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Retaining Talent in Organizations

Stephen Kelly, CHRO, Avanade

Stephen Kelly, CHRO, Avanade

Three ways organizations can win the war for talent in the digital age

When author Ed Michaels and his colleagues coined the phrase “War for Talent” in a 1997 book about the topic, they predicted that enduring economic and social forces would make the war for talent a strategic competitive differentiator for companies over the next two decades.

Little did they know just how relevant their theory would be in the digital age, where the influx of smart technologies (including connected things, intelligent automation and even robots) are dramatically disrupting how and where we work. Not only is it easier to attract and retain the right talent with these new tools, it also easier for talent to leave.

"A culture where people are supported to change things for the better encourages them to try new approaches to solve client problems"

So how will businesses compete for talent in this brave new world? Organizations must put into place three critical ingredients that include:

A modern digital workplace that provides the tools needed to succeed.

The same technologies that are expected to digitize business operations, drive revenue growth and improve the customer experience are believed to be the secret weapon in attracting and retaining top talent. (Avanade’s own global survey backs this up, with 92 percent of global business and IT leaders predicting it will be easier for organizations to attract and retain top talent as they increase their reliance on smart technologies in the workplace.)

It’s not the tools themselves that necessarily make a company more attractive, but rather what they have the potential to do: empower employees to do their jobs more effectively, make it easier to collaborate with one another and achieve business results.

Mobility adds incredible flexibility, providing access to company systems to do their jobs from wherever they happen to be. (A great example of this is Delta Airlines, who have completely automated their in-flight systems to empower their flight attendants to provide a better customer experience. This in turn has heightened the employees’ satisfaction with their jobs.)

An organization that embraces change and innovation gives people a reason to stay.

While the companies consistently placed in the Best Workplaces in IT tend to pay well, research shows the best pulled ahead of their peers by going far beyond compensation and giving their people the level of autonomy and professional engagement they need to innovate.

Avanade’s survey of employees who have stayed between two to five years illustrates this point.  More than one-third of tenured professionals ranked “access to interesting, challenging and varied work” alongside the ability to “work with top clients and brands” and “exposure to the latest technologies” highest on the list of reasons to stay. Another one-third said job environment—one in which there was a “general feeling of being recognized for their work”—was more important than total compensation or flexible work schedules.

A culture where people are supported to change things for the better encourages them to try new approaches to solve client problems. Avanade’s own research backs this up. About 73 percent of business and IT leaders believe that as smart technologies take over more mundane tasks their company will need to hire employees that are more skilled and better at complex decision-making. Skills like problem solving (61 percent); the ability to gather and analyze large amounts of data (59 percent); and collaboration skills (51 percent) were also cited as critical for employees in the digital workplace of the future.

A workplace culture that believes everyone counts and values making the world a better place.

There’s a reason why U.S.-based shoe manufacturer Toms is so successful: they have tied their business to the core value of also allocating a portion of their profits to making the world a better place. Consumers feel good about their purchases also helping others in need; and those consumers expect the places they work to reflect those values, too.

Research shows that millennials place a high value on making a true difference in the world. Nearly 64% of millennials in a recent Intelligence Group study, for example, said it’s a priority that their work helps them make the world a better place.

The desire to align business goals with helping to improve the lives of others in the world is not unique to millennials. We’ve seen this in our own experience through a partnership with the Aspire Foundation, whose goal is to provide mentors to more than 1 billion women around the world. When we asked our employees to rise to the challenge of serving as mentors to 500 women, the goal was met in 9 months. Employees who have participated overwhelmingly cite the ability to make a difference as a key benefit of the experience.

The war for talent will only continue to heat up.

This era of unprecedented business transformation comes at a time when seismic shifts are also under way that will fundamentally change the world’s workforce. Forecasts indicate that by 2020, employers in the world’s richest nations could be short by as many as 18 million college-educated workers. And with Baby Boomers set to retire in record numbers over the next 10 to 20 years, the available pool of talent is expected to shrink even further.

These changes will mean that advanced tools to support mobile, digitally connected workers must be part of the equation in the war for talent. Isn’t it interesting though, that while technologies are fundamentally changing every aspect of how we work and live at an unprecedented rate, it is their ability to connect us, help us do good in the world and enable us to make a true impact with our colleagues and clients that are still the true measure of a fulfilling career.