“In the fast-changing global marketplace, talent will be the big difference between companies that succeed and those that don’t.”
—Ram Charan, author of The Talent Masters, quoted in “People First, Strategy Second.”
Business leaders recognize that financial success depends on the quality of the people they hire. In service organizations, employees are the business.
Saying people are the most important asset is one thing, but implementing strategies to attract, develop, and retain talent is another.
This is the first of a series of posts on what I believe creates the kind of high-performance workplace that draws and engages the passions of high-performing employees.
Attracting the Best Talent: People Strategy Is Corporate Strategy
The complaint about the shortage of talent is repeated so often it’s become somewhat of a cliché.
When employers complain that they can’t find qualified people with the backgrounds they want at the price they’d like to pay, there is a talent shortage.
But the best talent finds itself in high demand. It’s a buyer’s market for the most qualified.
Today’s global marketplace means that attracting the best employees requires employers to provide the best work environment: one that offers meaningful, fulfilling work, supports their success, and offers opportunities for professional growth.
Achieving that goal requires more than a set of human resources policies. It also requires corporate leadership that considers a people strategy as essential to corporate success as a financial strategy.
It’s no secret that people are essential to success. A recent article in Harvard Business Review cites research by McKinsey and the conference board showing that “CEOs worldwide see human capital as a top challenge, and they rank HR as only the eighth or ninth most important function in a company.”
What accounts for the discrepancy, then, between claiming that people are a company’s most valuable asset and making the way you treat people a top priority?
I think it’s the long-held misperception that there is a conflict between the idea that treating people well costs money and the responsibility to maximize shareholder earnings. Whereas budgets for products and services, facilities, and sales are all considered investments, spending on employees is often considered dispensable. It’s fine as long as the company is growing and making money, but in a crisis, spending on people is one of the first things to get cut.
The truth is just the opposite.
The most valuable employees are those who are happy in their jobs, doing what they love, continually engaged in innovation, and improving their own contribution to the company’s services or products. Happy employees do the best work, make the clients happiest, and increase company profitability.
It’s a mistake, then, to forget that people create business value.
If a company is not committed to its employees, employees won’t be committed to the company.
If you break your promises in tough financial times, the employees who contribute most will soon find new opportunities to contribute to another company. This means you won’t be able to attract others of equal quality.
That’s why a people strategy truly has to mean “people first.” People are the key to business success.
What Makes a Meaningful People Strategy?
It might seem simple, but it is all the little things you do to support, reward, recognize, and encourage employees every day that play a role in creating a fulfilling work experience. Beyond that, I believe that a good people strategy includes two key elements.
First, the company’s commitment to employees has to be demonstrated at every level of the organization. To be effective, that commitment has to permeate every level and all functions. To do that, you need to provide education and development to all your managers to encourage inspiring and effective leadership. You need them to communicate clearly with the people who report to them and support every employee’s successful integration into a culture of inclusion and collaboration as well as their professional development.
Second, providing career advancement opportunities within the company helps keep your best talent working with you. This includes not only straight-line advancements within the same function, but it also increasingly means supporting employees who want to change the focus of their careers and apply their talents in a different function. It’s also a way of attracting the best talent.
The company I work for—PAREXEL— provides drug development services to biopharmaceutical and medical device companies. We are a service company in an industry engaged in constant innovation. No two clients nor two assignments are alike. We rely on the talent, skills, creativity, and dedication of our people to set us apart from the competition. We know that people are our business, so making sure we hire, support, and keep the best has to be a corporate priority.
Finally, I want to mention that offering opportunities for professional development is one of the most important means to serve both employees and the business. I will write more about the importance of professional development in my next post.
Workplace and Culture