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24th March, 2022

How leaders can best approach the ‘war for talent’

Leaders who can’t offer competitive working conditions and career progression will lose out when competing to attract the best available staff, writes MYOB’s General Manager (Enterprise), Kim Clarke.

In our recent report, ‘Bold Ambition: Mid-market businesses in 2022’, we uncovered some key insights regarding the challenges faced by bigger businesses, and how they intended to face them.

What’s becoming overwhelmingly apparent is the focus business leaders are placing on what I consider the two major levers for business success: technology and people.

As what has commonly been called the ‘war for talent’ is hitting Australia and New Zealand hard, I wanted to take a closer look at these levers to suggest how mid-market leaders might remain competitive in developing the best possible workforce for their needs.

Be bold when it comes to managing change

The businesses that have succeeded in not only maintaining momentum over the past two years, but actually generating sustainable growth, are the ones that have been the most courageous when they have addressed both their talent risk and embraced their technology opportunities.

Great leaders are not victims of change. Successful leaders look at environmental change and ask themselves ‘What is my role in this change?’ and ‘How can I make the most of these changes?’. Those changes may be the result of a number of external factors, such as constrained supply chains, the rising cost of commodities like fuel, changes in mobility expectations of workers and changing levels of government support and investment.

Let’s consider the technology aspect first.

We saw a huge shift towards tools that support remote work at the outset of the pandemic, and we know the organisations that continue to embed cloud-based, highly secure platforms that can scale are the ones that will continue to achieve the most success into the future. These platforms encompass every aspect of work, from how you capture and manage customer data, to financial management and reporting as well as project and workforce management. In fact, those companies that embraced future fit platforms grew at a significant 3.2x their peers!

But, of course, it doesn’t stop there.

Technology is just a cost line item if you do not have the talent to leverage it. Talent, therefore, is an even more important factor for a company’s success.

Have a clear understanding of what you need

What are the key problems you are trying to solve? What are the key opportunities you are looking to embrace?

The very first thing to consider (even ahead of technology!) is talent. What do you need to do to realise that potential and most importantly, what talent to do you to acquire and/or keep. This is a critical part of the game plan, because there is a war for talent, and you need to accept it to address it!

Interestingly, our reporting of NZ-based mid-market businesses showed the leading two changes planned for 2022 were to ‘hire more full-time staff’ (34 percent) followed by ‘decrease staff numbers’ (32 percent), indicating a key difference in the direction some organisations are planning to take in the months ahead.

For those operations facing a certain level of decline, we have to ask ourselves why that is. For some, it could be the natural outcome of greater efficiencies gained from remote work and modern tech-enabled processes.

For others, it may be that revenue streams are shrinking, and that the business needs to find a new equilibrium point before it can begin to grow again.

In either of these scenarios, it appears many of Australia’s and New Zealand’s mid-market operators are facing another point of inflection as they move through 2022, in which they’ll be considering how to make the most of a tricky situation and position themselves for success once more.

Whether that means fighting to acquire new staff now, or simply working to maintain the best talent you possibly can for now, it’s time to begin thinking closely about the signals your operation is putting out to market, and how to leverage your own skills as a leader to drive your desired outcome.

Authenticity and career outcomes are your keys to success

When it comes to joining battle in the war for talent, it all comes back to how you’re ‘winning hearts and minds’ in your appeal to the talent available on the market, and those already present in your organisation.
With regards to hearts, that means developing meaningful, emotional connections to the community they work with and the work that they are doing.

When it comes to minds, that means being able to stand behind what you say with hard evidence of how you’re able to make the lives of your people and their potential better, stronger.

It’s my view that businesses don’t solely exist to make money. They are there to contribute to society. As employers, we not only should, but we have an absolute accountability to develop our people and, as much as we can, grow their marketability for their future.

Today’s worker wants to build their CV regardless of whether they’re with you for 12 months or 12 years. I have been blessed throughout my career in that I’ve been able to make the choices that have supported my marketability and sense of fulfillment simultaneously.

And taking this down to a very simple level; whether you are in finance, marketing, development or product, you want to make sure you expose your people to the thinking and the tools (think technology) that stretches them and protects their future.

If you’re a publishing business using an outdated and unsupported content management system, are you likely to attract the very best content designers? Is a catering business with a poorly maintained and antiquated kitchen going to maintain top-tier chefs? If you are an operations leader, trying to make sense of disconnected workflows and poor access to data to make decision is, quite frankly, energy sapping,

If your organisation doesn’t stack up to the competition when it comes to the tools your people are using, you’re basically taking a knife to a gun fight.

Laughter makes hard work easy

Now, all of this sounds rather competitive. And it totally is. Those that can see change, accept change and learn to ride the wave of change will win. Further, people leadership and technology are critical and related components to this.

But amongst of all of this is life. Our very best people come to work to earn more than a pay packet. Make sure the work that they are doing is purposeful, fulfilling for them now and into their future, and enables them to future proof their career success.

The last ingredient may even be the most important. Change is stressful, working hard can take its toll. But that shouldn’t mean coming to work is a negative experience, and it’s your duty as a leader and decision maker to make certain that isn’t the case for your workforce.

If it is, you’ll quickly find your company is slipping behind.

Discover trends regarding the challenges and changes mid-market businesses are facing in 2022 across Australia and New Zealand in the ‘Bold Ambition’ report. Download it here.