asked about the biggest contributor to HP’s success over the years, they routinely cited their willingness to invest in talent no matter the external economic climate.

Harvard Business School’s Ranjay Gulati, Nitin Nohria, and Franz Wohlgezogen considered the benefits of long-term thinking in an analysis of 4,700 companies across the last three recessions. They discovered that 9% were able to come out in much better positions than they entered because of their “progressive” focus. They did cut back, but were extremely selective about when and where they did so and, more importantly, they continued to make strategic investments. Rather than thinking in “either/or” terms — you’re either hiring or you’re downsizing — they, like HP following the war, embraced the “and,” understanding they could do both things if they were smart about it.

Unfortunately, most companies make the mistake of uniformly freezing hiring in downturns. During the 2008 global financial crisis, BCG and the European Association for People Management surveyed 3,400 executives, including 90 senior human resources leaders in more than 30 countries, to see how they were responding. The most frequent action (or reaction) was to scale back recruiting. At the same time, survey participants rated the selective hiring of high-performing employees from competitors as one of the three most effective responses to the previous crisis (from a list of 22) and the one with the best impact on employee commitment.

Seizing the Opportunity

Actively source potential candidates from target sectors and companies who may be facing restructures.

Companies should pro-actively bring a level of focus and discipline to sourcing potential candidates, especially during this period. Ask some of your top-line managers to identify outstanding people in key functions in other organisations who may be affected by restructures.

Interview remotely with the same rigour you would in person.

Thanks to modern technology, we have the ability to replicate all of our traditional hiring processes and procedures virtually. There is plenty of guidance to support candidates to  prepare for video interviews, take a look at our webinar

Go out of your way to motivate the best candidates.

Once you are convinced that you have the opportunity to bring in someone you really want, arrange to have the person speak to senior leaders. In addition, flexible work arrangements will no doubt continue to be key, as will the chance to keep on learning and growing.

Don’t ignore the sourcing, retaining, and development of in-house talent.

This is also the time to carefully review your existing key players, stay closer to them than ever, assess their skills and knowledge in light of the revised outlook for you sector and company, and help them move from potential to success with targeted development plans including the right type of development, coaching and stretch assignments, which often arise from crises.

This pandemic has created unprecedented trauma around the world. It can be tempting to focus on the short term of crisis management. But when we emerge from this unfolding tragedy, it will be the long-term thinkers who not only survive but thrive.

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